Computers

Why I use an Ad Blocker

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.

Performance

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.

Privacy

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.

Security

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.

Hard pass.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Hasta luego!

8 thoughts on “Why I use an Ad Blocker

  1. Good post.

    I’m a chrome user but hadn’t heard of Google’s plans to screw up the adblocking API. That’s a big bummer.

    I’m an android user and had no idea that firefox + uBlock origin was an option. I’d just resigned to seeing ads on my phone. Thanks to your recommendation I’ll give it a try.

    I hadn’t heard of uBlock Origin Plus before. Thanks for the heads up.

    I’m always curious to see what other extensions people use. Are there any you would recommend? Here’s a list that I use: https://frugalprofessor.com/why-i-love-rss-readers/#comment-1225.

    1. I’m very selective with the extensions I install. There is a lot of malware and spyware extensions out there (e.g. https://awakesecurity.com/blog/the-internets-new-arms-dealers-malicious-domain-registrars/).

      Here’s my list:

      • uBlock Origin
      • uBlock Origin Plus
      • Google Mail Checker
      • Authy (although this is now EOL so I’m probably going to uninstall it soon)

      As you can see, I’m not very trusting of extensions 🙂

      I used to have Momentum but I only used it for the backgrounds and then found out that you could configure Chrome to get backgrounds from 500px.

      1. Thanks for the feedback. I think you’ve (justifiably) scared me into taking extension security more seriously.

        Short of getting a phd in cyber-security, how would a smart person decipher the integrity of an extension? It seems like your approach is to not trust it unless it’s published by reputable entities: Google/Amazon/Ublock. Is there no way to validate the integrity of an extension from an unknown entity?

        I thought that there was more security oversight from Google in managing their extension store. I guess I’m the fool.

        1. It’s hard to determine the integrity of extensions. Google will pull extensions when there’s enough complaints, but generally it’s caveat emptor, and when it’s free, you’re the product. It’s the same for apps in the Google Play store. There’s still snakes in walled gardens.

  2. Hi David – this was a bit out of my wheelhouse but your explanation makes perfect sense and I feel a little behind by not looking into this before. I am likely going to go ahead download both of these based on your recommendations.

    Is my understanding correct that this will eliminate ads even on blogs? Several of my favorite blogs practically ruined their sites over the years with ads. I certainly see the draw, but offsetting a few hundred dollars in annual costs doesn’t seem worth it to me yet.

  3. Wow – this is an absolute game-changer. I just downloaded the first one and it cleaned up several sites I used to go to. Added the extension as well. Not sure why I never looked into this?

    If I missed this, it makes me wonder how many major mistakes I am making on my blog. I will look into the google mail checker next week.

    The New England heat has turned this into a pretty productive day. I am obsessed with “ALT-TAB” toggle and use it pretty regularly at my job. However, when I remote in via Citrix to my office computer it would never work in that setting, slowing my pace down pretty dramatically. Well, I just got that fixed as well and will make remote work 27 – 38% more productive.

    Now I can toggle remotely and read ad-free blogs twice as fast. Woot.

    Max

    Thanks again.

    1. Glad the uBlock Origin cleaned up your experience!

      BTW, there are sometimes sites that break with an adblocker. You can always turn off uBlock on sites temporarily or permanently if you’re having trouble.

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