Your Way Isn't the Only Way

YouTube and the War Against Ad-Blockers

Google is a company that, originally, was founded on the concept of "first do no evil". That's great when you're an upstart tech company trying to make a name for yourself against larger foes (like Microsoft). But at a certain point the needs of your shareholders will likely outweigh any moral principles you might have had when you formed the company, and that whole idea of "don't do evil" will quickly get brushed aside, shoved under the couch where no one will think to look for it. That's business.


You can see the evolution of the company when you go back and look at how their products used to work in comparison to now. Their search used to be clean, simple, and effective. If you were on the first page of Google that meant you had a site that was "the source" for a given topic. Now, most of the first page top hits are ads, promoted search that someone paid for. Hell, Google doesn't even have pages anymore most of the time, just long, endless scroll to keep you "engaged" if you don't find what you want in the first two clicks.

There are other products that work the same way, such as Gmail, which keeps an eye on your inbox to give you promoted messages, attempting to sell you this or that or the other. YouTube used to just be a place where you uploaded videos and if those videos were watched enough maybe you got some money. Google got views, and they were paid for a little five second ad at the beginning of the video. But now there's a 30 second break (or longer) every ten minutes, on top of the pre-roll, and that doesn't even count the sponsored content the creators will insert themselves. It's a ton of advertising crap.

Of course, that points to Google's real reason for existence: advertising. Google isn't really a tech company, and hasn't been for a while. Everything they make, from programs you use to pieces of kit you buy, is there to do one thing: show you ads. The company makes billions and billions every year not on their gadgets or their programs but on advertising. They're an ad company and you, frankly, are the product. Your eyes get them hits, and those hits get them money from various businesses selling stuff. Whatever you want is secondary (maybe even tertiary) to the needs of the companies advertising on Google.

It's no wonder, then, that Google has been clamping down on the advertising side of YouTube. It's not just with more ads being played more often, although that has certainly happened (the "enshitifcation" of the site), but it also has come with a crackdown on ad blockers. Google has stated that "the use of ad blockers violates the terms of service for the site" and has begun a system of blocking people from using any ad blockers on the site. If you use an ad blocker you will no longer be allowed to use YouTube.

For those that aren't aware, an ad blocker does exactly what it says on the can: it blocks ads. Banner ads, side ads, ads on videos; if a company inserts those things onto a layout or around a video, the ad blocker gets it. Now, it doesn't work in all instances as some sites, like Twitch, have found ways to evade ad blockers to force people to see ads. Sometimes that hurts a site, sometimes it doesn't, but the goal is clear: get people to see the ads or, at the very least, make them pay for a subscription to get rid of the ads (for a fee). Anyone with an ad blocker is hosed.

Now, the obvious argument some make is "if you want to see the site, turn off your ad blocker or, you know, pay." There are two points against that. First, not all ad sites can be trusted. Having an ad blocker is a default lever of security everyone should have on their browsers because not all ad sites operate on the up and up. Ads are generally served from a third-party site to whatever site you're viewing, and if that third party is, in any way, compromised, they can serve you malicious content running in and along with the ad. If you don't have an ad blocker you could be leaving your browser (and, thus, your computer) open to attack. Mandating that ad blockers can't be used on sites creates a situation when people will be scared to have them at all, and that will leave their computers open for malicious attack.

Maybe Google is trustworthy and isn't serving malicious ads, but can you know? You don't run Google (I assume, and if you do then, hey, rethink your policies, bro) so there's no way for you to know if the site you're on, despite the Google name, has been compromised or not. In my job in the IT field there are a lot of people out there willing to say their Google, and will even send out official stuff with Google branding, but most of that is crap meant to put you at ease. You never know where a threat vector could come from, even if it looks official. It's always best to play it safe with your computer security.

So, sure, why not just pay? Because you're paying to do the job Google should have been doing. You're getting strong armed into giving Google what they wanted instead of them finding a way to give you subtle, less obtrusive ads that don't mar your experience. I certainly am not opposed to a five second little ad that plays, pre-roll, before the video I'm gonna watch, and if that's built onto the video so it comes trusted and ready to go, then that's fine by me. It's like underwriting on the radio, a specific kind of (not) advertising that still brings in money. But Google doesn't want subtle or safe. They wants ads, constants and every present to bring in more money. More, more, more.

I don't think we should give into a company that forces us to do things their way. As part of the advertising industry Google is complicit in how that industry is run and the shady practices it performs. Instead of saying, "hey, we'll go out of our way to do no evil," instead they're like, "that's a nice browser you have there. It'd be a real pity if you couldn't use it." It's extortion to pay them for their service, just like it is when Twitch does the same thing. I don't watch Twitch anymore for that reason, and if Google continues this trend I'll stop watching YouTube as well.

I recognize not everyone is going to do like I do. Some are going to flip between ad blockers and browsers to try and find a combo that will work for a time. Some will give up and whitelist Google or just remove their ad blockers entirely. Some will pay (just like some pay for the ad free service on Twitch). But there will be some that will move to the next service, like Tiktok or whatever else comes along. With YouTube still be the top video sharing site Online? For a while yes. But maybe we can put enough of a dent in the company that something changes.

But probably not.