The Ad Blocking Debate

To block or not to block.

That is the question percolating everywhere from tech pubs to social media. While the topic has been up for discussion for quite some time, with Apple’s recent stance on blocking ads, the debate is now front and center.

Users who block ads, or want the ability to block ads, do it for many reasons:

  1. Privacy issues – by blocking ads, users can rest assured their information is not being used for tracking or profiling purposes.
  2. Protection against malicious software – ads can contain malware, viruses, etc. that can infect the victim’s device if the ad is clicked on (or in some cases, just loaded on the page). Blocking ads prevents this.
  3. Aggressive advertisements – the nature of certain ads, like pop-ups, flashing banners, or auto-play videos, can be annoying and aggressive for users. Blocking ads eliminates this problem.

Blocking ads simply to makes navigating the internet easier. Apple is now blocking ads with its latest operating system update and ad blocking software on its App Store. However, those in favor of enabling ads provide some compelling arguments:

  1. Revenue model – many companies use advertising as their main revenue model. By blocking ads, these companies are hurting from loss of revenue and can end up failing.
  2. Value content – not all ads are annoying and aggressive, they can provide real valued content. By enabling ads, users can find these ads helpful and informative.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Google proactively removed Adblock Plus, a popular ad blocker, from its Play store in 2013. It has since allowed both the Chrome extension and mobile app, adding the app just a couple of months ago in a reverse decision.

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Compromise and protect.

Since ads are not going away, privacy and security advocates, ad-based businesses and users must all find a way to meet in the middle. In some environments, i.e. K-12 schools and religious organizations, blocking ads is a requirement, as the content can be inappropriate and there is no way to determine what type of ads will pop up. But in most environments, it is up to the end-users’ discretion (or technical know-how) to block ads.

Programmatizing an ad blocking policy doesn’t have to be difficult. There are two ways to network administrators can control ads. The first and most obvious is through mandatory use of a browser extension, like Adblock Plus. The problem is that a browser extension or mobile app needs to be installed on every client device.

The second way is by blocking ads at the gateway, through your firewall solution, like Untangle’s Ad Blocker application. By blocking ads at the gateway, network administrators can set a policy for the entire network without relying on the behavior of individual users or the configuration of their many devices. NG Firewall’s Ad Blocker allows you to control the user experience with both ad and ad tracking cookie filters. In the end, it takes common sense to determine what type of ad blocking (if any) is required on your network.

– Shannon