What you need to know about ad blockers

A stop sign

writer icon Jon Joshua Perera     Walter Knerr   |   Tech     🕐 02. Nov. 2018

Ad blockers were created as a response to the pervasive nature of online advertising. They exist to appease privacy rights activists who feel that everyone should have the option to ban advertising outright if they want to.

Many people do not seem to know about or use ad blocking software. There is a war being waged between advertising agencies, software giants and these small privacy software groups.

The advert
Advertising is an old practice. It has become synonymous with the proliferation of internet usage today. It has adapted alongside software development and become essential for the continuation of free web services. It allows any website with traffic to survive without the need for user registration fees, paywalls or product sales.

Increased advertising and modern-day techniques have been called into question. Psychological methods such as mere exposure and classic conditioning are used by advertisers. They manipulate the observer into doing something they might not otherwise choose to do, such as buying a certain product.

The ethics behind this have been called into question, especially considering the reported damage this may do to natural child development. 

The online advert
Combined with the above techniques, companies use software to advance their online advertising goals. This includes the use of cookies for tracking potentially all of your online history.

Harnessing this data requires algorithms and data analysis tools to identify key habits of individual users and form a predictive model. With advances in big data science today, these models have the potential to become even more valuable for market research and the businesses that use it. 

In turn, the results are used to create targeted advertising.

What can be done?
There are a series of options one can take to prevent the collection of data. Most browsers offer options for blocking or deleting these cookies in their settings, but many people might not know how to use them. Others might find the inconvenience too disruptive, as cookies are used in various other aspects of the browsing experience.

The other option is to download an ad blocker. These are often entirely free and work as an extension to your web browser. With the right filtration settings, it more or less blocks every advert on any website you visit.

This means no more pre- and mid-video interruptions, no more unwanted imagery, no more temptation to one-click impulse buy. Ad blockers can even act as the first line of defence against malicious software or scams disguised as genuine adverts. They help protect children from inappropriate content and will speed up your browsing by reducing the amount of bandwidth required to open a webpage. 

There is a downside
The indiscriminate shutting down of all online advertising does have a negative effect on any free web service provider which uses adverts. By removing the advert, you remove any chance of this website getting an income from it. This threatens the longevity of the website and livelihood of their owners.

As a pre-emptive measure, websites are beginning to censor the adverts allowed on their web pages. Instead of accepting a package deal from a marketing firm offering good prices for whatever ad they choose to place, websites are picking and choosing the adverts they want, based on their own and their customers best interests. This is designed to minimise negative customer experience and prevent the need for ad blockers in the first place.

To tackle the ad blockers head-on, websites have taken to running ad blocker detection software. This informs the website when a visitor is using an ad blocker and automatically posts a message asking them to disable it. This is designed to inform the user that ad blockers are damaging the site host’s source of income and that it can be avoided.

How to use ad blockers ethically
Ad blocking firms are aware of the damage to income. Companies such as Adblock Plus offer subscriptions to their “Acceptable Ads” exception list. It is free for smaller companies while a fee is charged to those with high advertising impressions and clicks.

For those who like a bit more control, they offer a customisable option for creating a personalised filter. This allows the user to run ads on any specific website or domain they choose. It can simply be disabled with the click of a button and re-enabled it whenever desired.

Those who are comfortable with online advertisement will most likely continue without any ad blocking software. The people who dislike adverts have a choice.

They can set up ad blocking software, which, while effective, has a negative effect on many free online services. Or, with a little extra effort, they can install settings that enable them to customise where they see adverts. In this way, they can continue to support free web services who are dependent on advertising, while reducing the overall impact of too much advertising.

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