1. 120
  1.  

  2. 93

    As someone who worked in adtech, yes please destroy that entire rotten industry. It puts conventional money laundering to shame.

    1. 71

      I spent my entire five years at Google trying to change the system from within, working to make adtech safer for people. I hit the limits of that approach, and it’s nowhere close to where it should be. You should block ads. You should also block trackers, block cookies from websites that you don’t have an established relationship with, clear even those cookies on a frequent basis, and be aware that none of that is nearly enough.

      1. 59

        10+ years ago, I blocked ads because I didn’t like them. Now I block them for security and privacy purposes. I think “ad blocker” is an outdated term. We should start calling them “browser firewalls.”

        1. 4

          Very powerful messaging. I’m going to start using that, thank you.

          1. 3

            This is actually a hard term to define! You’re right, it’s gone from blocking ads to blocking trackers and other forms of telemetry. “browser firewalls” is good, but even that is slightly out of date - what about all the IoT devices that are sending your usage data over to some third party? That’s become a pretty big concern for a lot of people these days. I honestly don’t have a good answer to this that covers everything.

            1. 3

              For the IoT devices you need a actual firewall =)

              1. 2

                Sure, sorry - I just meant to try and point out the wider scope of the issue, I guess. “Browser firewalls” is good for browsers. :)

          2. 13

            Good website. But @notriddle can you please not use news websites as your sources ? Those are not only the worst when it comes to ads, but they are known for blowing things out of proportion, which makes your argument look flimsy.

            1. 12

              I get your point, but it’s a matter of bootstrapping the trustworthiness of my claims.

              CNN might do a lot of unfortunate things, but I can’t think of anyone who’s more likely to be trusted. If they said that Google ran a month-long ad campaign that pretended to sell fishing licenses, then it probably happened. What other site could I possibly link to, and actually expect my target audience (which isn’t actually you, since you already know this stuff) to give me the time of day? Academic papers are probably pretty good, but they use the English language in a way that lots of people find impenetrable. Wikipedia isn’t even worth considering, though in a few cases, I actually discovered the article through Wikipedia. Neither are independent blogs, or people like SwiftOnSecurity that my audience never heard of.

              Who could I link to instead that I would expect a technically illiterate reader to both understand and trust?

              1. 3

                Add some research on the bottom, keep inline news. It is messy, but guess what - the world is messy. And being idiot-proof is imho good.

              2. 5

                Yeah, In my opinion it is nonsensical to cite news sites when there is real research on the topic.

              3. 18

                Yes, always.

                1. 10

                  I wrote some about ad blocking over here a few months ago: http://daemonforums.org/showthread.php?t=11265 (username=Carpetsmoker); some relevant parts:

                  Advertisements have been an important revenue source for the publishing industry for over 100 years, and I’m actually in favour of allowing ads that don’t have the tracking and such that most do; at its most basic this could just be an <img src="/ad.png">.

                  It’s easy to just say “all ads bad”, but things turn out to be a bit more nuanced once you start building products that are very hard to monetize otherwise. For example, one product I worked on a bit last year is a better recipe site with some novel ideas, but … how do you monetize that without ads? Not so easy. I ended up shelving it and working on something else that’s easier to monetize (hopefully anyway…)

                  There should probably be more transparency from AdBlock, but having advertisers pay some amount of money to vet their ads by AdBlock is not wholly unreasonable.

                  [ … some replies snipped …]

                  Yeah, I agree it’s complex; I have no easy answers either.

                  Right now my website has some ads from codefund.io – which explicitly advertises itself as ethical ads and is fully open source – which are blocked by default by uBlock origin (and I believe also AdBlock). These adblocking tools do much more than just block requests to third-party data-collectors, they frob with the HTML in an attempt to remove every single last ad, and while there is some merit to this for the really intrusive/annoying ones, I feel this is fundamentally a misguided approach which doesn’t consider the perspective of publishers/product makers.

                  I use uBlock origin too, for all the same reasons as you do, but I don’t really like it because of this. I’m currently working full-time on open source stuff, and the income from these ads isn’t a bit of pocket-money on the side, it’s part of my income. Removing these kind of ads kind of rubs me the wrong way. Basically, I’m “collateral damage”.

