Should you use Ad-Blocking Software?
Pros and cons of using some of the most popular extensions in the chrome webstore.
Websites rely on ad revenue to survive. They do this by opening ad-spots on their website, and allowing advertisers to pay for a spot. However, with the rise of ad-blockers, many websites are putting their content behind paywalls to help fund their content.
Ad-blockers block scripts that serves ads to consumers, and end-users get an ad-free experience. Websites can detect when this happens, and some can give you messages to disable your ad-blocker, or restrict you from the site altogether.
There are many good reasons on why you should use an ad-blocker. Online ads try to give you a personalized experience. Trackers get info about what websites you have been on, how long you have been on them, and what you did on the websites. The info gets sent back to advertisers where they serve ads that relate to what you were doing. For example, if you looked at a product on amazon, similar products may be advertised to you later on, when you go on a different website.
Some ads “fingerprint” your web browser. This fingerprinting takes a combination of your system and browser info like what hardware your running, and your browser version. Then, when you are seen on another website with the same fingerprint, advertisers are almost certain that you are the same person, because there is a very low chance that two machines have the same fingerprint.
You can try to opt-out of personalized ads, but it is very hard to do so. There are many ad providers, like Google Adsense, Adsterra Network, Media.net, and more! Most of the time, you will need to opt-out of personalized ads for all of these networks separately, which can take days.
One alternative to these opt outs, are sending out a “Do-Not-Track” request. These requests can be enabled in most modern browsers. This sends out a request every time you load a page for websites to stop tracking you. However, since this is a request, this can be ignored. When it is ignored, it is mostly by a website operator that doesn’t know how to interpret a “Do-Not-Track” request, or a malicious tracker that decides to ignore your request anyway.
These malicious ads can serve viruses, and overlay over existing ads. The main way you see malicious ads are if you are on a bad website, or if you have mistakenly downloaded a malicious extension from a website, or an ad served by a non-malicious website. This means that even good websites and good ad-networks can still serve you bad ads!
However, as I said in the beginning, websites rely on ad revenue to survive. Blocking ads using an ad-blocker means that websites can fall under financial stress.
Some solutions to this problem have good intent, and some don’t benefit anyone. Websites like The New York Times and Medium have setup paywalls for some/all of their content (in fact, this website is behind a paywall). These paywalls usually let consumers read some articles to try the website out, before buying a subscription to the website’s content.
There is a problem with this approach. If more websites setup paywalls, more of the internet will be closed off, and the internet will become less open. This is why at surfingonthe.net, we have plans for launching our articles on our website, free from paywalls. I’m not sure how we are going to monetize it yet, but I don’t want to serve ads on the site.
Some websites use affiliate marketing to create revenue for their site. This is when websites offer products or services through affiliate links, that tell the product makers that a website referred customers to their product. One popular affiliate marketer is Amazon, where you can apply to make a commission on products if you offer Amazon’s products on your website.
This is a less invasive way of making revenue, and it benefits all parties.
However, if you are still not satisfied with these methods that websites use, you may want to use an ad-blocker.
Ad Blockers can speedup the websites that they block ads on, and when you are on a data cap, help ease the strain on your network.
But which one should you choose?
Some of the most popular ad blockers are Adblock, Adblock Plus, and Ublock Origin. Many ad-blockers work exactly the same functionality wise, so it is up to each of the extension’s business practices and choices to change the decision for many ad-blocker users.
Adblock has over 40 millions users, and blocks ads from YouTube, Facebook, and one almost everywhere else.
Adblock is available for Chrome, Safari, Edge, Opera, and Firefox.
Since Adblock is “pay what you want” software, you can choose the price from $0+. Adblock isn’t very upfront with who is behind the project, and they are very vague on their About Us page. Adblock requests permission to Read and Change the information you view on webpages, and to send notifications. These permissions are very standard for ad-blockers. However, since this extension is not open source, it is up in the air if they are using this data for other reasons.
Adblock is a part of the “Acceptable Ads” program, which whitelists ads from websites that are non-intrusive, and that are clearly marked. However, this is a business model that is unfair, and may put more pressure on websites that host ads.
It seems like this is a win-win scenario for websites, but really it is a disgraceful practice. Large ad-networks usually pay 30% of their ad-revenue to the Acceptable Ads program. Already, Ad-Networks take a cut from the same pie, and websites are left with less and less revenue with each ad. This may cause websites to display more ads on their websites to make up for the lost revenue, or put their websites behind a paywall.
The Acceptable Ads Program does not help anyone, and this is a staple of the Adblock extension, being enabled by default. I would not recommend anyone to download Adblock.
AdBlock Plus promises the same things that Adblock promises, even wanting to be better. AdBlock Plus has decided to be open-source, which means that all of the code that makes Adblock Plus is available for anyone to read online, meaning that security researchers can find bugs and security threats easily, and help Adblock Plus to build a better product. Adblock Plus requires the same permissions as Adblock, with a greater sense of security since it is open source.
Adblock Plus is available for all of the browsers Adblock supports plus Android, Internet Explorer, Yandex, and Maxthon.
By default, Adblock Plus enables the Acceptable Ads Program as well, with all of the grievances that come with it. Adblock Plus is transparent with its team, and it is funded by a company called eye/o, which builds products like Adblock Plus, Adblock Browser, and Flattr.
One problem with this approach is that since the tool is open-source, strangers contribute to the project with no pay, and Adblock Plus uses community-built ad-lists without crediting contributors.
Overall, if you want an Adblocker I wouldn’t recommend Adblock Plus, but if you are considering downloading Adblock, Adblock Plus is a better adblocker to download.
Ublock Origin is an ad-blocker centered around performance. By their own tests, they are faster than Adblock, and Adblock Plus.
Ublock Origin split from Ublock.org, an adblocker whose philosophies clashed. Now, Ublock Origin considers Ublock as “badware”, and blocks their website with their filters. This is questionable, but there is not enough information to take a side on this issue.
Ublock Origin does not participate with the Acceptable Ads Program, and all of their revenue comes from donations. Ublock Origin is considers themselves not an “ad blocker” but a “wide spectrum blocker”, which ad blocking just falls within the category. Ublock Origin’s default behavior is to block ads, trackers, and malware sites from loading.
Ublock Origin is open-source, and does profit off of the communities work, but they create their own filters and releases them back into the open.
“Free. Open source. For users by users. No donations sought.” is one of their mottos.
Ublock Origin is available for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari.
Ublock Origin is the blocker I most recommend, because of its open stance.