The Internet Of Numerous Needless Things
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Online Ads: To Block Or Not To Block. And, Who Should Be In Control?

The New York Rimes reported on Friday about the fast adoption by consumers of ad blocking apps for their mobile devices:

"Just two days after Apple enabled ad-blocking apps through its new mobile operating system, iOS 9, users are embracing the new technology... In less than 48 hours, several ad-blocking apps with names like Peace, Purify and Crystal soared to the top of Apple’s App Store chart... About 16 percent of those who use the Internet in the United States, or 45 million people, have already installed an ad blocker, up 48 percent over the last 12 months, said Sean Blanchfield, who runs PageFair, an Irish start-up that tracks ad blocking. In a report last month, Adobe and PageFair calculated that blockers would cost publishers nearly $22 billion in revenue in 2015."

That's not surprising. The frequency of continual auto-play video ads at many websites has become a huge annoyance. At the same time, one app developer removed his ad-blocking app from sales, stating:

"Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app."

I agree. The ad-blocking apps should be robust and keep consumers in control. If a consumer wants to block everything, she should be able to. If a consumer wants to block all ads from a specific advertising network and/or ads at a specific website, then he should be able to. Keep consumers in control.

And, the ad blocking should be simpler. Blocking apps should cover a consumer's multiple devices: phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, automobile, and household appliances (e.g., refrigerators, etc.) in a "smart home."Otherwise, the burden on consumers becomes massive.

And, make it opt-in not opt-out. Opt-out puts a perpetual burden on consumers to constantly monitor advertising activities and techniques. Simplicity is always better.

A worse-case scenario wold be apps that block ads, but still allow the tracking and data collection by advertisers. Keep consumers in control. I use the EFF's Privacy Badger add-on for my Firefox web browser, to stop both the ads and the tracking technologies embedded in website pages by publishers and ad networks. Privacy Badger explained how it is different:

"Although we like Disconnect, Adblock Plus, Ghostery and similar products (in fact Privacy Badger is based on the ABP code!), none of them are exactly what we were looking for. In our testing, all of them required some custom configuration to block non-consensual trackers. Several of these extensions have business models that we weren't entirely comfortable with. And EFF hopes that by developing rigorous algorithmic and policy methods for detecting and preventing non-consensual tracking, we'll produce a codebase that could in fact be adopted by those other extensions, or by mainstream browsers, to give users maximal control over who does and doesn't get to know what they do online."

Whatever tools consumers use to block ads and tracking, it needs to be robust to account for newer techniques, like canvas fingerprinting. One blogger equated ad-blocking software with the deadly pesticide DDT. While it is tempting to equate the intrusive online ads with unwanted insects, I wouldn't go that far. DDT was banned, and ad-blocking software should be encouraged, not banned. Like any other software, there are well-designed products and poorly designed ones.

Sure, publishers and website operators should be able to make to make money via advertising. The issue is one of balance: balancing consumers' needs versus advertisers' needs. If consumers user ad-blocking apps and browser add-ons, then advertisers have only themselves to blame. They've largely brought this on themselves with ad networks tracking across websites.

what are your opinions of ad blocking software? Which apps and browser add-ons do you use?


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