blog: Don Marti


Unlocking the hidden European mode in web ads

06 May 2018

It would make me really happy to be able to yellow-list Google web ads in Privacy Badger. (Yellow-listed domains are not blocked, but have their cookies restricted in order to cut back on cross-site tracking.) That's because a lot of news and cultural sites use DoubleClick for Publishers and other Google services to deliver legit, context-based advertising. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Google mixes in-context ads with crappy, spam-like, targeted stuff. What I want is something like Doc Searls style ads: Just give me ads not based on tracking me.

Until now, there has been no such setting. There could have been, if Do Not Track (DNT) had turned out to be a thing, but no. But there is some good news. Instead of one easy-to-use DNT, sites are starting to give us harder-to-find, but still usable, settings, in order to enable GDPR-compliant ads for Europe. Here's Google's: Ads personalization settings in Google’s publisher ad tags - DoubleClick for Publishers Help.

Wait a minute? Google respects DNT now?

Sort of. GDPR-compliant terms written by Google aren't exactly the same as EFF's privacy-friendly Do Not Track (DNT) Policy All these different tracking policies are reminding me of open source licenses for some reason. but close enough. The catch is that as an end user, you can't just turn on Google's European mode. You have to do some JavaScript. I think I figured out how to do this in a simple browser extension to unlock secret European status.

Google doesn't appear to have their European mode activated yet, so I added a do-nothing "European mode" to the Aloodo project, for testing. I'm not able to yellow-list Google yet, but when GDPR takes effect later this month I'll test it some more.

In the meantime, I'll keep looking for other examples of hidden European mode, and see if I can figure out how to activate them.