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Love it or hate it, ad-blocking is sure to inspire strong feelings. No one denies that most websites who offer free content are funded in large part by ads, but whether or not readers should be forced to see them is another story. But maybe it’s time to change the conversation: if ads are a necessary evil, why don’t we find other ways around the worst of them that aren’t so divisive and damaging?
Why Not Just Run Adblock?
We’ve gone over this many times, so I’ll keep it brief. Websites need to pay their writers to produce great content, and the best way for them to generate revenue is by hosting ads on the site. Ad networks pay the website for the number of views that those ads get, thereby increasing the revenue generated as more people view the site.
However, people hate ads. They’re rarely for anything we’re interested in, they clutter the page, detract from the content, and just look tacky. So they run ad-blocking software like Adblock Plus or uBlock. This decreases the views of the ads, which in turn decreases the site’s revenue, and sometimes puts them out of business.
And thus, the disagreement over ad blocking, largely between writers for websites that publish free content—who want to keep their jobs—and users who are annoyed by ads.
There is Another Way
What many people don’t realize is that there are a few strategies that create a middle ground that keeps both sides happy. They aren’t as easy as blocking every ad, and they can require a bit of getting used to. However, they don’t reduce ad views as much as widespread ad blocking, which is good for publishers.
Of course, some users won’t be happy unless they’re blocking every ad that they possibly can. And some publishers won’t be happy if people have the option to block their ads at all. But maybe we can act like responsible adults and find a middle ground that benefits both sides. Let’s take a look at a few ways we can do that.
Giving Everyone a Chance: Blacklisting
On the default settings of ad-block software, all ads are blocked, and domains can be whitelisted if the user wants or needs to see the ads. If you’re intent on blocking ads, using a blacklist can be a more reasonable strategy. By starting with an empty blacklist, you’ll give every site a chance to show you that they’re being reasonable with the number and type of ads.
When you come across a website that’s particularly cluttered or has especially annoying ads, add it to the blacklist with a click. In this way, sites that have a reasonable amount of ads, and ones that you’re willing to put up with in order to support, are still earning money through your visits.
Obviously, this means you’ll be viewing some ads. But if you want free content, that’s usually the price you pay.
For the Privacy / Security Conscious: Ghostery
Even though James called out Ghostery as being part of the trifecta of evil, it does have some advantages over Adblock Plus. Namely, it allows you to block only specific types of content. There are five types listed: advertising, analytics, beacons, privacy, and widgets. Because of the increasing occurence of ad-distributed malware, as we recently saw at the adult site xHamster, and privacy conerns, many people want to block as many ads as possible.
However, by simply blocking analytics, beacons, and privacy categories through Ghostery, you can help keep yourself safer than you would be if you didn’t have an ad blocker without depriving companies of all of their ad revenue. Combining this with a blacklist gives you the best of both worlds.
Clean up the Web: De-Cluttering Pages
There are a number of browser extensions that don’t block any ads, but do keep you from seeing them. Evernote’s Clearly and another app called Readability are both popular options—just click on the extension icon in your browser, and you’ll see a cleaner version of the page. Both also let you save articles to read them later.
These extensions provide an even cleaner environment than ad blockers, and can really improve your online reading experience. An extra click on the pages you like might seem like a lot to ask, but it’ll become automatic very quickly, and you can easily combine this method with some of the others listed here to make your computer more secure, as well.
A lot of the malware that’s spread through advertising is distributed through security vulnerabilities in Flash. While Flash can be really useful, it’s not exactly known for being a very safe program to use online. It also has a reputation as a battery and resource hog.
When you block scripts, you’ll notice that anything requiring that script will display a specific icon—when you click that icon, it’ll run. This one-click functionality makes it easy to watch Facebook videos or run web apps that need Flash without making changes in your security settings.
For Everyone: Block Third-Party Cookies
Cookies are small files that are placed on your computer by websites. They can do a number of things—keep you logged into Gmail when you close the tab, let you like things on Facebook directly from another page, or save things in your shopping cart. But they can also track your activities, which is a privacy risk and may allow advertisers to track you online.
For this reason, blocking and deleting at least some cookies is a good idea. Blocking all cookies is best for security, but it also means you need to log into all of your services every time you go back to them, and that website preferences won’t be saved. Instead, you can block a specific subset.
In Firefox, go to Preferences > Privacy > Firefox will: Use custom settings for history. Set Accept third-party cookies to “Never” (if you find that this causes problems with some sites you visit, you can change it to “From visited.”) In Chrome, go to Settings > Advanced Settings > Cookies and select “Block only third-party cookies.”
It’s also a good idea to set your browser to delete cookies when you exit the app (you do exit your browser every now and then, don’t you?).
Let’s Work Together
Internet ads are one of the necessary evils of the world we live in. You can say that your hatred of ads means that websites should find an alternate revenue model, but for now, that’s not happening. Very few websites have managed to do it successfully, in part because there’s so much high-quality free content out there.
So let’s quit fighting about whether or not websites should use ads, whether they should find another way to make money, whether users should be willing to view ads, and whether ad blocking is evil. Let’s just work together to find a middle ground that we can all be happy with for the time being. Isn’t it worth putting in just a little bit more effort to make the Internet a better place?