Wipr and Whitelisting.

Note: this article only applies to the iOS version of Wipr running on iOS 12 and below. On macOS and iOS 13+, per-domain whitelisting is offered by Safari, whether I like it or not :) See the Frequently Asked Questions for instructions.

To decide whether or not to add whitelisting to Wipr, I started collecting feedback from users on why they were asking for that feature. This has been going on for months now, ever since Wipr was released.

Maybe this goes without saying, but this “poll” is closed – the mere existence of this article invalidates any new data.

All replies have fallen in one of two groups (and rarely, both):

  1. Fix a broken website by essentially disabling Wipr on that domain
  2. Support a website financially by intentionally letting ads through

Almost everybody is in group 1, way more than I expected.

Let’s examine each group individually and see how to best address their needs.

Group 1: Whitelist to Fix

I don’t think whitelisting is a good solution to this problem.

I think it’s best if those broken websites are reported to the EasyList forums or to me, so we can fix them once for everybody.

It’s worked pretty well so far. Users from this group to whom I’ve proposed this have universally – so far, at least – agreed it’s the best solution.

I should mention that this is a rare occurrence with Wipr: users with this issue typically mention only one website where they ever had an issue, and sometimes it turns out the website was just broken, Wipr or not. But it can happen. The net is vast and infinite.

With no whitelist, I know exactly what set of filters are being applied to a given user’s browsing. This makes it easy to reproduce issues, and consequently to fix them.

The issue of broken sites is also slightly mitigated by the “Reload Without Content Blockers” Safari feature and the “Disable” button in the Mac version.

By the way, I’m not planning on adding any “quick report” feature. I’m afraid I can’t do that. The result would probably be a massive increase in the volume of reports, and a decrease in their quality. Triaging all these reports would take too long, and it wouldn’t make Wipr significantly better. I just don’t have the resources to handle them. This might change, however, if Wipr becomes a paid-only app.

Group 2: Whitelist to Pay

For group 2, whitelisting is the only solution that I can think of. But there are many downsides:

Lack of Demand

This group is tiny! Even if my unscientific polling was way off, it would still be too small.

This is a key point, and would alone be sufficient to reject whitelisting.

Added User Interface Complexity

Implementing something just for this tiny group would make the app worse overall – Wipr would become unnecessarily more complex for everybody else.

Users tell me they’re installing Wipr on their not-as-tech-savvy parents’ devices. Would that still happen if the app needed more than two taps to be operated (zero if someone else sets it up for you), and had a built-in way to shoot yourself in the foot?

Abuse by Group 1

The existence of this feature would encourage the whitelist to fix behavior that I’m trying to discourage for group 1 users.

Unforeseen Consequences

I don’t think most users fully understand what whitelisting a domain means. Sure they want to see a website’s ads so they get paid, but they might not be aware of the avalanche of trackers and assorted crap that rides on the same train.

There is no way to only let ads through, either, because most ads contain trackers.

This could be addressed by educating users, but it would likely mean adding an annoying wall of text to the app that would need to be manually dismissed and no one will read anyway. Yuck. The app is supposed to make your worry less about the problems of the web.

Ads Aren’t the Only Way

There are better ways to support a website financially, more effectively and without compromising your privacy.

When I want to support a website, I do something like buying their products/merchandise/subscriptions, donating, recommending their services to others, and so on.

There’s no need to degrade your experience of a product in order to support it.

Whitelisting Might Be Ineffective

Third-party advertising is a numbers game. If a tiny subset of Wipr users – which is already a tiny subset of a website’s traffic – whitelisted some specific websites, they probably wouldn’t even notice.

If Wipr was popular enough that whitelisted domains mattered a lot, I’d reconsider this point. Probably from the comfort of my solid gold yacht.

There Are No “Good” Ads

Very few are unobtrusive and don’t significantly impact page performance (like The Deck’s), but even those collect data without your consent.

Also: It’s a New Feature

And like all features, it’s costly to implement, debug, maintain, document and support.

In Conclusion

I don’t think whitelisting is a good idea for Wipr, and now you know why! Let me know what you think. Or if you spotted all of the sci-fi references I’ve sneaked in. One is tricky.