Friday, August 14, 2015

Modern Web Ad Blocking

Charles Arthur:

Certainly as a standard reader, here’s what happened: I accepted an invitation to read an article, but I don’t think that we quite got things straight at the top of the page over the extent to which I’d be tracked, and how multiple ad networks would profile me, and suck up my data allowance, and interfere with the reading experience. Don’t I get any say in the last two, at least?

Jean-Louis Gassée (comments):

We come here to the crux of the matter: Trust.

We feel cheated and rightly so. As users, we understand that we’re not really entitled to free browsing; we pay our bills with our selves: When The Product Is Free, We Are the Product. The problem is that we feel betrayed when we find out we’ve been overpaying. We’re being exploited — and it’s not even done nicely.

Marco Arment (no surprise that he makes more from a popular podcast and blog than a free-to-$5 app, even though it’s best-of-class):

Because of how the web and web browsers work, the involuntary data collection starts if you simply follow a link. There’s no opportunity for disclosure, negotiation, or reconsideration. By following any link, you unwittingly opt into whatever the target site, and any number of embedded scripts from other sites and tracking networks, wants to collect, track, analyze, and sell about you.


I’ve never been tempted to run ad-blocking software before — I make most of my living from ads, as do many of my friends and colleagues, and I’ve always wanted to support the free media I consume. But in the last few years, possibly due to the dominance of low-quality ad networks and the increased share of mobile browsing (which is far less lucrative for ads, and more sensitive to ad intrusiveness, than PC browsing), web ad quality and tolerability have plummeted, and annoyance, abuse, misdirection, and tracking have skyrocketed.


I recently started using Ghostery on my computers, and a simple homemade iOS content blocker that I may release for iOS 9’s launch. The web performance improvements with these are staggering, and the reports of quite how much Ghostery is blocking on most pages is shocking and disgusting.

John Gruber:

I don’t want to block “ads”. I want to block garbage JavaScript. I’ve been using Ghostery on my Macs for a few months now, and the results are impressive. I expect the results to be even more significant on the phone with content blockers in iOS 9.

Nick Heer:

Vox Media’s privacy policy is typical of most larger publishers’ policies. It notes that they or third parties can set cookies, use pixel tags, and serve (targeted) advertisements. It’s only deep into the privacy policy that they link to a page where they list some of their third-party providers. However, it is woefully out of date; Vox lists 13 third-party scripts, but Ghostery counts 26, including those from Aggregate Knowledge (cross-device targeting), Criteo (retargeting), and Lotame (cross-platform visitor tracking). Gross.

Some publishers, like Bloomberg, do not list third-party scripts in their privacy policy. Ghostery found 14 third-party scripts on their homepage, of which 12 are for advertising or tracking purposes.

Ole Begemann:

I love how Apple has implemented the content blocking mechanism, maximizing performance and protecting my browsing history from the developer of the ad blocking extension itself.


Aren’t I actively harming my favorite web sites? To some extent, that’s probably true. Will it lead to a reduction of good content? Maybe, though anecdotally, the number and obtrusiveness of ads on a site doesn’t seem to be positively correlated with the quality of the content.

Nick Heer:

While Apple is adding content blocking to Safari on iOS, it doesn’t impact content shown in apps, meaning Facebook’s revenue seems much safer than Google’s. I anticipate the latter pushing their mobile app much more readily.

I wish there were a way I could directly pay sites like iMore and a few others to not show me their ads. They have some great content, so I always scan their RSS feeds, but I also always hesitate before clicking through because the page design is so reader-hostile. Unfortunately, I’ve read over and over that this idea doesn’t work. I don’t know what the solution is.

Previously: Safari Content Blocker and Web Advertising.

Update (2015-08-17): Wil Shipley reports a JavaScript alert ad at the Washington Post.

2 Comments RSS · Twitter

Back in 2010, I was browsing the web with Javascript set to off. Pages were loading much faster this way, and trackers couldn't see me. These days I'm using an extension where I specifically whitelist domains that can serve me scripts because it's more convenient.

I don't care that much about the occasional site that breaks because of the lack of Javascript (I can make always it work if I need to). I care a lot about browsing speed, tracking, and security. I say security because who can make sure a third party script that ends up on his website won't steal his visitor's authentication cookie or insert a key logger?

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