Ad Blocker_Oct 2015

Ad-blocking software just can’t seem to stop popping up in the news lately.

In September, tech giant Apple announced they would allow ad-blockers on iPhone’s Web browser Safari. However, within a month, Apple pulled several popular ad-blocking apps from their App Store citing security vulnerabilities. They have since worked with developers to create more secure options.

This move to allow ad-blockers isn’t much of a surprise — ad-blocking software has gone mainstream. In 2014, ad blocking usage grew by seventy percent and it’s particularly popular among young adults (more than half of U.S. males 18 – 24 use ad-blockers).

With the surge in popularity, online publishers, including the Washington Post, are racing to develop barriers against the software for fear of a drop in advertising revenue. This includes demanding those who use ad-blocking software to pay to view content.

With the buzz around ad blockers still fresh, the conversation about their benefits and limitations has come front and center. Many are asking whether this software is right for them and what they should consider before taking the dive.

It’s easy to see why acceptance of ad-blocking software is so strong — online ads are not just annoying but they also hog data, invade your privacy and can even contain malware or facilitate scams.

The New York Times recently measured the amount of mobile data used to load online advertisements on popular news sites. Of the top 50 news sites, more than half of data was dedicated to online ads. was the most disproportional site found by The Times; they concluded that visiting the homepage every day for a month would cost the equivalent of about $9.50 in data usage just for the ads.

Why all the ads? Because online advertising is big business. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Internet ad revenues hit $42.8 billion in 2013, and online ad spending is only projected to grow.

Advertisers are drawn to online advertising for its advanced tracking and analytics properties. These ads and the websites where they appear can track a user’s web browsing history; including what pages the user looked at, when they visited and what was clicked. Advertisers use this data to develop behavioral profiles of visitors that enable them to better target their ads. However, many consumers see this as a blatant invasion of privacy and a major benefit of having ad-blocking software.

In line with the “wild west” mentality of the Internet, online advertisements have developed a bad rap of being used to facilitate widespread cybercrime.

Malvertisements are fake online ads that unbeknownst to the user initiate the download of malware when clicked. Malware is software that contains specialized code designed to allow remote access of your device or to corrupt your files. Many forms of malware are used to defraud victims by giving hackers access to their online accounts or locking them out of their device and demanding a ransom.

While reputable websites and ad placement services like Google, make efforts to catch malicious advertisers through extended review processes, some slip through the cracks. In 2014, malicious advertisements were discovered on 74 websites, including Amazon and YouTube.

On the other hand, smaller websites do not employ as stringent of a review process and are more likely to allow malicious or scam-facilitating ads onto their sites. Be cautious if you see an ad or sponsored news story that looks like click bait or is offering a deal that seems too good to be true — it might be a scam.

Ad-blocking software helps thwart all of these threats, so shouldn’t we all be racing to install it?

All I will say is exercise caution. Ad-blocking software can be great, but there are a lot of options on the market — and all come with a surprisingly different degree of security standards, privacy and effectiveness.

Make sure the software is compatible with your device, and keep an eye out for software updates that might be used to patch a newly discovered vulnerability. (Do I need to remind you again why software updates are crucial to the health of your computer?)

Most importantly, read online reviews to evaluate the ad-blocking company. Many such companies have become dismayed by the potential ad sales they are blocking and have given into allowing “acceptable ads.”

Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, the largest desktop ad-blocking service, is spearheading the acceptable ads movement. “Acceptable Ads” whitelists certain sites, allowing pre-approved ads to appear. Adblock Plus currently charges companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, “30% of the additional ad revenues” they would’ve generated through unblocked ads.

Eyeo has allegedly began paying other ad-blocking companies, particularly those creating the new iOS apps, to implement similar policies so consumers have fewer 100-percent ad-free options to choose from. With less competition, Eyeo and other companies can ensure their sustained growth in the market.

It’s a lot to take into consideration. But, when choosing an ad-blocker — if any — select one that is highly reviewed and highly reputable. A no-name ad-blocking provider could actually be a front for a cyber scam and end with you unknowingly downloading a virus.

Do you use an ad blocker on your computer or mobile device? Tell us your thoughts on its effectiveness in the comment section below.