AdBlock, NoScript & Ghostery – The Trifecta Of Evil

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why adblock is badOver the past few months, I’ve been contacted by a good number of readers who have had problems downloading our guides, or why they can’t see the login buttons or comments not loading; and in 99% of cases, it’s because they’re running one these plugins – AdBlock, NoScript, or Ghostery – which I shall hereby refer to as the “trifecta of evil”. Here’s why.

AdBlock

Matt has already written an extensive article on why AdBlock plugin is destroying the Internet, but I want to throw my own opinion in here too.

For those of you who don’t know, AdBlock silently removes all advertising and social buttons. The thing is – those ads pay my salary, as well as the other full time editors, professionals writers, and dedicated server costs that make MakeUseOf what it is. We believe strongly in a free content model – whereby we provide free, high quality, full content to you with no restrictions – in exchange for showing you advertising. Apologies if you think my definition of free is defective, but you’re arguing over semantics and kind of missing the point.

What makes me angry about the AdBlock plugin is that the author – while happy to destroy our revenue stream – is also profiteering from the very same free content model by asking for PayPal donations when the plugin is installed. Talk about hypocrisy.

I understand that some adverts can be annoying – and we do try to remove any that auto-play a video or make noise on page load as soon as we identify them (contrary to popular belief, site owners do not choose the ads that get displayed, but we can kill them off if we find inappropriate or annoying ones, and we have requested that no such video ads be displayed as a general rule) – but the free content model is entirely what keeps the online world afloat. If you want online content to all be premium priced then go right ahead and continue using Adblock. Ultimately you need to remember that if everyone cheated the system like AdBlock users do, the Internet would only exist behind paywalls.

why adblock is bad

NoScript

In days gone by, Javascript was the bane of the Internet, along with flashing GIF’s. Blocking Javascript used to make sense from both a safety standpoint (most browser vulnerabilities came through Javascript), and a usability perspective (Javascript was initially only used for silly effects and annoying tricks and popups).

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But the Internet has very much moved on and evolved from those early days. Browsers aren’t as vulnerable as they used to be. Moreover, Javascript is an integral component of modern HTML5 standards, and jQuery – the most popular Javascript framework – has pushed forward web interfaces far, far beyond pages full of images, links and tables. The modern Internet must have Javascript.

adblock is bad

So when you use NoScript, you’re breaking the Internet. Not only do you drag webpages 10 years into the past, but you prevent essential modern page components from loading – hit counters and such – which again, hurts our bottom line by not giving us an accurate picture of who visits our page; as well as obviously blocking ads. From a user perspective, you’re going to find a whole host of features that don’t work as expected.

In an ideal world, websites would be able to degrade all of their advanced functionality to users without Javascript with some kind of no-JS alternative. In the real world, we’re limited in what we can do by working hours and budgets – and really, why should we support you if you’re not willing to support us by displaying ads?

Ghostery

I hadn’t heard of this until recently, but Ghostery appears to be the ultimate do-not-track plugin. It tells you exactly what companies, ad networks, and tracking services are being downloaded from a site, and allows you to selectively enable them. It presents users with 2 types of cookies (‘trackers’) – those downloaded directly from the site (such as WordPress remembering you’re logged in) – and so-called “3PES” – or third-party elements. The latter are any cookies from ad networks, analytics platforms, and user behavioural trackers.

On the one hand, I think it’s important that users are educated about what’s going on behind the scenes on a site. Ghostery maintains a know your elements glossary of all the known tracking scripts and the companies they belong to – it’s comprehensive, and I applaud it. But educating people and blocking them are different, and given that the majority of users simply leave it blocking everything, the end result is the exact same as NoScript or Adblock – users enjoying our content, without creating revenue.

why adblock is bad

So how much can these companies actually “track” your web usage? Well for one, they certainly aren’t able to see what you’re doing in other tabs, other windows, or general Internet searching. They only keep a record of sites in their network which you’ve browsed to. If company X puts a cookie on the New York Times and MSNBC site, and you browse to both those and Wikipedia, it only knows about the two upon on which it was placed. In other words, they can’t tell that your other tab is open on Asian Hotties or cheatonmywife.com.

