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Ad blocking explained

Intrusive ads, annoying banners, and distracting pop-ups are tiresome elements of online advertising that can ruin your online experience by slowing download speeds and being the carriers of malware. Ad blocking software is one of the most popular solutions to deal with them. Let’s look into what ad blocking is, how it can boost your online experience, and how it influences online advertising.

Ad blocking explained

What is ad blocking?

Ad blocking prevents annoying ads from displaying on a user’s device when browsing the internet. Ad blocking is typically run by software or browser extensions, known as ad blockers. While a site is loading, the ad blocking software checks the domain names of the elements loading on the web page against massive blocklists. If any site component is flagged as advertising material, the ad blocker stops it from loading and appearing on the user end.

Ad blocking browser extensions can improve your online experience by removing intrusive ads, video ads, and tons of content that doesn’t interest you but slows down web pages and consumes your data. Some ad blocking tools might also enhance your privacy by preventing tracking scripts that follow your activities online. If you’d like to reduce the number of ads you see while roaming the internet, check out our guide on how to block ads on different devices.

Is ad blocking safe?

Ad blocking is generally safe, but you should always choose a reliable ad blocking software. However, you should also note that ad blockers don’t replace anti-malware software and won’t fully protect you from malware and viruses. All they do is hide online ads from you.

Historical background of ad blocking

The ad blocking tools were created soon after the first ads appeared on the web. The first ever banner was launched in 1994. It was a telecommunication company AT&T’s banner, saying, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will,” in a rainbow font. It appeared on the HotWired webpage and had a 44% click-through rate. Many other companies followed the example and decided to display ads, filling the web with pop-ups and banners that became increasingly targeted. The abundance of online ads created the need for ad blocking tools.

The first ad blocking software was a plug-in for the Netscape browser called Internet Fast Forward, developed by a small company called PrivNet in 1996. Internet Fast Forward blocked annoying ads and cookies for the cost of $10. In just a couple of years, more ad blocking tools for various browsers emerged.

In 2002, the first ad blocking extension was created. It was given a now well-known name, AdBlock, and was developed as an extension for Firefox. The more advanced version of AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, was developed in 2006. The code of the new program was almost completely changed from that of its predecessor, and Adblock Plus started to use filter lists to determine what ads were intrusive ads and should be blocked. Filter maintainers are still creating the filter lists, helping AdBlock Plus to remain the most popular ad blocker to this day.

However, ad blocking applications have experienced a backlash from some technology giants. For instance, Google decided to remove ad blocking applications from its app stores and search engines, preventing ad blocking software from branching out to mobile devices. In 2015, German media company DIE ZEIT also sued AdBlocker Plus for blocking the displayed ads on its website. However, AdBlocker Plus won the legal battle, setting a precedent for legal ad blocking.

Pros and cons of ad blocking

Pros

  • pros
    Ad blocking software blocks malicious ads that can infect your device with malware if you click on them.
  • pros
    Ad blocking makes your browsing experience smoother. Ads usually clutter the websites you browse, sometimes to the point that you can’t see the actual content. They also make browsing slower by consuming your bandwidth
  • pros
    Unwanted and annoying ads violate your privacy. Advertisers use trackers to monitor your browsing habits and then target ads at you. Ad blocking prevents others who use your device from seeing your personalized ads and protects you from the annoying experience of seeing ads for recently searched items.
  • pros
    Ad blocking can help you save battery life because ads can drain your battery.

Cons

  • cons
    Ads are the only source of income for many websites and online services. They are one of the methods you “pay” for the content you like. Ads are also often an important source of revenue for independent media outlets. By disabling them, you may financially hurt publishers or service providers.
  • cons
    Many advertisers and website developers discover new methods of bypassing ad blocking, so ad blocking doesn’t fully protect you from malicious ads.
  • cons
    Some advertisers use ethical advertising techniques, making ads that are relevant and useful. The ads don’t impact your browsing experience much and can actually benefit you by helping you to find the best deals for products you’re interested in.
The pros and cons of ad blockers

Ad blocking and user privacy

Ad blocking software is a valuable tool to increase your privacy online. In many cases, information about your activity on the internet can be tracked, sold, and used as behavioral and advertising data. That’s especially the case with online advertising — it collects information about your personal interest and online routines with the help of internet cookies, browser fingerprinting, or tracking pixels and uses this information to show you more targeted ads. Various types of malware can be hidden within legitimate-looking malicious ads that can reach you more successfully due to tracking tools used beforehand.

By blocking tracking scripts, cookies, and other forms of online tailing, ad blocking software can provide an additional layer of privacy for users concerned about their data being collected without their knowledge or consent.

PRO TIP: Use the NordVPN built-in ad blocker to prevent ads from following you online and keep your browsing activity private. Ad blocker works on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, and browser extensions.

Ad blocking and social media platforms

Many popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, rely heavily on advertising revenue. They often use trackers and display targeted ads based on the user’s personal data and interests. These personalized ads can appear in various places, including the feed, stories section, or even direct messages.

Though ad blocking helps to reduce annoying ads on social media to some extent, many social media platforms use special workarounds to bypass ad blocks. One example is strict policies against ad blocking that limit the platform’s functionality for users using ad blocking tools. These platforms also tend to disguise tracking ads as sponsored or native content, which is then integrated into the feed and cannot be detected by ad blocking tools because these ads don’t follow the same coding pattern as usual ads do.

Ad blocking software continuously tries to counter ads on social media by introducing new updates. However, various behavioral monitoring tools used by the biggest social media platforms cannot be easily outsmarted even by the latest ad blocking technology.

The future of ad blocking

The future of ad blocking is likely to be determined by an interplay of new technology, user privacy concerns, and the evolving models of online advertising. In the past decade, ads have become excessively intrusive, and many users are not at peace with their data being tracked or being served targeted malicious ads. However, critics of ad blocking argue that blocking all sorts of ads threaten the free web. Many platforms make their money by placing ads on their web pages, and without this income they’d need to start charging users or can go bankrupt.

The challenge lies in finding a balance between internet users enjoying online experiences without intrusive ads and their data being tracked, and content creators and platforms being able to generate revenue from ads to survive. However, rather than searching for compromises, technology giants are implementing new tools to make ad blockers less likely to affect ads online. For instance, this year, Google has adapted its new Manifest V3 application programming interface (API) to Chrome, changing how extensions interact with your browser and making them less effective. In the battle of Manifest V3 vs. ad blockers, the latter is more likely to lose.

As a result, these advancements call for network-level improvements from the developers of ad blocking tools, paying increasingly more attention to concerns about users’ privacy. At the same time, advertisers and publishers are encouraged to run a more user-friendly online advertising ecosystem and use more acceptable ads so as not to lose their audience.

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