Sunday, 15 November 2015

On the Matter of Ad Blockers

Ad blockers were the hot topic once Apple released iOS 9 with its ability to cater for ad blockers. It was the first time a company of Apple’s clout stood behind a mechanism for defying ads, standing out firmly against Google (and poking a finger in that advertising company’s eye, no doubt). Indeed, Google did the exact opposite when it banned Disconnect from Google Play.
I did not see the point in joining the discussion back then simply because my position is, and has been, quite clear. I changed my mind and will do so now, if only to commemorate the fact Firefox now offers anti-tracking facilities by default (but only in private browsing mode). Again, we have a company that stands up in the face of Google and its ever so popular Chrome, the browser that helps Google track your every move.



So, what do I think of ad blockers?
Before diving in, let us remember the pact we all signed with the devil with regards to our Internet usage. In general, we have all come to expect the Internet to supply us with free services and contents; we pay for those services through our exposure to ads.
Only that things are not that simple. There is more to these ads than a single word can suggest:
  1. We’ve all seen ads that assume too much and ruin a website’s core experience. The worst of that tide has been stemmed, but the problem is still very much there.
  2. Through the politics behind the ads, mainly advertisers distrust of websites telling them how much exposure an ad has received, the world of online advertising is now controlled by third party companies that both place the ads at websites and then provide the statistics to the advertisers themselves. It did not take long before these third parties realised they can increase their income by cross referencing between multiple websites we visit, thus ushering the birth of online trackers. In turn, these trackers follow us around the Internet and build a very detailed portfolio of what each and every one of us stands for. That is exactly how companies like Google and Facebook makes their billions.
    As an anecdote, and in order to illustrate how far user tracking goes, check out this recently revealed tale of ads that track you across devices by emitting ultrasounds.
  3. Even worse than privacy defying tracking ads are the security holes that are there to let hackers take over your computer when ads utilise highly exploitable technologies such as Flash or JavaScript. This is not a theoretical problem: such trojans have been distributed through Yahoo, and more recently through a company offering counter-ad-blocker technology (yes, you read that right). Simply put, if you do not protect yourself with ad blockers, you are leaving yourself exposed to security vulnerabilities.
So there you go. I do not necessarily mind the ads themselves, as long as they are not too obtrusive. On the other hand, I do not recall ever paying attention to online ads, so I can see the problem faced by advertisers when it comes to attracting our attentions. In other words, I would prefer a “user pays” world, and I try to follow that rule when opportunity presents itself through services such as Evernote or fruux. Given most of the Internet still relies on ads, tracking and gaping security halls, I will heavily defend myself with ad blockers, thank you very much.


Adblock Plus image is in the public domain

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