I’m rooting for Adblocker against Facebook

Ultimately it is the consumer who pays for ads. I strongly dislike being forced to “consume” unsolicited advertisements. I resent TV channels and their commercial breaks and the inane, predatory advertising I am compelled to watch. Though, I note that these days I only partly watch TV programs – upto the first commercial break – after which I surf away. Sometimes – but not always – I return to complete watching some program. I have no alternative to suggest but the business models based on advertising are fundamentally flawed. They all rely on “forcing” a large number of uninterested viewers or readers to “consume” ads they don’t want to be exposed to by dangling “free content” as the bait.

It is a myth to think that a person forced to “consume” unsolicited ads is not also paying a price. My contention is that the “free” content is never actually free. It is paid for by the “psychological stress and suffering” the ad causes to the non-consumer. Effectively I pay for the “free” content on a site by having to suffer the slings and arrows of their rubbishy ads for things and services I will never buy. I pay in time and stress. I use “Adblocker”. Some sites get upset and don’t wish to grant me access. That’s OK. It’s a mutually acceptable parting of ways. There are a very few sites whose content is so good that I am willing to turn off my adblocker to put up with their intrusions into my personal space and consciousness. The really good sites are those where I am willing to pay a subscription – and there are only a very few of those.

So, in the battle between Facebook and Adblocker, I am firmly in the Adblocker camp. And I am perfectly aware that Adblocker’s business model, which is to “blackmail” advertisers into paying to be whitelisted, is morally equivalent and just as low as the advertisers bombarding non-consumers with unsolicited advertising.

The MIT Technology Review writes:

Facebook Can’t Win Against Ad Blockers, and Here’s the Proof

Facebook can’t win the war it started on ad blockers last week.

So say Princeton assistant professor Arvind Narayanan and undergraduate Grant Storey, who have created an experimental ad “highlighter” for the Chrome browser to prove it. When you have Facebook Ad Highlighter installed, ads in the News Feed are grayed out and written over with the words “THIS IS AN AD.”

Facebook announced that it was taking measures to prevent ad blockers from working on Tuesday last week. On Thursday the largest ad blocker out there, Adblock Plus, informed users of a simple tweak to their settings that would defeat Facebook’s blocker blockade.

Princeton researchers say Facebook can’t prevent their experimental add-on for the Chrome browser graying out ads in your News Feed.

We’re still waiting for Facebook to fire back, as the executive leading its ad technology has promised it will. But Narayanan argues in a blog post introducing his ad highlighter that Facebook simply can’t win.

The ad blockers in use today work by looking at the HTML code that tells your Web browser how to render a page and where to get the images and other files embedded into it. Facebook’s initial move against ad blockers removed clues in its HTML that gave away which parts of a page were ad content.

The Princeton duo’s ad highlighter works differently. It looks at the parts of the Web page that are visible to humans. Facebook Ad Highlighter simply looks for and blocks any posts with a giveaway “Sponsored” tag. It appears to be quite effective. Facebook must clearly label ads to stay within Federal Trade Commission rules on transparency and its own commitments to its users.

Narayanan concludes in his post that Facebook’s anti-ad-blocking campaign is doomed, at least if it continues in the current vein of acting as if the social network can somehow neutralize ad blockers completely.

Narayanan’s blogpost is here:

Can Facebook really make ads unblockable?

Facebook announced two days ago that it would make its ads indistinguishable from regular posts, and hence impossible to block. But within hours, the developers of Adblock Plus released an update which enabled the tool to continue blocking Facebook ads. The ball is now back in Facebook’s court. So far, all it’s done is issue a rather petulant statement. The burning question is this: can Facebook really make ads indistinguishable from content? Who ultimately has the upper hand in the ad blocking wars?

There are two reasons — one technical, one legal — why we don’t think Facebook will succeed in making its ads unblockable, if a user really wants to block them.

The technical reason is that the web is an open platform. When you visit facebook.com, Facebook’s server sends your browser the page content along with instructions on how to render them on the screen, but it is entirely up to your browser to follow those instructions. The browser ultimately acts on behalf of the user, and gives you — through extensions — an extraordinary degree of control over its behavior, and in particular, over what gets displayed on the screen. This is what enables the ecosystem of ad-blocking and tracker-blocking extensions to exist, along with extensions for customizing web pages in various other interesting ways.

I wish there was a business model which would save me from these pernicious ads.


 

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