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March 12 is World Day Against Cyber Censorship, and AdBlock is celebrating by replacing some ads rather than simply blocking them. For 24 hours, AdBlock users will see banners linking to Amnesty International articles written by privacy and free speech advocates including Edward Snowden and Ai WeiWei. The campaign will also include messages written by victims of North Korean censorship, which is the country with the highest levels of censorship in the world according to Amnesty International.

The articles will discuss important issues including restriction of communications and mass surveillance by governments around the world. Amnesty International identifies victims of cyber censorship in over 16 different countries, who have faced criminal charges due to what they have said online. The organization also notes that in the last year, several countries including Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland and Switzerland, have all sought bills to increase the level of surveillance of their own citizens.

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty stated, “Some states are engaged in Orwellian levels of surveillance, particularly targeting the lives and work of the people who defend our human rights – lawyers, journalists and peaceful activists. This continuing development of new methods of repression in reaction to increased connectivity is a major threat to our freedom of expression.”

A post written by AdBlock CEO Gabriel Cubbage highlights the ongoing dispute between the FBI and Apple as an attack on digital privacy by a government agency. He also states that forcing Apple to write software against their will is compelled speech and is “an injustice so rare and draconian, it’s almost without precedent.” The post argues that even if Apple succeeds in fighting the FBI’s order, American citizens should still be concerned about warrantless mass surveillance being conducted by government agencies.

Cubbage also used the opportunity to address accusations that AdBlock itself is guilty of censorship. This is in response to a recent speech given by the CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the sentiment is shared by many in the industry. The argument from advertisers is that blocking advertisements is itself censorship, and is a threat to free speech on the Internet. Cubbage counters by stating that adblockers simply give power to the user to decide what content they want to see. In some cases it’s not simply a matter of preference but an actual security issue, because the ads on certain sites contain malware. The post concludes by stating, “no one except you has the right to control what shows up on your screen, or who has access to the contents of your hard drive. Not the websites, not the advertisers, not the ad blockers. And not your government, either.”

What do you think of AdBlock’s campaign to promote Amnesty International? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.