/ Google Analytics

What Does Safari and Chrome Ad-Blocking Mean for SaaS?

tl;dr Don't worry about browser-based trackers if you rely on advertisement revenue. Bringing your trackers to the server will prevent them from being blocked. Faster and safer trackers can be applied at the server by using services like Fly.

Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) and Google's IO are an annual peek into the future of two web technology giants. This year (2017), both institutions revealed native advertisement and tracker-blockers for Safari and Chrome. Consumers rejoice! No ads! No trackers. But, wait, those can be really useful for developers and creators. What happens now?

At first glance, this might feel like a strange move for Google to block advertisements; aren't advertisements the bread-and-butter of Google's income? For Apple, a pro-privacy stance makes sense; Apple sells paid, not free services that don't rely on advertisement revenue. While they have differing motivations, both companies are part of an onslaught against bad advertisements and nefarious tracking technology. Bad advertisements and trackers make the web a more dangerous place and they put the general public at risk.

A Few Bad Apples

A bad advertisement is one that:

  • "Malvertises". As hard as portmanteaus are to take seriously, malveritising is no joke. Given how common advertisements are in high-traffic and high-reputation websites, advertisements become a sneaky attack vector. Advertisement networks are often used to inject malware or perform phishing schemes on those who click on them. The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) was the last one to publish statistics. The OTA determined that, in 2012, nearly 10 billion advertisement impressions had been compromised.

  • Blares sound and music at you. You're working in a quiet spot, you mouse over something by mistake and suddenly your speakers blare about the latest truck you should buy.

  • Leads to a poor quality company. Would-be customers may click into something that, if it had a physical store-front, you would not walk within a block of.

  • Is Invasive. The article is finally getting interesting when suddenly you're bombarded by things you should purchase or signup for.

  • Contains overly sexualized or depressing material. Nothing like preying on base human desires and deep-seated insecurities. One weird secret! Doctors HATE her!

As a result of these anti-patterns - and a healthy, general concern for privacy - there has been a dissolution of public trust in advertisements and trackers. To protect themselves, consumers choose to block ads and trackers entirely. As a good person trying to build an honest business, the loss of advertisement revenue on quality content you create or hobbled analytical intelligence into your users' actions is unfair punishment for the shady behaviour of others. With the proliferation of baked-in ad/tracker-blockers by the majors, you should be aware of what this means and what you can do about it.

How I Learned To...

The first thing is to not worry about native advertisement blocking. Companies like Apple and Google want content creators and publishers to succeed. In fact, they need them to. What they're trying to get rid of are things that potentially cause harm, listed above. As far as advertisements are concerned, better ad-platforms that consumers trust should result in good things for those with quality products and services.

The second thing involves analytic trackers. Being privacy conscious is important but it becomes an issue when trustworthy sites miss out on data they can use to improve their products. There are bad trackers, just like there are bad advertisements; they may take provide your data to shady sources. That shouldn't result in a blanket dismissal of items that are light-weight and come from trusted sources. Like with advertisements, the end result of safer and cleaner tracker delivery is an improved overall browsing experience.

Helping deliver trusted trackers is where a company like Fly can help. Third-party blockers are less gracious and don't discriminate against high-quality versus low-quality sources. Browser plugins like Ad-Block Plus, Ghostery, and Disconnect.me do a great, if over-zealous, job blocking ads and client-side scripts. Google Analytics is an example of a third-party script that these plugins detect and remove. The user isn't "tracked" - even though any data gathered is anonymized by Google already - and the site-owner receives a "phantom visit", which is to say no record of the visit.

A solution is to serve your trackers at the server. It keeps cumbersome JavaScript away from the client and provides a faster and safer implementation. Server-side tracking works on a users' HTTP requests and occurs at the first edge-server that the request arrives at. Using Fly's Google Analytics Middleware, for example: a user makes a site request then the Google Analytics ID and snippet are injected into the inbound request. There is no need to have it "sit" on the client.

Summary

As the web matures, part of the endearing, wild, and dangerous spirit from its infancy is slowly being secured away. The end result is a safer and more padded experience for everyone. A few bad apples have caused a significant decline in consumer trust in web advertisements and tracking methods. Consumers responded in the extreme by blocking everything possible.

Major companies are taking steps to bring the balance back. Although most of their changes seem beneficial, the treatment of third-party trackers is unclear. To ensure your snippets go unblocked, by both over-zealous extensions and browsers, you should bring them to the server. For now, we have Google Analytics - but we'll have more soon!

Kellen Evan Person

@thegoodroot

Kellen Evan Person

A polite, forest-dwelling Canadian who enjoys coding and writing. He's spent near two decades building web applications and strives to keep development fun and light-hearted.

North Vancouver, Canada