                  I maintained a “track blocker” (trackwall) for a while, which I think is much more reasonable than an “ad blocker”.

                  The current situation sucks for both users and publishers :-(

                  1. 13

                    The current situation sucks for both users and publishers :-(

                    I completely agree. Today’s situation is a perfect example of a defect-defect equilibrium.

                    From the advertisers’ standpoint: if users don’t have ad blockers, then they’re better off if they act badly (you save the money that would be needed to vet ads), but if the users do have ad blockers, they’re still better off acting badly (milk whoever remains for all they’re worth). As for the end users, it hardly matters what the ad company does, because blocking ads is always better than not doing so.

                    I still blame the ads industry for being greedy. Setting up ad blocking takes time, and while it’s hard to give it up once you have it, few would go through the time investment unless things were really bad.

                    1. 12

                      It’s easy to just say “all ads bad”, but things turn out to be a bit more nuanced once you start building products that are very hard to monetize otherwise.

                      IMHO, “products that are very hard to monetize otherwise” sounds a lot like “products that people don’t think it’s worth paying for”. I’m very much into things that people aren’t usually willing to pay for myself, so I sympathize, but not everything that you or me like is also a good business idea. If the only way to monetize something is by having a third-party siphon other people’s data, that probably means it’s just not a great commercial venture. Lots of things aren’t, it’s just how it is.

                      1. 10

                        I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that. There are an untold number of cooking books, websites, TV shows, etc. Almost everyone cooks at least occasionally, and many do it regularly. It’s a big market, and these kind of products (including sites) bring a lot of value to people. Cooking is not even an especially big hobby of mine, it’s just something I noticed where improvements can be made, and I have a few ideas on it.

                        I think it’s more a “race to the bottom” kind of thing. It’s just really hard to compete against “free”: given two websites which are equal where one is €5/month subscription and the other is “free”, then many (probably most) will use the “free” one (often with adblock), leaving me with no option to offer a “free” option as well. Even with a great product, you really need a clear edge to compete against that.

                        Or to give an analogy: if I set up a stand with “free cooking books” next to the book store, then I’m fairly sure the book store’s sales of cooking books will drop.

                        1. 6

                          First off – I apologize if I was/am harsh or unfair. I understand this is probably important to you (and as the “happy owner” of several entirely unmonetizable – and, worse, probably expensive – passions, I know how it can feel). I’m not trying to discourage you or anything – the tl;dr of these posts is “here’s why x64k doesn’t wanna pay for recipes”, not “here’s why your idea sucks and you suck”. The fact that I’m unwilling to pay for recipes may well put me so much outside your target audience that if I were to think your idea sucks (which FWIW I don’t, since I don’t know too much about it in the first place), it might actually mean it’s great :-D.

                          So, with that in mind:

                          There are an untold number of cooking books, websites, TV shows, etc. Almost everyone cooks at least occasionally, and many do it regularly. It’s a big market, and these kind of products (including sites) bring a lot of value to people. Cooking is not even an especially big hobby of mine, it’s just something I noticed where improvements can be made, and I have a few ideas on it. I think it’s more a “race to the bottom” kind of thing. It’s just really hard to compete against “free”

                          It is – but then again, “free” is what recipes have been since practically forever. It’s not like websites with free recipes have “disrupted the recipe market”. If all free recipe websites were to close tomorrow, and only subscription-based websites were to exist, I still wouldn’t pay a dime for these, since all I need to do in order to find out how to make pastitsio (random example ‘cause that’s what I had for lunch and it’s not from my part of the world) is ask someone who knows how to make pastitsio. I learned how to cook dozens, if not hundreds of things from family and friends. Some of them from far, far away, which is how I can cook Carribean or Japanese dishes in the middle of Europe (when I can get the ingredients, that is). I’ve never paid a dime for any of these things, I just asked nicely when I was abroad, or when someone from abroad was here, and did a few hilarious screw-ups until I got it right.

                          Of course it’s a race to the bottom (the bottom being “free”) when learning how to cook from friends and family is how virtually everyone who’s not a professional in the field learned has done it since practically forever, and when this is still available.

