Mobile ads

Should we block ads?

Ad-blockers are technically filters. Just like how your email system or software filters spam email messages and only gives you the necessary ones, ad-blockers only give you the content you’re looking for, not the ads. But, something many people don’t know about is that ad-blockers don’t block all ads.

Ad-blockers are actually blocking those ads that violate your privacy and/or freedom. Well of course not all ad-blockers act like this but most famous ones only block trackers.

Web trackers are files and codes which try to follow (track) you online and build a profile upon your activity to show you more relevant (to your personality) ads. For example, if you start searching for a penguin using Google, after a while, you’ll see ads about penguins. Or start searching for a red scarf, and then penguins, you probably will see ads about a penguin wearing a red scarf!

Now, should we block ads?

As I said, what ad-blockers do is to prevent that piece of code running on your computer therefore the adsystem won’t be able to track you and then show you ads. So yes; we should block ads but not all of them.

Ads are useful and showing ads, generally, is not against our rights, freedom, and privacy. We should first check what’s an ad.

What’s an ad?

An ad (short for advertisement) is a banner or a written something with intent to sell something. A blog post promoting a product is an ad. A banner of a web hosting service at the bottom of a website is an ad. Ads are paid or free.

For example, if I eat a cookie and really like it, I may write about it on my social networking profile, it’s an ad but I haven’t get paid to advertise about it. I decided to promote that cookie for free but it’s still an ad. A free ad.

But if a cookie company pays me to talk positive (or even just talk) about its cookies, it’s a paid ad. I got paid to promote or introduce a cookie. It’s also not a bad thing to do unless I don’t tell you that it’s an ad.

Advertising is one of the key elements in selling and presenting a business products. Almost everything we buy and use is being advertised somewhere. Some of the major tech companies, like Google, are selling advertisements as a business. Some are good and some, again like Google, are terrible.

Is blocking ads wrong?

Well if we block all ads and stop people from benefiting from showing ads, I believe we did a wrong thing. However, I always put people’s privacy and rights first. So, I don’t think blocking all trackers is bad and if all of the ads a website, or generally a person, a company, a service, etc, is showing are trackers, I see no problem in blocking them all.

What I believe is that ads should only be about advertising about something, not profiling people and violating their privacy for benefit, or anything. I would prefer to read a blog post about a product than seeing ads about that racist organization because I searched about it.

I believe in blocking trackers, not blocking ads. If all your ads are trackers, then I have no problem in destroying your advertisement business as it’s harmful and privacy-violating.

Do ad-blockers block all ads?

No. Ad-blockers do not block all advertising. That would be impossible. Ad-blockers can’t know what the intent behind any arbitrary web page is. And even if the author of a block list knows that something is an ad, they won’t necessarily block it. The most popular ad blocking list on the internet, EasyList, uses a much more narrow definition of an “advert” than the dictionary does: they only block ads that are sold to a third party.

Mostly, ad-blockers will block something if it is sent through an ad network. An ad network is a company that matches up ads with websites. It’s kind of like online dating: the web sites and advertisers use keywords to identify the interests that they cater to, and the ad network is the matchmaker that puts them together.

And all of the downsides of online dating apply to ad networking. The author of the content might be perfectly trustworthy, but if their website is matched with a bad advertiser, the result is a really bad date. And because ad networks are so permissive, nobody knows if it’s going to turn out well until it’s already too late.

Ad-blockers won’t block ads that are (fully) integrated with the content you want to see. It means if the author of a website or a service knows what ad it’s showing you, an ad-blocker won’t do anything but if the author just shows ads and puts an automatic system of a network to show you some banner, an ad-blocker will most probably block it.

Does blocking ads stop websites from making money?

If that website is just using an ad network, yes. But as I said, it’s a matter of privacy. I personally don’t want to make a website/company broke but I value my privacy much more than a digital rights-violating website/service.

However, there are much better ways for advertisements. For example, a website can receive money or benefits for putting a banner without trackers. Or advertising companies can use the same system but only track whether that banner is live on a website or not and stop tracking people and building profiles upon their personal data.

Do web browsers have ad-blockers?

Yes. Some web browsers, such as Google Chrome, have some kind of ad-blocker but it’s no enough. Some other, like Firefox and Safari, only block cross-site trackers which is good but not enough.

The complete answer is that they block some ads or trackers but what they do is not even close to enough. They still are almost useless without using a plugin or add-on. Well-known web browser, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, are receiving money and support from those who own ad networks.

These browsers don’t block ads efficiently; However, a real ad-blocker, like uBlock Origin blocks the entire ad network. Blocking all of the bad advertisements one by one is an impossible task, but blocking all of the major ad networks is easy, because there aren’t very many of them.

What about paywalls?

To fight against ad-blockers, some websites use paywalls. Which is actually better than showing privacy-violating ads.

Paywalls can violate privacy too. In order to receive content, you may need to pay with a credit card which can violate your privacy. I actually prefer paywalls instead of tracking ads. based on the paywall, you can bypass them or not. Some paywalls just ask for a small amount of money to let you receive content you want but some ask you to buy a subscription (have an account) to read or receive the whole text/service/etc.

There are some add-ons that bypass paywalls for free but I can’t suggest any.

Would blocking ads cause the whole internet being paywalled?

Probably yes. But that’s not the case. Drinking water may also deplete all water on earth. We should not let websites/services/etc. violate our privacy only because they can violate it in another way too. The whole ad-blocking thing is to protect ourselves.

And also, paywalls are not that bad, as long as they don’t violate our privacy and digital freedom.

So how do we block ads?

There are many efficient ad-blockers. Most famous one I believe is uBlock Origin add-on for Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Google Chrome. You can simply install it and it’ll start working.

There is also Privacy Badger by EFF which blocks trackers and lets you control what to do with trackers.

Another way is to use a DNS service to block ads. There are some really good and efficient ad-blockers which you can use by browsing the internet using their DNS. LibreDNS is a DNS service provided by LibreOps. It provides DoT (DNS over TLS) and DoH (DNS over HTTPS).

Another good service is the OpenNIC Project. LibreDNS is also using OpenNIC. OpenNIC is an open and democratic alternative DNS root which also bypasses censorship. It’s actually a lot bigger than an ad-blocker and is a whole great project for internet freedom and independence.

Another service I suggest is Pi-hole®. Pi-hole introduces itself as a black hole for internet advertisements. It only supports Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, and CentOS currently and runs on embedded systems (for example you can use it on a Raspberry Pi) but it’s really good.

Published by

Avatar photo

Ali Reza Hayati

Entrepreneur, hacker, cypherpunk.