01 Oct Ad Blocker 101
What are ad blockers? How do they work?
Ad blockers are applications (such as browser extensions, plug-ins, and downloadable software) which block or otherwise alter a website’s advertisements, most commonly pop-up ads and banner-ads. The idea is to curate your online experience to avoid annoying, and often aggressive, distractions. (See here for: “Why Use an Ad blocker“)
In essence, think of the internet user as a paying customer (whether in/directly), and remember the old adage that ‘the customer is always right’; nobody goes into a shop and expects the assistant to chase them around shouting about products — which is what many online ads feel like.
Some ad blockers replace an ad with something else, others leave a blank space; many temporarily block Adobe Flash to stop a video advertisement from playing. Others keep track of and delete cookies and other web markers, which naturally inhibits the volume of ads produced.
Many ad blockers are browser-specific, others are device-specific (whilst desktop dominated, phone ad blockers are increasingly common), while many are for general use. Whatever your needs, you are sure to find an ad blocker which meets them. (See here for:“ 2021’s Best Ad Blockers“)
A Brief History
The first primitive ad blockers arrived in the early 2000s. By 2009, there were 20 million devices worldwide using ad blocking applications; by December 2016, that figure had skyrocketed to 600 million. . . or, over 10% of the world’s device-population.
The year preceding that milestone (2015), ad blockers reportedly lost online publishers $21.8 billion. Fast-forward to the summer of 2021: a gigantic 42.7% of internet users worldwide utilize some kind of ad blocking tool. AdBlock, a market leader, has over 65 million users alone.
Advertisers — and the online publishers who make money from the ads — understandably hate this modern feature, with hundreds of billions in revenue now lost.
Are they fair and/or right?
In a word, yes. Though many argue that they undermine one of the founding principles of the world wide web: free access to information and content — “freeness” that is dependent on the revenue gained from ads. It’s a strong argument, but not full-proof.
See, the problem with a lot of ads is how intrusive, aggressive, and frankly irrelevant they are. That is on the advertisers, and NOT the users. Nonetheless, many great websites are free because of the ads they display, ads which are perfectly fine. Unfortunately, these good apples end up being hit due to the bad apples.
To navigate these complexities, many ad blockers have more nuance in-built. “White-listing” is the personalization of ad blocking to allow websites to display their ads — which seems a good compromise between user and publisher. For example, this author appreciates the Guardian, and the film website, Rotten Tomatoes. Both websites are free, and use ads to keep it free: therefore, I whitelist them.