Ad-Blockers: The Good, the Bad, the Ethics

I think everyone will agree that there are too many ads on the Internet. And since most people ignore ads, online advertising tactics have become increasingly aggressive. They flash, they blink, they auto-play, they pop up, and sometimes ads will block web pages until you dismiss them.

This is, of course, a reaction to the original sin of the Internet: a misguided belief that information wants to be free, and that people wouldn’t pay for online services. Back in the early days, the Internet was new, so free was a way to entice people to use these services. But things are different now, and we’re bombarded with ads.

Like many people, I use ad blockers to ensure that I can surf the web without being overwhelmed. In this article, I’m going to explain how ad blockers work, why you might want to use them — for more than just making it easier to read web pages — how to install them, and I’ll discuss the ethics of using ad blockers.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

Google Plans Ad-Blocking Feature in Popular Chrome Browser – WSJ

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is planning to introduce an ad-blocking feature in the mobile and desktop versions of its popular Chrome web browser, according to people familiar with the company’s plans.

The ad-blocking feature, which could be switched on by default within Chrome, would filter out certain online ad types deemed to provide bad experiences for users as they move around the web.

Interesting that Google is floating this idea. They make much of their money from ads, but they are increasingly trying to change their focus to that of a cloud provider.

If Google were to do this, would they whitelist their own ads? Or, at a minimum, would they enforce some type of ad display rules even with their ads? Say a web page has a dozen Google ads; would they block it, but allow a page with just a single ad?

Source: Google Plans Ad-Blocking Feature in Popular Chrome Browser – WSJ

The Facebook “Boost Post” Ad Scam

I’ve written a number of books for Take Control Books, and we recently ran a sale for a week. I wrote an article on this site about the sale, using my affiliate link to link to some of my books, as well as those of my colleagues. All my articles get automatically posted on Twitter and Facebook.

For a while now, I had seen Facebook’s Boost Post offer: for a small fee, you can get thousands of people to see your posts. Apparently, they just toss these boosted posts into the timelines of people who are interested in certain topics. So I decided to experiment and see if it would have any effect on getting people to see my article about the sale. Because if it did drive traffic to my site, and lead to people buying my books or others, my income might outweigh my expense.

It didn’t.

To start with, you click the Boost Post button, and you choose some demographics. I chose two countries, the US and the UK, and selected keywords: iPhone, Apple, iPad and Mac computers. Facebook then presented me with an estimate. For £4, I could boost this post, getting it in front of 11,000 – 33,000 people.

Facebook estimate

I decided to allocate £14 – about $20 – and my estimate was somewhat higher (I don’t recall exactly how many; I only took the one screenshot above).

I watched as the post’s reach increased. But it didn’t increase much. In fact, here are the results:

Facebook results2

Facebook results

It cost £14 to get the post in 2,908 timelines, with a total of 24 engagements, all but 2 of them being “likes.” Actually, looking now, the stats have been revised: there have been 3,006 paid reach, 26 actions, including a grand total of 2 clicks on the link to view my article.

Facebook results3

So here’s the scam. They tell you you’ll reach a certain number of people, but you only actually reach a fraction of them. But they don’t tell you that you pay “per post engagement.” So I paid for 22 people to like the post. And, in the end, each of the 2 clicks I got cost £7.

If you’re thinking of promoting posts on Facebook, think again. It’s a dishonest system, and I’ll certainly never spend money on something like this.

How to Use Ad Blockers in iOS 9

If you follow tech news, you’re probably aware of the controversy over ad blockers. iOS 9 allows users to install and implement “content blockers.” These apps, which hook into the Safari web browser, can block ads and other types of content. As such, many web publishers who depend on ads are crying foul. They are saying that people using these ad blockers are freeloaders, and that ad blockers will harm their bottom line.

But users complain that ads make mobile browsing too slow, use up too much data, and compromise security and privacy, by tracking users and creating profiles of them in order to serve targeted ads.