By far the easiest way to keep your private browsing actually private is to keep one particular browser, a portable thumbdrive version perhaps, to do all those browsing needs in.

So even if a tracking script does follow some of your browsing habits, is it such a big deal? At the very worst end of the scale (that is, not the ones that simply act like hit counters), they’re being used for what’s called a behaviourally-targeted market.

It works like this: you visit a well known car enthusiast site, a cookie lands on your computer saying “this person likes cars”, and any other sites you visit which are curated by the same ad company will find that cookie and say “he likes cars, so let’s show him car ads”. If you think that’s somehow ethically wrong, then stop watching TV, because they do exactly the same thing. During cooking shows, a large number of ads for cooking appliances and kitchen stuff will show. Toys, during kids programming. Heck, there’s even a bus-stop ad campaign in the UK that only shows itself when a female walks by. Hows that for targeted?

Scare tactics are part of the problem, from conspiracy theorists who believe the government is watching them and now the Internet tracking companies know their every move too. Trouble is, a lot of people without technical knowledge on the subject believe those scare tactics. Now the Internet knows you’re secretly into big ladies smothered in whipped cream, and you can be sure they’re going to use it against you.

Basically though, it comes down to this – we provide thousands of articles, free book guides, and a community-driven technical support service – in return for which, we ask that you don’t block adverts.

Now I realise of course that I’ve only presented one side of the argument here. I’ll admit right now that when you throw social networks into the mix, we may have serious privacy concerns – because suddenly, all this data can be traced back to you and not simply an anonymous user. I’ll leave that to another time or another author to present that side of the argument though. And just for the record, we won’t be locking you out of the site if you decide to not support us by removing ads. We may show a little message asking you not to do it, but we will never lock you out.

Do you disagree completely with what I’ve said? Feel free to vent your frustrations in the comments. Or do you agree with me, and think the whole do-not-track movement is crazy?

Image credit: Devils from Shutterstock

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Comments (542)
  • Tim

    Experimented with this article with adblock disabled and ghostery set to just report on trackers.

    It took 3x longer to load. 3 times, wtf! And ghostery detected 30-50 trackers. I’ve been running adblock for years so I might be out of the loop, bit is this really the best an ad supported website can do?

    I know pageload times are inversely correlated with conversions, so if you do figure out how to monetise this in another way, consider toning down on the ads.

  • Internaut

    This is a debate that always concerns me and as such, I would like to intervene. First of all, I must say, respecting the author and his point of view,

    I agree completely with some of the criticism that has been made to the tone of this article, even for a personal opinion, it’s pretty much in a blaming posture instead of a constructive one and besides, on my land we have a saying “The costumer is always right”, because in the end, if you can’t secure your costumers, they’ll just fly away to somewhere else where their needs are met.

    Actually, in the costumers’ point of view, most of us couldn’t care less about the income of this website if there is any chance that we might being tracked and/or profiled and if the ads give us a worse experience. Also, most of us just don’t feel like we are in control of our own privacy and our own *personal* information. If that choice had been given to everyone since the beginning, we could make a more selective decision. But it wasn’t, so we block, because the tracking companies didn’t care about telling us what they were collectiong and tracking, so we don’t know and better to prevent by default. Yes we may block all the tracking and advertising technologies by default.

    And that’s not our fault. You can’t blame us for wanting to preserve our identity and/or remain anonymous, it should be a right to do so, because if the control over all the information collected were given to the costumer in first instance, we would feel much more rested, less likely biased by conspiracy theories and probably more receptive to cooperate. But greed has led the advertising companies to *impose* this model rather than *propose*, because then only the awareness of a minority could counteract their strategies. That is the power of knowledge, they knew how to collect data from us and we, on our majority, had no clue that such thing was being made and how to avoid it, and for years that worked just fine in detriment of the costumer. They never had the costumers best interests above their one profit thirst since the very beginning. This model is all about profit.

