Ad blocking — Chrome enters the mix

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Feb 142018

If you’re already using an ad blocker with your favorite Web browsers, you’re in good company. Eliminating the clutter and distraction is one thing (which some browsers’ Reader View can do). But ad clutter also slows down page loading, consumes more battery power, and poses some privacy and security risks.

Google and Facebook command the bulk of online ad revenue; so, when Google announces that the latest release of its Chrome browser will start blocking (some) ads, that’s news, eh. Today’s Cnet article “How Chrome ad blocking is already changing the web” provides a good summary of this move.

What was once unthinkable — that Chrome would block online ads, Google’s lifeblood — becomes reality on Thursday.

That’s when Chrome takes a significant step in the direction that  hundreds of millions of us already have gone by installing ad blockers. Chrome stops far short of those browser extensions, which typically ban all ads, but the move carries plenty of importance because Google’s browser dominates the web on both personal computers and phones. Chrome is used to view about 56 percent of web pages, according to analytics firm StatCounter.

Chrome’s ad-blocking move is designed to rid the web of sites stuffed to the gills with ads or degraded by obnoxious ads, said Ryan Schoen, Google’s product manager for web platform work at Chrome. There are signs it’s already had an effect: About 42 percent of sites that the company’s warned have dialed back on ads to pass Google’s standards, including the LA Times, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune.

A Web without lots of ads is unlikely. Perhaps there’ll be more “paywalls” on news sites. At least soon there’ll be another way to curtail the most obnoxious ads. The saga will continue.

And I do recommend Google’s browser. Windows PCs come with Microsoft’s Edge browser; and Apple’s devices come with Safari. Just add Chrome as a second browser.

Ad blocking — the controversy and the future

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May 022016

So, you used Google to search for a new clock. Maybe you also viewed some clocks on Amazon. Later you noticed many ads on other pages for clocks. Yes, that’s the result of tracking your web browsing. Are you okay with that? Did you consent?

Are you using an ad blocker? Is it ethical to block ads?

Prior posts have covered this topic, but this VOX article from 2015 remains an excellent summary, with links to other articles on the topic.

Interestingly, evidence from past technological shifts suggests that whatever happens with ad blocking technology, it is unlikely to alter the total amount of money spent on advertising.

Conceptually, an ad is basically something you publish because somebody paid you money to publish it. Ad blocking software can identify ad networks, and block certain kinds of advertising scripts, but it can’t read minds and discern why a given story was published. Consequently, forms of advertising that fit natively into the editorial content stream should be immune to ad blocking.

Trust, ad-blocking, and do-not-track reality check

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Jan 122016

So, you’ve been using an ad-blocker and set your Web browsers to not accept cookies and enabled their option / preference to not track you. How’s that working? Well, Re/code’s article “Understanding ‘Do Not Track’: Truth and Consequences” discusses the reality.

Make no mistake, this challenge started with publishers. Although many people in the ad tech world are finally apologizing for their hand in the skyrocketing ad-blocking rates, joining our “Advertising 2.0: A Call to Think,” rather than a call to arms, it’s critical to clear up some misinformation about Do Not Track.

We’re turning the Internet into a battle zone where clickbait, bottom feeders, bots and, ultimately, no sustainable advertising model may be the norm. We need to give consumers an easy, persistent way to express their choice.

Ad Blockers — another study re time and money

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Nov 022015

I found this recent Tech Times “iOS Ad Blockers Help You Browse Faster And Save Money, NYT Study Finds” article regarding a study by the New York Times of ad blockers interesting — in particular, the quantitative diagrams showing all the items, especially scripts, which are loaded without an ad blocker on various popular sites. Quite a difference!

As it turns out, ad blockers not only allow users to surf the web without distractions, but also enable them to browse much faster and conserve their data. In turn, this translates to saving both time and money.

The original NYT story contains all the diagrams.

Ad blocking — Heinlein, Friedman redux

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Oct 012015

Well, the game’s afoot. Are you using ad blocking?

PC World’s “The price of free: how Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google sell you to advertisers” article summaries how four major companies handle collection of personal data when you use their products and services.

Because the latest version of Windows is always asking for information in the guise of being helpful, it’s easy to think that Microsoft’s the poster child for the collective attack on your digital privacy. But it’s not.

Now that Apple’s iOS 9 supports ad blockers, are you going to try one on your iPhone? The Washington Post summaries some choices in their “Here’s how some of the top iOS 9 ad-blockers stack up” article.

From a consumer standpoint, it seems like a good deal — particularly on a smartphone, where even a small ad can take up a lot of screen space. Ditching ads makes sites load faster and easier to read. And blocking tracking software may give those worried about privacy some peace of mind.

And the Washington Post continues with a cautionary perspective in “How our love affair with ad-blocking risks giving Internet providers even more power.”

If you often feel that the content on webpages you visit is overwhelmed by ads, this article notes that:

The New York Times took a look at this Thursday. It found that for many online news sites, it takes longer to load the ads than the news content visitors are presumably there to see. On an LTE connection, the Huffington Post loaded in 5.2 seconds with all its ads, for example, but with an ad blocker, that time was cut to just 1.2 seconds.

So, what could go wrong with all of this? Re/code discusses the topic in “Ad Blockers: Unwitting Arbiters of Consumer Preference.”

Deploying ad blocking is not the fight consumers want. But neither the pay-for-access model nor the advertising-in-exchange-for-free-access model works well enough today. … Opting in to the advertising experience is also broken. Consumers en masse should not be expected to choose to view ads when blocking them is both easy and consequence-free. … It is a tragedy of the commons.

What about Heinlein and Friedman? See Wikipedia’s article titled “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Sep 182015

The “freemium” model for products and services dominates the digital landscape. Many companies use a free version (freeware) to promote their paid-for full version (and in some cases as a goodwill gesture to promote some public good). “Try before buy” is quite useful and these companies sometimes also provide free trial versions (user licenses for 10, 30, … days).

“Free” is a powerful marketing strategy. There’s a downside to the freemium model, however. Who pays the “freight” when there’s no fee? We constantly experience the consequences in ad-supported products and services. Less “filling,” more commercials. On many websites, ads and promotions clutter the page — they’re so dense that content is overwhelmed. More people, as a result, use ad blockers (and Reader / Reading View). And data collected about your use of these products and services is just as profitable.

So, while most people are aware that “there’s no free lunch,” many use free app’s (applications, programs, software) on their digital devices (smartphones, tablets, notebooks, desktops). Many of my clients, for example, use free anti-virus (anti-malware) app’s. Most of these are quite legitimate and useful (and better than Microsoft’s built-in Defender). Free versions are reviewed as well (for example, by PC World).

But whether free or paid, products and services come with terms and conditions and privacy policies. It’s the later — what data the provider collects and how such data is used — that’s increasingly a concern.

So, the release of a new, clarified Privacy Policy by AVG sparked industry reaction, as noted in this September 17, 2015, PC World “AVG’s new privacy policy is uncomfortably honest about tracking users” article.

The new policy, which takes effect on October 15, makes clear that AVG will collect non-personal data such as “Browsing and search history, including meta data.” AVG says it collects this data “to make money from our free offerings so we can keep them free.”

So, stay informed. Privacy Policies are everywhere. If you’re using AVG Free, does their new policy change anything?

[See my comments on this post for additional commentary on ad blocking.]