I’ve come slowly to the whole ad-blocker debate: all things being equal, I’m not an active fan of ads, but I accept them as a possible way for writers to get paid, and most of the time they’re not that bad. Sometimes, they do cross the line for me—I really don’t like the “around the web” style ads that promise to tell me about strange people living near me or miracle foods or celebrity plastic surgery mishaps—but I’m generally content to ignore ads that aren’t scraping the bottle of the barrel. So, while I read many articles through Instapaper (at least if I’m on my iPad) or through Feedly instead of clicking through to the website, and while I’ll turn on Safari’s Reader View for particularly cluttered pages, I also see a decent number of web pages on the publisher’s web site as the publisher presents them. (Actually, ads aren’t the main reason why I turn on Reader View: I’m most likely to turn it on because of content width and font choices that make it hard for me to scan the text.)
In fact, what’s been annoying me more this year on web sites isn’t ads: it’s stuff that websites inflict that are about the site itself instead of about external products. I distinctly remember following a link to a Jay Smooth video, and having the page be completely covered by an overlay that encouraged me to give them my e-mail, or something like that. It was one of those things that makes me wonder just what the thought process was behind that: I have zero relationship with this site, I’ve done absolutely nothing that would give them any reason to believe that I care about the site at all let alone would be willing to give them my contact e-mail, yet they think this request for my e-mail is so important (and likely enough to succeed) that they’re going to block the whole screen with it? I guess it got me to remember the site, which I probably wouldn’t have otherwise (it was fusion.net), but not in a good way: I seriously included sticking a fake DNS entry in
/etc/hosts so that I wouldn’t accidentally visit that site again.
That’s where I was until this summer’s WWDC announced that iOS would support content blocking. And then I read articles analyzing the costs that ad requests impose: loading what should be a basic web page takes 11 seconds and loads 14 megabytes of data. That’s ridiculous, and it puts a completely different spin on something else that I’d been noticing, namely that my iPad was getting slow: sure, the machine is old, but it sounds like ad networks and their scripts are significantly increasing the amount of work that my iPad has to do.
Having something that’s not actively offensive be on the fringes of my vision is fine. Having ads start crowding out content is annoying; it pushes me towards to reading articles from random web sites through Instapaper, and I’ll also turn on Reader View to deal with this. But when websites start presenting me with bullshit overlays that I have to click through, popups that aren’t for ad purposes (which I’m actually relatively happy to accept, that’s a clear tradeoff that I understand) but that I read as a complete lack of thought about how the reader is approaching the site, then I get angry. And when I realize the hidden costs that ads are imposing on me (costs that potentially translate into me having to spend hundreds of dollars for a new machine and/or having a phone battery die in the middle of the day), then I start thinking a lot harder about ad blocking. This isn’t an open exchange of my attention for value that websites provide, this is software being run covertly on my computer for purposes I don’t agree with; blocking that seems no more wrong than browsers blocking popups, as they’ve done for years. (Marco Arment’s post from August seems right to me; also, he brigs up tracking behavior, which is another aspect of ads that I do not agree to accept.)
So I’m running Ghostery now. I don’t block everything that Ghostery allows me to block: I block Analytics, Beacons, and Privacy by default, and I leave Advertising and Widgets unblocked by default. But if I go to a web page and I see bottom-of-the-barrel “around the web” crap, then I’ll figure out where it’s coming from and block that. This probably doesn’t have as much an effect on load times as I’d like, but at least it’s something.
That’s on the Mac; my iPad is, unfortunately, old enough that content blockers won’t work on it, but I expect I’ll be running one on my phone as well soon enough. The iOS content blockers don’t yet seem like they’re as fine-grained as on the Mac (though I haven’t done a lot of research); if I have to take a scorched earth approach for a while, then that’s probably what I’ll do.
That still doesn’t fix those annoying overlays, though. Maybe I really should go the
/etc/hosts blocking route for that….
This post has not been revised since publication.