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Adblockers are necessary

The problem

When you go to most news websites about 40% of the data they send you is advertising. This slows your browsing down and increases your cell data fees. But even worse, there is often malware embedded in their advertising. Even solid legitimate sites normally have dangerous malware objects embedded in some advertising they are getting from some agency that gets it from some client. So, it is not only a problem of speed, but also of safety.

In addition to the malware and slow speeds and flashing objects, many of these agencies track and profile you across various sites.

On the other hand, we get lots of great content free from many sites, and they need to make a living or they won't be able to continue to provide the content we like. A recent report by Adobe and PageFair claims over $20 billion a year is lost to the 40% of users with Adblockers. I certainly don't trust those numbers, but still the concern is reasonable.

My Approach

I use and install the free Open Source AdblockPlus add-on to all new computers. AdBlockPlus has a very reasonable policy to allow non-obtrusive ads which is checked by default. If you want to prevent even those you can do so. I think they do a good job of being open and policing these ads in a public way that makes sense. I allow those non-intrusive non-heavy bandwidth consuming ads. These ads are not the ones likely to have malware embedded in them.

In addition, I've been using the Electronic Freedom Foundation's Privacy badger for the last 6 months or so and like it. It blocks third party tracking. This means that if a site has an advertisement or some other kind of script from a third party, not the site I visited, and that other site is tracking me, then privacy badger steps in and stops it. Privacy badger takes the unusual approach of doing it by learning and seeing. It has no block list, but rather watches for tracking behavior than then develops a block list for that computer after having observed the tracking behavior.

Privacy badger has 3 settings for each third party connection to the site you are visiting.
  • Green: They do not appear to be tracking you across sites. This is how they all start, before they do anything untoward.
  • Red: They are trying to track you and we are blocking everything from them.
  • Yellow: They are trying to track you, but stopping them completely breaks things, so we try to filter out the tracking cookies from the necessary service they provide.

Neither of these products causes me any problems, but if you use them, be aware they could stop something that you want from showing. If a site required the advertisement or tracking to show you what you want to see, then stopping the tracker or ad will stop the video or story. So if something doesn't work, you can turn it off for that site and see if things get fixed.  Both products allow you to white-list sites if necessary, and make it simple to disable on any site.


Date: August 2015

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