    Unfortunatelly, our raising awareness is hurting the publisher, who provide us this free and useful content, yes I agree that one has to make a living. But hey, you did agree in adopting this model didn’t you? Weren’t you aware that people could potentially get uncomfortable with the current model? Did you not know that you were complying with denying people’s right to control their own data before any other entity could? If you didn’t, you should have. If you did, well blame yourself now. You bet on this branch, now the outcome is not being the expected, well, that is business isn’t it?

    Why do you blame the companies that do what should have been done since ever, to give costumers back the control of THEIR OWN data? Maybe if that had been done primarly by the advertising companies, regarding our best interest, such addons wouldn’t even exist. Once again, instead of proposing, it was imposed on us, and imposed in an increasingly cumbersome, painful and heavy way, with bigger, animated, resource hog banners, at expense of the user experience, which made even those who wouldn’t care so much about tracking, find a much better experience online with AdBlock Plus enabled.

    Once again, you can only blame yourself because you agreed with following this model, you bet on it as the best way to sustain your website, so you had to be aware that so much bombardment in the users screen could turn out to be a real pain.

    I disagree completely with the author when he argues that there would be no Internet without the ad system – of course I can’t make the counterfactual but the Internet, as a global network connecting every, is a very privileged medium with so much potential. The Internet would, in my perspective, still exist, but built on a different model, that’s all. I don’t think it would be dumped just because one model couldn’t thrive. And that’s precisely what is happening now, people got aware and don’t like it anymore and once again, blaming us is the last thing you should do because we just will go somewhere else where ads are not intrusive, complete control over information is provided from the user side and still good articles come out. That is what the market is demanding. It is competition. You couldn’t explore our lack of understanding about tracking and profiling forever.

    And yes, we do use Facebook and other social networks, but do you really believe that someone behaves the exact same way when his activity is associated with his real life identity? Even if one has no clue about tracking technologies, on Facebook, I know that if I comment on something, my face is there. If I like something, my face is there, if I like a product, my recommendation to my friends is there, with my face. Will I like redtube on my facebook? Probably not. And even for dummies, it is not hard to presume that even private activities, such as chatting, will remain saved remotely. We do use Facebook, but all in all, if FB doesn’t safeguard our privacy, they are providing a really bad service, and as such, it can’t be use as an excuse to be tracked all around the web as well.

  • Just opinons

    for anyone interested to see what goes on in the background.

    perhaps install collusion ff addon look at who is passing what onto who. potentially anyway ;)

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/collusion/?src=api

  • Just Opinions

    my god what drivel.
    Writers, 99% just cut and paste and call it an article. for my money these ad-ons dont go far enough, I look forward to the day I can block blogs/*cough* news articles/poor content web sites and the like permanently for even showing up in a search engines.

    advertising is the death of the internet with every fat ad-man extending his greasy fat hand and gasping his ad-man mantra of “more money” or “pay me” should be given 30 lashes daily.

    These people are no more used car salesmen than well, used car salesmen.

    I find it laughable that you consider these companies/people are paying your salary. perhaps you should move onto a used car salesmen career as telling readers that these legitimate and useful tools are taking food of your table is something you would hear down at the ‘lot’ followed by a chuckle of laughter.

    I install these and more on every single computer I can get my hands on. Sir it may pay your wage, but it wastes my time and I find it offensive that these must be used by any reputable website.

  • thisshitsfunny

    sorry but the days of getting easy advertisment monies are long gone. it’s a little ironic you have 10 !@#$ing tracking beacons on this very article. and lots of laughs about it affecting your livelihood. you’re lucky you made one red cent doing nothing but typing words onto a virtual network. ad revenue is for suckers. try farming, then blogging.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.