There is nowadays sadly precious little about the “Adblock brand” that conveys much trust or even just plain basic reassurance among internet users – especially the more savvy ones.
In other words, these days Adblock is left in the dust behind its more resource-friendly and policy-transparent competitors, ones that a majority of users appear to have moved on to, in order to filter out unwanted advertising and resource-hungry online technologies. These alternatives include the likes of uBlock Origin, a hot commodity among those seeking to protect themselves against privacy-invasive online advertising and tracking.
And while Adblock – originally designed to filter content on the web to the benefit of the end user – had been something of a pioneer in this field way back when – it has since let its guard, its business model, and by extension, its users, dangerously down.
Thus back in 2011, AdBlock Plus and eyeo GmbH – the Germany-based software company behind it – caused considerable controversy among their users when they introduced the “acceptable ads” program that allowed, i.e. “whitelisted,” the likes of Google AdWords by default into a supposedly “ad-free” browser the extension was installed on.
But there was a business model behind this self-styled web gatekeeper role – the focus of which seemed to be on making money off large advertising companies by allowing them to do as they please, at the expense of (at that point) trusting Adblock users.
However, whether casual or professional, whether diving deep into the technologies behind the web or not interested at all in how that particular sausage gets made – the joint overarching interest of all internet users should by now be one and the same: first let the web do you no harm; first protect yourself from invasive tracking and/or advertising.
Fast forward to 2019 – and now Adblock and eyeo – such as they are – are funding another at this time largely vague and unverifiable “industry” – that of “news fact-checking.” At the helm of this particular and somewhat ragtag joint enterprise – dubbed Factmata – are a host of internet-has-beens, the web's early entrepreneurs – some of whom have have become very rich thanks to the late 90s dot-com bubble – but who have also petty much gone without an innovative or indeed useful tech industry thought, not to mention project, attributed to their names for the last 20+ years.
Be that as it may, enter Factmata – a London startup backed by Biz Stone, Craig Newmark, Mark Cuban, Mark Pincus and others.
Factmata is also now in charge of Trusted News, a Google Chrome extension that, according to the website, checks and then tells its users whether a story on the web might be legitimate or wrong.
But fact checking, these days, is controversial.
This is because the political and ideological divide in the United States, and well beyond, makes any attempt to bring in “verified” groups to pass judgment on what's fake and what's real in the news domain seems doomed from the very start, as those holding opposing views invariably, and often convincingly, argue against each other.
In the end, the ruling might depressingly come down to a platforms' own ideological bias. And given the billions served by major tech enterprises across the world – the role of a “fake or real” news arbiter cannot be a comfortable, or indeed, a credible and trustworthy spot to occupy. But it might still prove to be lucrative.
Factmata meanwhile, might gain – or lose – some of its credibility from the fact that its CEO Dhruv Ghulati founded the company with Sebastian Riedel – himself a fake-news-fighting “pioneer” – whose other effort to this end, Bloomsbury AI, was acquired by none other than Facebook last year, the report revealed.
Naturally, this is not to say that Factmata and its founders may not be undergoing an epiphany just now and end up proving to be a credible authority in the “fact-checking” business, now that it's all the rage. Alternatively, they might be looking for a politically and ideologically opportunistic chance to use the web and everyone on it to spring their failed tech careers back to life.
Only time will tell.