On the Lambda

Programming, Technology, and Systems Administration

On the Lambda

Eight Principles for Good Ad Blocking

May 5th, 2016 · 1 Comment · IT News

I’ve seen a lot lately about Ad Blockers used on web sites: how sites and publishers are responding to more Ad Blocker use, the rising numbers of ads on a page, malicious ads, etc. It’s been in the tech news. I myself even (reluctantly) installed an Ad Blocker recently.

Here’s the thing: I don’t mind ads anymore. I used to absolutely hate them, but back in late 2008 I had a revelation. I was using this new-fangled programming question and answer site called Stack Overflow, which aimed to compete with the notorious Experts Exchange. Both sites used ads, but Experts Exchange purported to be mainly subscription based, while Stack Overflow was going to be fully ad supported. I’ll give you one guess which site actually had a better experience. This stark contrast caused me to rethink my position on web advertising. Since then I’ve avoided using Ad Blockers, at least for the most part.

Things have been changing, though. As I said, I was recently forced… yes, forced… to install Ad Blocker. Something is different now about the way ads are served on the web. Ad networks have been unable to adequately police their inventory, resulting in the frequent situation where legitimate and respected sites serve malicious content to users. This leaves the use of Ad Blockers as the only recourse for many of us.

But I’d like to avoid this. I remember the old web, before small sites could pay the bills from ads. I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to go back to Experts Exchange. Instead, I want a new kind of Ad Blocker… one that actually allows ads by default, and only blocks ads as a penalty to sites or networks that aren’t behaving. My suggestion is for this new Ad Blocker to only take actions when one or more of these eight principles are violated:

  1. An ad blocker shall block all ads from any site for one year if that site serves a malicious ad. Even just one confirmed malicious ad shall trigger this penalty.
  2. An ad blocker shall monitor ad networks and shall block all ads originating from a network for one year if that network serves even one confirmed malicious ad to users. A network that is unable to police its inventory should be penalized.
  3. An ad blocker shall block ads that use plugins including but not limited to Flash, Silverlight, or Java. Perhaps some day interactive ads will find their place, but this is not that day.
  4. An ad blocker shall block ads that play audio or video without action by the user. A hover is not an action by the user. An ad blocker may extend this to eventually block all ads on a page, site, or ad network for repeat offenses.
  5. An ad blocker shall block all ads on a page if the ad content on the page is > 25% of the total page size in bytes. This may be determined as an aggregate across all of the ad block service’s users and impressions for the page, as some ad networks may occasionally legitimately place a larger ad on a smaller page. An ad blocker may extend this to eventually block all ads on a page, site or ad network for repeat offenses.
  6. An ad blocker shall block all ads on a page if the page prioritizes loading ad content ahead of loading non-ad page content, or fails to allocate proper placeholders in the initial render, such that late-loaded ad content forces original content or links to jump to a new position just as the user might be about to click.
  7. An ad blocker shall block all ads on a site if ads from any page on the site interfere with using a page or substantially confuse users, such as pushing content down off the page while a user is trying to read, or filling in an ad near a link or button that a user may want to click. An ad blocker may rely on end-user reporting to identify these pages and sites, rather than determine this on the fly.
  8. An ad blocker shall block tracking data reported to ad networks which extends beyond the current actual url of the page where the ad is displayed, which specific ad was served, and whether the user clicks the ad. Right now, this is most tracking, but I believe an effective blocking strategy can influence advertisers to improve behavior, or at least be less obtrusive about it, such that this principle might be relaxed in the future. For the moment, however, I believe it is necessary for ad networks to do more to establish user trust, and that means not gathering any more data than they could get from an over-the-air TV ad.

I’ll add one bonus principle that’s really more of a feature option: users should have the option of blocking categories of objectionable content in ads, such as pornographic (or even mildly explicit), gambling, politics, etc. However, I have some previous experience with content categorization engines, and this may be a much more difficult feature than it gets credit for up front.

Some of these principles may seem like death sentences to a site or ad network, but remember that not everyone uses ad blocking services.  Rather than stopping all ads, this would be merely a modest penalty for even the worst offenders. Nevertheless, it **is** a penalty, and therefore should help incent ad networks and sites to better police their content. I think enough people using an Ad Blocker that follows these principles could have a strong positive effect on the internet as a whole. I also believe it would actually INCREASE revenue for sites and ad networks alike, by improving user trust and confidence in the ads they see (thereby increasing the value of each impression) and by shaking some of the more irresponsible players out of the industry, thereby leaving a higher share for those who remain.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Mike Jones

    Now this, in stark contrast to your sci-fi “buildings in space” silliness, is actually a really good idea.

    I feel the same way about ads – they don’t bother me as long as they don’t interfere with what most of us would consider to be “normal” operation of a browser (i.e. no pop-unders, no onbeforeunload events making it difficult to navigate away from the page, and especially no malicious content).

    You definitely may be on to something!

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