Is Ad Blocking Really About The Ads?

Since Apple released iOS9 with Content Blocking extensions for Safari, there has been a lot of discussion about the ramifications. On one side, you have the content providers who earn a living by monetizing the content they generate. On the other side, you have consumers who view the content on our devices, trying to focus on the wonderful content and avoid those annoying advertisements.

But wait, is it really the ads? The web has had advertisements for a long time. Over the years, the way Ad Networks optimize the efficiency of ad monetization has changed. I think it happened slowly enough that we, as consumers, largely didn’t noticed some of the downsides. But other people did. They realized that Ad Networks track us in ways that might feel like an invasion of privacy. So those people started blocking ads.

Even more recently, we’ve started to discover that the mechanisms Ad Networks use to serve and track ad also create horrible performance problems, especially on mobile devices. If pages load slowly in a browser, people notice. If pages start consuming more bandwidth, people notice. If you provide a way to quickly and easily improve performance and reduce data usage, people will try it. I’d even posit that people care a lot more about performance and data usage, than privacy.

Even if you don’t care about the privacy implications of tracking cookies and other technologies sites use to identify us online, you might want to turn on Tracking Protection in Firefox anyway for a potential big speed boost. – Lifehacker

Is there a way for Ad Networks to clean up this mess? Some people inside Mozilla think it can be done, but it will take some effort and participation from the Ad Networks. I don’t think anyone has a good plan yet. Maybe the browser could help Ad Networks do things much more efficiently, improving performance and reducing bandwidth. Maybe people could choose how much personal information they want to give up.

If you fix the performance, data usage and privacy issues – will people really care that much about advertisements?

5 Replies to “Is Ad Blocking Really About The Ads?”

  1. I contend that the “annoyance factor” of ads, especially large graphical/animated/interactive ads, is at least as common a reason why people use adblockers as the (quite legitimate) reasons you cite.

    Argument from history: popup blockers. These were driven pretty much entirely by the annoyance angle and not the other factors.

  2. I agree with most of what you say, however, for some people I think there will be more. The parts that I really hate and got me to try an ad blocker on mobile (I only recently installed one) were:

    – auto play videos, hidden a long way down the page & sometimes even multiple per page (!)
    – multiple screen filling ads whilst reading articles & having to scroll through.

    Its not generally as bad on desktop although in-your face “you can’t read this until you’ve looked at this ad” are pretty bad as well.

    I do a lot of reading on a good wifi connection, so I don’t notice performance too much. Its the auto-play, layout & tracking that’s the bad bits for me on mobile.

  3. “If you fix the performance, data usage and privacy issues – will people really care that much about advertisements?”

    It depends. Do the advertisements stand out more than a Google AdSense text-only ad? I have an ADD/Asperger’s Syndrome mix that causes problems with filtering sensory input, so I use an ad blocker to bring myself up to a neurotypical level of focus.

    (Though, admittedly, I also maintain a “boycott and potentially smear” list for any products that manage to sneak through my µBlock+NoScript+TrackingProtection+MVPS HOSTS stack. Ever since I was a toddler, my impulse has been to be individualistic to the point of vindictively holding a grudge against anyone who forces me to do something against my will.)

  4. This is only my personal opinion.
    To the question: “If you fix the performance, data usage and privacy issues – will people really care that much about advertisements?”

    Yes, I do care a lot. The privacy issue can happen with and without ads. The ads which is about putting in your face an additional content (more or less related) to the one you are looking at are a no-no starter for me. The same way I switched off the channel when there’s ads on tv, or that I remove or jump a page with ads in a magazine. I do not want any ads at all on the Web.

  5. My experience with Adblock Plus users is: the majority isn’t even aware of the privacy and performance implications. We do offer optional privacy protection via EasyPrivacy (in addition to pure ad blocking which is an incomplete privacy protection), and we added it to the first-run page a while ago. Still, the number of people using it is rather low compared to the people using ad blocking functionality. The annoyance factor of ads is really the biggest issue, and people are painfully aware of it – that’s by far the most common reason to install Adblock Plus.

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