Time to Ban Surveillance-Based Advertising


07 July 2021

5 min

the logos of the members of the BanSurveillanceAds coalition

_ Since inception Mojeek has not tracked its users. We laid out our principles on 18th March 2006. Google founders relented from their initial aversion to advertising under financial pressure. In contrast, we have never been anti-ads, but we are fundamentally against surveillance-based advertising. We believe that ads can have value: they convey information, they can even entertain. They can be a useful economic signal for a buyer and a way for lesser known brands to gain attention. Ads are not a fundamental problem. Tracking is the fundamental problem. Therefore we always intended to, and recently started offering contextual, no-tracking, search advertising on Mojeek._

Ads that are contextual and non-tracking can be effective for all parties. Even when cohort-based (Google (FLoC), Microsoft (PARAKEET), Apple (ATT)) individualised advertising will bolster the existing adtech players while still being surveillance-based. Our focus is to build and provide a genuine and independent search engine and search advertising without tracking."

Consumers, businesses and democracy have been harmed by surveillance advertising, commonly referred to as "personalization". Together with 13 other companies, including DuckDuckGo, Ecosia and StartPage, we urge the EU, US, UK and Australian regulators to consider and take action against surveillance-based advertising as detailed in the letter below"

Recently, the Norwegian Consumer Council published a report calling for a ban on surveillance-based ads. In solidarity, we the undersigned will be sending the following letter on Wednesday, July 7th, to EU and US regulators to encourage them to take action during legislative sessions and any relevant privacy discussions.



Surveillance-based advertising permeates the internet today, creating a number of highly problematic issues for both consumers and businesses.

On June 23, a broad coalition of consumer rights organizations, civil rights groups, NGOs, as well as academics, researchers, privacy experts and enthusiasts -all concerned individuals-called on regulators to stop the invasive and privacy-hostile practices related to surveillance-based advertising.In the EU, they urged regulators to consider a ban on surveillance-based advertising as a part of the Digital Services Act. In the U.S., they urged legislators to enact comprehensive privacy legislation.

We are a group of businesses who write to you today to show our support to this initiative. We represent small, medium and large businesses who all believe -and demonstrate on a daily basis -that it is possible to run profitable companies without exploiting the privacy of individuals.

In addition to the clear privacy issues caused by surveillance-based advertising, it is also detrimental to the business landscape.

In the surveillance-based advertising model, a few actors can obtain competitive advantages by collecting data from across websites and services and dominant platform actors can abuse their positions by giving preference to their own services.

These practices seriously undermine competition and take revenue away from content creators. Anti-competitive behaviour and effects serve to entrench dominant actors’ positions while complex supply chains and ineffective technologies lead to lost revenues for advertisers and publishers.

It is also difficult for consumers to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actors in the digital sphere, which means that legitimate actors, amongst them many small and medium sized enterprises, are directly affected by the actions of unscrupulous companies.

This harms consumers and businesses, and can undermine the cornerstones of democracy.

Although we recognize that advertising is an important source of revenue for content creators and publishers online, this does not justify the massive commercial surveillance systems set up in attempts to “show the right ad to the right people”.

Other forms of advertising technologies exist, which do not depend on spying on consumers, and alternative models can be implemented without significantly affecting revenue. On the contrary - and that we can attest to - businesses can thrive without privacy-invasive practices.

We encourage you to take a stand and ban surveillance-based advertising.

With kind regards,

  1. Vivaldi Technologies, Jon von Tetzchner, CEO & Tatsuki Tomita, COO
  2. Fastmail Pty Ltd, Bron Gondwana, CEO
  3. ConvaVentures Inc., dba. Fathom Analytics, Jack Ellis & Paul Jarvis, Directors
  4. Proton Technologies AG, Dr. Andy Yen, CEO
  5. Tutao GmbH, dba. Tutanota, Matthias Pfau, Co-Founder and CEO
  6. Duck Duck Go, Inc., Gabriel Weinberg, Founder and CEO
  7. Disconnect Inc., CaseyOppenheim, Co-founder and CEO
  8. Mojeek Limited, Colin Hayhurst, CEO
  9. Ecosia GmbH, Christian Kroll, CEO
  10. Startpage & StartMail, Robert E.G. Beens, Co-Founder and CEO
  11. Nextcloud GmbH, Frank Karlitschek, Founder and CEO
  12. Kobler, Erik Bugge, CEO
  13. Strossle International, Håkon Tillier, CEO & Rickard Lawson, CMO
  14. Mailfence, Patrick De Schutter, Co-Founder and Managing Director


07 July 2021

5 min

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