Advertising - the elephant in the room

Advertisers have overstepped the mark, like a pushy person who has stepped too close, they have invaded our personal space. Just like that person, they are also in your face and they don't seem to care that they've made you uncomfortable. Rather than moderate their behaviour when people are upset with them, they'll just go undercover, stalking you and ducking into cover when you turn around.

This is the state of the web in 2017 and it's one of the reasons GeneGenie will not be accepting advertising or using any advertising networks. To illustrate my point, I'd like to walk through some of the issues with one of the businesses I use personally.

Like many family historians I have an account with the behemoth that is Considering the huge amount of documents they hold I'd say the service is fairly priced and the best out there.

The problem with Ancestry is that their site is infested with tracking code that;

  • Slows the site down.
  • Sends my browsing habits to advertising networks.
  • Breaks the site so it is unusable.
  • Is a potential security risk.

Ancestry charge me a fairly hefty subscription but that doesn't seem to be enough for them, they also seem to be selling my browsing habits to advertising networks (I'm pretty certain they are not doing this for free). There is no way to opt out of this tracking code and it's on every page.

To see what I mean, take a look at the screenshot below which was taken when the Ancestry home page loaded. All of the pink / red text lines are blocked network requests to advertising networks (and some non advertising site related scripts). I can see OutBrain, Google, Twitter and TVSquared among many others. Outbrain are the outfit that monetise web pages with those nasty click bait titles similar to 'You'll never guess what happened next, number 3 will SHOCK you').

If you want to see this data for yourself, follow the steps at the bottom of this post.

So every time you load a page, all of those businesses (and more) get to know what you are looking at and for how long. Unless of course you use an ad-blocker. In that case, the site just won't work in places. For example it's not possible to access your messages in the site whilst the ad-blocker is on because it can't distinguish the adverts from the real code that is used to operate the web site.

So it seems even huge businesses like Ancestry need advertising to survive, even when you've paid for the service in advance. It might be simple greed though. If the money from selling your customer data makes the difference between being a profitable business or going under, perhaps your business model is wrong.

An open and transparent business

Which brings me to the point of this post. It's ludicrous that we need to say 'we don't sell your data'. It should be the reverse, if a business sells your data it should be in plain language and made obvious, not hidden in a 3000 word licence agreement.

To be completely clear about this; We ( promise to treat you (our customers) fairly and honestly. We will not share your data with anyone and will only ever use the data we have to troubleshoot issues with our systems. We'll encrypt any sensitive data and are happy for external reviews to ensure compliance.

Seeing for yourself

I apologise, but these steps are necessarily technical. If it's too confusing, commandeer a nearby child.

Start Google Chrome and install an ad-blocker (I recommend UBlock Origin AND Adblock Plus. Now press F12, this will show the developer tools where you'll be able to see what's going on. Click the Network link near the middle top and then type in to the address bar.

You should now see a list of failed requests in the debug console.