back to article In conversation with Gene Hoffman, co-creator of the internet's first ad blocker

Gene Hoffman is one of the founders of PrivNet, which in 1996 developed Internet Fast Forward, the internet's first commercial ad blocking software. He helped found the company as a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with the help of fellow students Mark Elrod, Jeff Harrell, and James Howard. PrivNet …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

    "I see this with banking. Unless you've actually recently sent an international wire transfer, you did not know how infuriating that process is. You don't know where it is, you don't know how long it's going to go and you don't know how many banks are going to take obscene amounts of cash off the top of your wire transfer. "

    What I see is that the US banking system is so fucking shitty you had to go and invent something that makes global climate change worse instead of fixing your fucking shitty banking system.

    I live in France. I have a company registered in Luxembourg. I have no problem with international bank transfers. They happen on the day I set them for, and the annual fee is ridiculously low (maybe I shouldn't have said that last bit).

    In any case, now I know why Bitcoin and the rest of those funny money pyramid schemes are all the rage overseas. You have a shitty banking system and you can't be arsed to fix that.

    Well I'll leave you to your toys and blame you when Florida is finally underwater.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

      I have no problem with international bank transfers. They happen on the day I set them for, and the annual fee is ridiculously low

      Exactly, and if you use a reputable online currency broker that is true even outside the Eurozone. Banks still charge rip-off commission and fees for currency exchange, dedicated brokers have online systems that work better and cheaper. I can send Euros to a UK bank within a day and get conversion to sterling at almost bank base rates.

      It's only the US that makes it difficult (perhaps because they still don't quite believe that there is a different world outside their borders?).

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

        "perhaps because they still don't quite believe that there is a different world outside their borders"

        Now, now, you're exaggerating. Even the most parochial seem aware of Mexico and I think quite a few know about Canada.

        1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

          Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

          And didn't Trump mention 'China'? (Or was that just a funny noise he made?)

        2. John R. Macdonald

          Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

          "... Even the most parochial seem aware of Mexico ..."

          So that's why some think of New Mexico as a foreign country.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

        They happen on the day I set them for

        Sure, locally the money leave our account immediately - then it moves to New York that night and once it arrives in New York it moves to the central bank in the country to are transferring to a couple of days later, and then then a day or two later it will be sent to the vendors bank that we are paying and they will be notified after a while. A Bitcoin transfer takes seconds - but then you have to pay the fees if you want to convert the Btc to a local currency so there's no big advantage over a wire transfer.

      3. BOFH in Training Bronze badge

        Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

        I had to send some money from a Singapore bank to an Indian bank. Related to paying some people and getting some solar gear.

        I think it happened within an hour and there were no extra fees.

        Rates were pretty reasonable as well.

        I thought that was how normal international transfers worked. Maybe it's everywhere that does not involve US at either end of the transaction?

        1. Shalghar Bronze badge

          Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

          Depends. If western union is a bank that would fit your assumption.

          Transfer from germany to canada via western union was ridiculously expensive and took around a week. Same transfer (follow up payment) via the german version of former citybank/now targobank took two days and considerably less fees although citybank was definitely US owned at that time.

          Both transfers including currency conversion.

          Seems to be a lot easier on the process and on the fees when using credit/debit cards. Even pre paid debit cards seem to work better and be cheaper, initial fees included.

          Still an issue with refunds. Giving back faulty hardware to a telekom shop resulted in three days (monday to wednesday) until the "money" was back where it belonged so as long as any kind of electronic pseudomoney has such uncontrollable delays and can be taken out of my control at any time for any made up reason, cash is and stays king.

      4. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

        Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

        American banks are just technological relics.

        It's unusual how the British banks mainly merged into 5-6 big banks, while the US has ~5000 smaller banks with older legacy paperwork processes, that are often tricky enough crossing state borders.

        The newer tech and EU regulations made this far simpler. I use Revolut and it's a breath of fresh air compared to old school banks.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

      I'd like to downvote you... but I'm American and you're 100,000% right.

      For example, I have to pay a large "foreign transaction" fee every time I have to renew my email provider, or when I bought a 3D printer from the Czech republic.

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

      Indeed. I'd make a similar argument for his point about losing your wallet as well. If I leave my wallet in the pub, I don't lose any cash because there isn't any in it. Even if there was some cash in it, most people aren't in the habit of carrying hundreds of pounds around with them, so how is losing 1/7th of whatever limit I've set better than losing maybe £20? And of course I don't lose anything from my credit card, because any fradulent transactions that happen are covered by the bank.

      All these arguments in favour of cryptocurrency always seem to be trying to solve problems that have already been solved, usually by proposing a significantly worse solution. The few parts that could potentially be useful usually have nothing whatsoever to do with cryptocurrency - there's no reason you can't put spending limits on a normal bank card using normal money, for example.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

      You're (falsely) assuming people in the US are buying bitcoin to use them as an alternative to the banking system. Other than criminals (still the Killer App for bitcoin) that's a fraction of 1% of the bitcoin ownership in the US - its the new "gold bug" thing for millennial "prepper" types - the older ones are still buying gold.

      The overwhelming reason people in the US are buying bitcoin is as an investment/gamble (take your pick) They buy it believing a greater fool will come around and buy it from them in the future when they want to unload it. They won't ever directly spend bitcoin, they will convert it back to dollars down the road.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

        Tulips spring to mind.

    5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

      I used to live in Hong Kong twenty thirty* years ago. The process of sending money to the UK was simply to go to my bank, write an international cheque drawn on my account (I think the fee was about a fiver), go next door to the post office and send it recorded and insured mail to my bank in the UK. I never realised the US system was so borked.