                          1. 3

                            I didn’t take it as either harsh or unfair, so no worries :-)

                            Recipes are not even eligible for copyright, but it’s not the recipes as such that you charge for but rather the making available of them. There are about 18 million cooking books sold in the US every year, so there’s definitely a market.

                            I personally wouldn’t pay for a recipe website either, as I’m too casual of a user. Then again, I have bought cooking books, which are pretty much the same. Kinda funny how that works 🤔 I think this is a general problem with the internet: if every “casual user” would pay a low (<$1, depending on usage) amount of money then there’s no need for ads – that’s basically what ads are right? – but there’s no real way to do that AFAIK. I know Brave has gotten a lot of flak here, but I really like it for at least trying to solve this problem (although I’m not really sure about their whole cryptocurrency approach; but that’s a different discussion).

                            I’m not angry, bitter, or resentful about any of this, by the way, they’re just observations. I wrote this as a hobby thing early last year after I quit my job after a bit of a burnout and it was the first time I had fun programming in a long time. In a way it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever worked on; it was very therapeutic. After I decided I wanted to work on my own product I looked at my options with what I already had, and came to the conclusion this probably wasn’t the best way to earn a living so shelved it for the time being. I still want to get back to it as a hobby thing once I have some time (and think of a name for it!)

                            If you look at the existing big recipe websites then almost all of them suck: they’re shitty “recipe dumping grounds” with untold popups and all sorts of bullshit, and in a perfect world someone providing a better product shouldn’t have a hard time making an earning from it without crapping their product up with a zillion ads.

                            I think the best thing we (as programmers/community) can do here is to make good alternatives available, which could be a “sane ad network” or perhaps something entirely different. I know that’s easier said than done but people do things to solve real problems they have (the same applies to many other things, and many people are working on this, with varying degrees of success).

                            1. 2

                              Cookbooks are a pretty decent example of how recipe-centered sites can monetize, though. Binging with Babbish on YouTube is always pushing his cookbook, along with whatever product has sponsored his video. If people want to feel like they’re getting something that took effort to make (like a physical book) in return for their $20, then that’s how the recipe space will be monetized. Patreon is also gaining significant ground in monetizing quality content made available for free.

                              At the end of the day, people seem to recognize that the marginal cost of serving information on a website to an additional person is near zero and they balk at paying (subscription or not) for something digital unless it is perceived to be expensive to provide (like music, movies, internet itself, etc.).

                              1. 1

                                If we’re being honest, most recipe books suck, too – I guess it’s easier to pay for them because they’re a physical item and people are used to paying for books in general. But by and large, I discovered that even expensive books with fancy endorsements turn out to be… well, not wrong, these are recipes after all, but somewhat untrue to their topic. For example, I’m yet to see an English-language book that recommends anything even close to an useful amount of olive oil for recipes around the Mediterranean (or at least the ones I’m familiar with).

                                What I really wish we had, especially now that the world is much better connected and Internet access is universal, is something akin to rec.food.recipes, alt.gourmand and rec.food.historic :).

                                Edit: FWIW, I kindda like the idea of what Brave did. Back when rec.food.recipes was still a thing, I didn’t really have a problem with ads. I used some ad-supported software, including Opera (which I still miss so much), and I thought it was okay. I didn’t really mind the large banners, either, some of them were actually pretty neat..

                                1. 1

                                  I suppose Sturgeon’s law (“90% of everything is crap”) applies 😅

                                  I was a long-time Opera user as well, and used the ad-supported version back in the day. That was a different time though, before the ad-tech industry became what it is today. I’d be more hesitant to use a similar model today. And I also still miss that browser :-( Pretty much everything about it was fantastic.

                          2. 5

                            Yeah, “ideas” aren’t “businesses”.

                          3. 4

                            at its most basic this could just be an <img src="/ad.png">.

                            Part of the problem is that even this type of innocuous-looking “non-tracking” ad can, without much effort, be turned into a tracker. It doesn’t take that many ads like this one to be able to generate and track a unique user identifier via HSTS, for example.

                            1. 7

                              The amount of information it can track is quite limited though, compared to canvas/font tricks and whatnot. It’s also much more in transparent and in your control on what you send. It would still me a massive improvement over the current situation.

