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How to Block Ads: Taking Back Your Browser


How to Block Ads: Taking Back Your Browser

Last year digital ad spending finally beat TV at $209 billion. What’s that equate to?

A ton of ads.

Ads have been a staple in content since the advent of the newspaper, but with the large shift to digital users are seeing more ads than ever before. One report estimates the average person sees anywhere from 4,000-10,000 ads every day.

Many ads can be beneficial and pair a user with a product or service they actually need or want. We like these ads and recognize their importance in providing revenue to content creators and publications. But, with the increased amount of digital content consumed comes an increase in the number of malicious ads online.

In the first quarter of 2018 alone there was an increase of 1189% in cryptojacking attacks. Many of these attacks occurred through ads users encountered during their browsing session. These ads would never have seen the light of day with a proper ad blocker in place.

Stopping Ads

There are numerous ways to keep your computer ad and pop-up free. Many of these methods can be complex, involving third-party programs or proxies. The easiest way to stop ads is by using an ad blocker extension with your browser.

Browser extensions are add-ons for your internet browser that give it added capabilities. Your browser never needs any of them, but they can improve your quality of internet life and make certain things easier.

Microsoft Edge is a new browser with just over 100 extensions as of July, 2018. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are both established, with tens of thousands of extensions each. The good news is that even Microsoft Edge has numerous ad blockers.

Extensions are specific to the browser you install them on, meaning you need to be using the browser your ad blocker if installed on. This means your AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, or uBlock extension will only block ads on the browser you have it installed on.

What are Ad Blockers Really Doing?

The name “ad blocker” sounds as if the program is blocking actual ads. In reality – yes and no.

An ad blocker is actually blocking the server’s request to download an ad. This occurs when you first land on a web page, at which point your browser begins piecing the page together. At this time pieces of code are coming together in the form of text, images, videos, and other code running behind the scenes.

During this entire process your ad blocker is on the lookout for any requests from a third-party ad server. If a request comes through it is denied by the ad blocker, leaving your site viewing experience uninterrupted.

This process applies to all websites, even YouTube, Facebook, and other social media. While these pages are vastly different, the ads are still being called from the same ad servers and presented in much the same way.

Under the Hood of Ad Blocking

To further understand how ad blockers work, it’s important to know what it is they’re looking for. During an ad blocker’s scouting process, it looks for known ad server domain names as well as ad formats. The ad blocker extension uses a series of rules to determine what constitutes an ad versus other types of content.

These rules, or filters, are contained within filter lists. EasyList is the most popular example of a filter list, and covers thousands of English-language sites using a series of filter lists. These filter lists are referenced by ad blocking extensions during the loading of a page, allowing them to detect what is and isn’t an ad.

Think of them like the blueprint, while your ad blocking extension is the builder.

Filter lists’ capabilities go beyond simple ad blocking, and can even be applied to social media functions. For example, filter lists can be used to block Facebook’s “People You May Know” functionality, and prevent ads from tracking your web movement for re-targeting.

We don’t have any control over the filter lists, as they’re maintained by volunteers. If you notice a recurring ad making it through the filter or any other issues, please contact them here.

The Evolution of Ads

Ad blockers have improved tenfold since their debut, but so have the methods publications use to display ads. In some cases, this has resulted in ads that can’t be blocked.

One video provider has found a way to circumvent ad blockers by embedding ads directly into the video content itself. This is similar to broadcast TV ads, and has allowed the ads to slip through ad blockers.

Digital publications have also found ways to get around ad blockers by allowing the ad requests to come directly from their own servers, rather than an ad server. In this case an ad blocker will hide the ad the moment it loads and attempt to fill the gap in the content.

Supporting Sites while Blocking Ads

Filters are used to block ads, but can also be used to allow ads. This is helpful in the event you want to support a publication or content creator. These are called “exceptions” or “whitelist” filters.

There are even lists of sites that use ads responsibly, such as the Acceptable Ads filter list made by AdBlock Plus. This list features websites that have been known to feature appropriate ads that are free of malware and follow best practices.

If there’s a content creator, such as a YouTuber, that you’re a big fan of, you can whitelist their channel on your ad blocker and support their channel by allowing ads to play only when you watch their videos. We understand that ads are an important part of content creators’ revenue streams, and want to reward those that play fairly.

How Publications Have Responded to Ad Blockers

Understandably, the industry has expressed concerns about ad blockers. Many publications have managed to adapt their business model, finding alternative advertising methods, like native advertising that takes place within social media. Other publications, like The New York Times, have found success through digital subscriptions. Others, like Forbes, refuse to display all of their content if the user doesn’t disable their ad blocker first.

There have also been brands that didn’t want to accept ads. Facebook, for example, displays sponsored posts in between regular posts within someone’s feed. When these sponsored posts were blocked by an update, Facebook found a way around it, and so on and so forth.

As digital consumption continues to grow, advertisers will need to evaluate how they deliver ads to consumers. The usage of ad blockers continues to grow with each generation, meaning advertisers and publications will need to be savvier about their delivery.

While some have viewed ad blockers as an attack on publishers and advertisers, it will ultimately lead to a more user-friendly landscape where ads are of higher quality and more relevant. That, or they’ll be blocked.