      *Good god, where's the time gone?

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

        That doesn't exactly sound "easy" or cheap to me. I haven't ever sent funds overseas from the US but I doubt it is even as bad as that.

        When I've purchased things from overseas I've been able to use my credit card and not dealt with anything. Yeah they charge fees as a percentage and AFAIK less advantageous exchange rates so you wouldn't want to buy something that costs thousands that way as there are likely cheaper but less convenient methods, but it has always worked for me.

        I also consulted in Toronto for a time, commuting up there each week (the year before 9/11, the security hassles since would have made it too annoying to consider something like that after) I received paper checks in Canadian dollars via mail. I simply deposited them in my US bank (actually credit union) account, they used the prevailing exchange rate and charged no fees at all! The only potentially painful (for some) part was it took about a week for funds availability. Since I didn't need the money right away I didn't care about the delay.

    6. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Okay, now I get cryptocurrency

      Does cryptocurrency really "make global climate change worse" so much? Given that without it we'd be securely encrypting financial transactions anyway and the current libertarian move is to encrypt all web site access? Including news articles from The Register.

      Some people have found cheeky crypto miners stealing electricity, but crypto and global warming is something I think we started hearing about in the last year, and it smells like a smear campaign against cryptocurrency.

  2. heyrick Silver badge

    Quelle audace!

    The Americans knew the French were spying on them because they were spying on the French...

    1. Blazde

      Re: Quelle audace!

      Yet the planes ended up with British engines. It feels like there's a piece missing from this intrigue.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quelle audace!

        Don't tell me, let me guess.


        Oh, sorry, wrong story.

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Quelle audace!

      US Spying Allies? Nah....

      In 1999, Enercon, a German company and leading manufacturer of wind energy equipment, developed a breakthrough generator for wind turbines. After applying for a US patent, it had learned that Kenetech, an American rival, had submitted an almost identical patent application shortly before. By the statement of a former NSA employee, it was later discovered that the NSA had secretly intercepted and monitored Enercon's data communications and conference calls and passed information regarding the new generator to Kenetech. As German intelligence services are forbidden from engaging in industrial or economic espionage, German companies are frequently complaining that this leaves them defenceless against industrial espionage from the United States. According to Wolfgang Hoffmann, a former manager at Bayer, German intelligence services know which companies are being targeted by US intelligence agencies, but refuse to inform the companies involved.

  3. Wellyboot Silver badge

    This quote should scare everyone.

    >>>There is a tremendous amount of effort being put into overturning the 1933 and the 1934 Securities Acts<<< - all driven by greed.

    After every serious stock market crash (Dropping more than 10% in 1 day) rules are changed, the securities acts of 33/34 exist for good reasons, removing any of them seriously risks a repeat.

  4. Dr Paul Taylor


    In the 1980s, people advertised their academic preprints on email lists, telling readers how to get them using FTP over the Internet.

    (Of course, since it was Not Invented Here, British universities weren't connected to the Internet until 1991(?). We had Janet, haha.)

    Now we get things using the Web.

    I know that there was Gopher in between FTP and the Web, but so far as I recall it was not The Thing for very long and I don't actually remember ever using it other than for a demo.

    Did other people actually use Gopher?

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Re: Gopher

      The alternative to gopher was logging into random chat rooms and asking your question there: how do i find information on xxxxx? If no-one answered, you typed: thanks and went to another chat room to ask.

    2. Martin Gregorie

      Re: Gopher

      Sure, when Gopher was a thing and "The Whole Internet Guide" was a must-have in your technical book collection, but I stopped using it when the first web browsers appeared.

      I long ago lost or binned my copy of "The Whole Internet Guide", but my copy of "UNIX Systems Programming for SVR4", which is a similar age, is still useful and contains stuff that's relevant for writing C on a Linux box.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gopher

      (Of course, since it was Not Invented Here, British universities weren't connected to the Internet until 1991(?). We had Janet, haha.)

      JANET came online in the mid-80s, two years before its US research network equivalent (NSFNET). It was a development from the SERCnet of the mid-70s. I remember that QUB in Belfast had access to the Daresbury CDC system via SERCnet in 1979. JANET moved to mixed X.25/IP in 1991, and to high-speed pure-IP SuperJanet in 1993 but there were gateways to the Internet well before then.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Gopher

        Ah, Janet -- Joint Academic NETwork. I seem to remember BT being pissed off and would not let anyone use their yellow pages service coz no one would pay them. :-)

    4. jtaylor

      Re: Gopher

      Did other people actually use Gopher?

      Yes indeedy. If you knew a few good gopher nodes, you could go anywhere! I used to look up weather on (or something like that). had a nice gopher too, and if you knew the magic incantation, you could get a telnet shell.

      Those were the days when Scott Yanoff emailed out his monthly list of useful Internet sites.

      I confess that the first time I saw MCSA Mosaic stagger around on a Power Mac, I knew it was a toy and would never overtake Gopher for real research on the Internet.

      1. JSIM

        Re: Gopher

        "If you knew a few good gopher nodes"

        gopher holes

    5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Gopher

      I was using the Internet from my university in 1987. I had some backups of posts from somewhere until I replaced them with a download of the (almost) entire archive.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    same as any CC

    "Every" financial processing company is in business to make money. A skimming operation based on greed. Nothing more, nothing less.

  6. RegGuy1 Silver badge

    Nice to see LISP being used

    Church's recursive functions refuse to die! :)

  7. Potemkine! Silver badge

    One has to be really dumb to believe emails are safe and secure.

  8. TimMaher Silver badge

    French Connection

    I read the interviewee as “Gene Hackman”.


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