                              You can use src=data:base64 too.

                            2. 3

                              Maybe if publishers had real businesses that deserved to make money because they actually provide a good service to the community then they wouldn’t have this problem! :)

                            3. 5
                              1. 7

                                When it comes to blocking ads, I go all the way: uBlock Origin with all the bells and whistles activated, cookie-blocker, cookie-consent-blocker, privacy badger, cookie autodelete, etc., but most importantly, SponsorBlock, where a community of enthusiasts identifies sponsor clips in youtube-videos, marks them and auto-skips them for everybody else. If you think that these sponsors take long to get “detected”, you’re wrong: I’ve not seen a single sponsor since I’ve been using it, even on videos only a few minutes (!) old.

                                Sponsors are getting increasingly annoying and widespread on YouTube. I don’t think that content should be free, and youtubers need a way to monetize their videos, but using ad blocking technology might push them to much saner models like Patreon.

                                I see it like this: Every ad-served user wastes a set amount of time and is annoyed, but only contributes like 0.001€ per view. If only one in 5000 viewers is a regular supporter on patreon with 5€/video (which is not uncommon), the youtuber gets the same amount of reward and everyone benefits from it. The patreon supporter gets a few perks on top, but most importantly, no one has to sit through ads. Another thing is, that since the adpocalypse on YouTube, the YouTubers are getting demonetized for even little things. And those ad-friendly-guidelines will get stricter and stricter. Going away from ad-revenue will not only bring benefits to the viewers, it will also bring back independence to the videomakers.

                                Some people blame me for blocking ads, but I just can’t be arsed to sit through them. Every time I use another person’s phone, it really shocks me how bad ads on the internet have become. Those people using iDevices can’t even install ad blockers, which shows how bad a walled garden can harm your experience.

                                1. 8

                                  I probably won’t install SponsorBlock.

                                  The main reason is that most of the arguments I made against ad blocking don’t apply here. Sponsored video clips are unlikely to exploit vulnerabilities (the video creator, and likely the video host, have reencoded the clip they were provided, so any malformed video is probably gone by now). They can’t track you, since they cannot make any outgoing web requests, and they cannot change after the video has been produced. And because they’re unable up change after the video is put out, they’re also unlikely to link to fly-by-night malware operations; starting from scratch as a direct video sponsor is too much work.

                                  They’re still annoying, but I’m sorry, the time and effort it takes to install and configure an ad blocker takes too much work just for a minute or two per video.

                                  1. 1
                                    1. 4

                                      It’s not as simple as a five minute initial setup. Ad blockers incur a variety of other costs:

                                      • I’m not nearly smart enough to make good points on capitalism in general, but I know people who see ad blocker as a moral hazard. I do have to justify myself to others.

                                      • Ad lists aren’t 100% reliable. There’s the risk of someone inserting a “sponsor segment” that messes up the video, either because they disagree on what constitutes a sponsor segment (does product placement count?) or because they’re just trolling.

                                      • If I switch browser, I need to re-install the add-on.

                                      • If the browser upgrades, the add-on might break.

                                      • If the video website upgrades, the add-on might break it.

                                      • The add-on might be compromised. Ask about the Stylish incident.

                                      Clearly worth it for the script-carrying ad networks (I am not going to take on a security hazard just up prop up your business), but not so obvious for video sponsors.

                                  2. 2

                                    Thank you for this, I never heard about SponsorBlock and I already love it!

                                    1. 1

                                      If only one in 5000 viewers is a regular supporter on patreon with 5€/video (which is not uncommon), the youtuber gets the same amount of reward and everyone benefits from it. The patreon supporter gets a few perks on top, but most importantly, no one has to sit through ads.

                                      This is a great point. This is a really good article on that topic by Tim Carmody.

                                      Those people using iDevices can’t even install ad blockers

                                      This isn’t really true: iOS has supported ad blockers (“content blockers”) since September 2015. Granted, these are only used for web content—they’re active in Safari and in all embedded web views but they can’t apply restrictions to non–web view content in apps. Overall, though, I don’t think it’s fair to say that iOS doesn’t support ad blockers.