It’s fair to say that the publishing industry has caused this problem through a willy-nilly approach to advertising that makes web browsing painful, particularly on mobile devices. The New York Times showed just how much of a difference in time and data an ad blocker can make on a number of popular websites, including its own.

In this article, I will explain how to install, set up, and use ad blockers on iOS 9.

Read the rest of the article on the Mac Security Blog.

The Many Ways I Avoid Ads

There has been a lot of righteous indignation since iOS 9 was released, and ad blockers have been allowed to integrate with the Safari web browser. Many of the people who complain – such as this person who equates blocking ads with robbing an Apple Store – are forgetting that they, too, probably block a lot of ads.

Note that the Fortune page I link to above is, on the desktop, 13.2 MB, and took me 1.5 minutes to load with my 4 Mb connection. It contains a number of animated ads, caused Safari to beachball, and made it impossible to even scroll for more than one minute. And I don’t have Flash installed, so there’s one ad that I don’t see, which is replaced by a sleazy “Your System Status” box telling me that I need to update my Flash Player.

Rob apple store

With ad blockers on, the page is 6.6 MB, and takes me 16.95 seconds to load. Ghostery reports that the page has 19 trackers.

(For a similar ironic problem, head over to Khoi Vinh’s website, where he recorded video of him trying to load a New York Times article about ad blocking. He was unable to do so easily, because of an ad on the site.)

If you visit my website, you know that I do offer ads. I am currently advertising for a new Take Control book (up on top), and for my own books (in the sidebar), as well as for my iTunes forum and my podcast. These ads are as discreet as possible: they don’t flash, move, or otherwise animate, and their layout is sober and minimalist. And I have a couple of Amazon ads at the bottoms of pages, where they aren’t too disturbing, to earn some affiliate income (I wish Amazon had smaller ads that would fit better on my site…). I also run other ads at times, but I am very careful which ads I accept, and I refuse to use any animated ads, or ads that slow down page loads. I have turned down countless offers to run “sponsored articles” and text link ads. *

So I’m not against ads overall; if they fit with a site, and aren’t just scattershot, or bottom-feeding Google ads, then I don’t mind seeing them. I’d rather not block ads like this to help websites pay for the content they provide. But the Fortune web page is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong about ads.

In any case, I made a list of the many ways I block ads in my life. If you think that blocking ads on websites is wrong, tell me how many of the following actions you take to avoid ads.

  • I turn off the volume when TV commercials are on
  • I go to the bathroom when TV commercials are on
  • I skip through commercials when watching recorded TV
  • I throw away junk mail without looking at it
  • I throw away inserts with magazines I subscribe to without looking at them
  • I throw away ad sections of newspapers when I buy them
  • I turn the pages of magazines and newspapers too quickly to assimilate ads
  • I don’t look at ads on the sides of busses
  • I ignore billboards with ads when driving
  • I avoid televised sports, because there are too many ads
  • I hang up on robo-calls
  • I avoid buying clothes with logos when possible
  • I ignore the ads on the back of supermarket receipts
  • I delete spam emails
  • I use a pop-up blocker with my web browsers
  • I use a tracker blocker (Ghostery) with my web browsers
  • I use an ad blocker with my web browsers
  • I use Safari’s Reader view to be able to read pages that are too cluttered

I remember when a one-hour TV show in the US was 52 minutes long; it left eight minutes for ads and station identification. Now, a one-hour show has 42 minutes of content, which means that 25% of the hour is commercials. Viewers adapted to this by recording shows and skipping ads, and the same is happening on the web.

I would happily embrace a micro-payment solution that would allow me to pay a few cents when I read an article on the web. But the current model of inundating readers with ads, and making web pages hard to read, is simply wrong. Don’t blame readers for not wanting to put up with these problems.

  • I’ve been thinking about the best way to monetize this website, and I’ve hesitated because so many ad options would harm the experience my readers have on this site. I get about 250-400K page views per month, and I could probably make a lot of money with Google Ads. But I don’t want to. For now, I earn money from occasional self-served ads (that is, ads that I place as images with links, but with no other code), sponsorships, and affiliate income. If you want to sponsor this website, get in touch.