I’ve been using ad blockers for years. Back when Firefox was the hotness, I used AdBlockPlus. Later, I moved to uBlock Origin. I even switched the default browser on my Android phone to Firefox because it allows extensions like uBlock Origin, while Chrome on Android doesn’t.
I get that free content isn’t truly “free”. If everyone followed my example, many sites currently providing content on the back of advertising would shutter their servers, unable to transition to a business model that didn’t rely on advertising. I don’t currently advertise here, but I see the temptation to add some to defray the costs associated to running a blog.
On the other hand, it’s hard for me to feel too much sympathy. Internet advertisers chart a course as close as possible to the border of irritating and alienating users. Two phrases: “modal ads” and “auto-play videos.”
Beyond decluttering the internet and making for a better experience, there are other reasons to adopt an ad blocker.
As a web engineer, I’m constantly concerned about the performance of the sites I build. Each resource requested by a web page impacts performance. It doesn’t take much before there’s an impact on site loading time. Adding advertising, web traffic trackers, and other “cruft” that impacts performance is anathema.
Many engineers realize this and often have advertising code load after everything else is done loading. But that still leaves a performance impact on the device viewing my site as it executes code and displays ad content.
And on mobile devices? Multiple the performance issue by a factor and then throw in some battery drain. And every bit downloaded, including advertising code, pushes against your data quota.
I may not be paying directly for the content in dollars and cents, but it’s still costing something.
Ad-serving networks become more profitable the more they know about the audience. Tracking you from site to site provides them an incredible amount of information about you, your habits, the searches you make, the things you buy and (most importantly) are likely to buy. If something is free, then you are probably the product.
I don’t deny that better ad targeting is desirable. The range of products I’m not interested in is vast. Not seeing advertising for those products is great. At the same time, I’m not interested in being constantly sold to, targeted for my billfold.
In addition to the constant targeting, tracking leads to information silos. I want to see what I want to see, not what someone else thinks I want to see based on my searches or web patterns. Clicking on X means I don’t see Y because generally people who see X don’t like Y? No thanks.
Ad networks claim they do some vetting of advertisements that get in their network. However, malware has been unwittingly(?) spread by ad networks. And then there’s the “legit”
advertisements that try to look like operating system dialogs, preying on users who accidentally click, thinking there’s something wrong with their computer.
I’m very selective about the extensions I’m willing to install. My ad blocker makes the cut.
Not All Ad Blockers are Equal
Ad block technology has improved over the past 20 years. Early ad blockers could be resource hogs themselves. Sometimes they’d only edit ads out of the page after the ad content was downloaded, instead of killing the request for ad content before it was downloaded.
With the popularity of ad blocking, there are shady entities that have published ad blockers that themselves track user behavior or appear to be in the pocket of the advertising industry with their “acceptable advertisement” policies.
I currently use the uBlock Origin and the companion extension uBlock Origin Plus. Beyond the stock install, I’ve also enabled the Annoyances feature to cut down on the anti-ad-blocker techniques that some popular sites have adopted.
Ad blocking is a critical component of my internet experience. I currently use Chrome as my primary browser, but I would switch to Firefox in heartbeat if Google carries through with their plans to kill the APIs that ad blockers use to filter content. It means that much to me.
Do you use an ad blocker? Any points that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about it.