                                    2. 4

                                      Because you can is all the reason you need, I would hope. You don’t have to invite door to door salesmen into your home. You don’t have to listen to telemarketers, and talk to them for an hour.

                                      These people gave us pop up ads. They lack self-control. Pi-Hole & No-Script to say the least.

                                      1. 4

                                        Should you wear rubber boots and gloves when shovelling shit? Of course you should block ads. Online, on the radio (for those who remember what that was), in print, everywhere. The advertising business is rotten and should be dismantled in the hope that a much smaller and - dare I say it - more honest new model may arise. Until something like that happens I consider advertising to be poisonous and to be avoided if at all possible. Turn down the sound on that radio, toss print advertising, block it online, skip it when embedded in netcasts, look away when it is being forced upon you. If something is heavily advertised I’d think twice or more before buying it, is is highly likely that there are alternatives which are cheaper and of similar (or higher) quality.

                                        1. 4

                                          Should I block malware?

                                          1. 2

                                            No, malware authors gotta eat too.

                                          2. 4

                                            I always worried about web browsers & web protocols being compromised in a manner that made ad blocking difficult. But with the recent advances in image recognition technology, some technically inclined people would be able to make something that could detect the image & sound of an ad and block it out in real time. Something no amount of software subversion could stop someone from doing.

                                            I was able to train a neural net to detect nude & semi nude images of women, and remove them automatically. I browsed some fitness forums at the time where people would use explicit images to garner attention, and it was getting pretty tiresome. I got a web server set up that received URLs of the images from a chrome extension, loaded the images in and classified them. Based on the response from the web server, the chrome extension would add the hidden class to those images. It actually worked incredibly well, and it wasn’t hard to accomplish. I think this proves that something more sophisticated would would work - maybe live streaming what is on a computer screen and overlaying black boxes to protect the user from unwanted adverts. I dream of a world where I can put in noise cancelling headphones and augmented reality glasses and get annoying Mega Corp Chocolate Burger advertisements surgically removed from my life.

                                            1. 6

                                              Really interesting approach! Thing is, though, the ad companies are getting more creative by the day. A few years ago, my local tram operator thought about introducing bone-vibration ads on tram windows. The idea was that when those poor people tiredly return from their 9 to 5 jobs they would lean their head against the windows while sitting there and then “be able to experience” (more like “suffer through”) ads this way.

                                              In this regard, noise cancelling headphones are not enough any more.

                                              1. 1

                                                Does this still work if you put a pillow or other thick fabric between your body and the window?

                                                1. 1

                                                  No, your head needs to rest on the glass.

                                            2. 3

                                              I just use 3 things: PrivacyBadger; deny all cookies by default, manually allow as needed; a hosts file copy-paste (from https://pgl.yoyo.org/adservers/ ). I wonder if this is enough.

                                              1. 3

                                                Heya. While I’m glad you use my list for your hosts file, it’s not the best source for that - I avoid adding individual hostnames if I can, so there’s tons of subdomains that won’t be blocked when it’s used just in that way. I only add the highest-level parts of a domain that I can, so instead of listing ad.doubleclick.net, ad2.doubleclick.net or whatever, I just include doubleclick.net.

                                                This is partly because it started life as a config file for a local nameserver to sinkhole domains, but also because I’m lazy and don’t have the energy to maintain a massive hosts file like that.

                                                Steven Black’s hosts file is probably more effective: https://github.com/StevenBlack/hosts - I believe it incorporates my list as well anyway. But more resource-intensive (not that this matters much on modern machines).

                                                1. 1

                                                  Hey, what a nice surprise to see the maintainer/author here on Lobsters! Thanks for the tips. I’ll check out your recommended alternative.

                                              2. 2

                                                I have been living without additional adblocker that the one provided by Firefox for at least a year now. The positive side is that you quickly identify websites that are abusing ads and you slowly stop using them. Adblocking might not be solving the root cause: the business model of many websites is based on ads. Start using websites that are not relying on ads and change the business model.

                                                1. 2

                                                  Why not even one point about why you should NOT use adblockers? Quite one sided article. I think everyone reading this comment can come with at least one anti-adblocker reason.

                                                  1. 0

                                                    Yes.