I hate ads.
That’s not to say I hate the people who make, distribute or sell ads — I just hate how invasive and gosh-darned intrusive ads have become.
Think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill? Go ahead and install an ad blocker in your browser – don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Amazing what the difference was, right? Most people don’t even realize how much space and processing power is devoted to rendering and serving ads across the Internet.
When you load a webpage, you’re not just loading the content you want to see: You’re loading a whole suite of extraneous advertisements — photos, videos, audio and scripts — that cause content to load more slowly and take up space that could be used for stuff you actually want to see.
The most damning of this content, tracking scripts, allows ad providers to follow you as you browse the web. Ad networks use this information to build an anonymized profile of your tastes and habits, a profile they use to serve you content that they think will pique your interest and garner them a click or pageview.
Ever search for an item on Amazon and notice that your Facebook feed is suddenly filled with ads for the same type of product? That’s ad tracking at work.
Because ads are often served by third-party networks, they can be used by unscrupulous parties as vectors for malicious software — malware.
Cisco’s 2014 Annual Security Report found that nearly 20 percent of all malware was adware, designed to share your personal data with ad networks or show the most insidious form of ads, pop-ups, on your desktop or browser. Of all the malware identified by the report, nearly 14 percent was traced back to compromised ads.
Recently, Forbes.com required its readers to disable their ad blockers to view its content. Users who chose to do so were promptly infected with malware courtesy of a compromised ad network. A similar attack occurred in February 2015 when The Washington Post discovered the Chinese hackers had taken over its “Thought of the Day” page to distribute malware to viewers.
In their thirst for that sweet advertising lucre, publishers often resort to consumer-unfriendly tactics that maximize profit while simultaneously devaluing the very content people browse the Web to see. To these underhanded publishers, content is just a tollbooth, a way of attracting an audience that advertisers find valuable enough to pay for the privilege of reaching.
Advertising dollars are what spawned the dreaded pop-up ads, a form of advertising so insidious, so annoying, that their creator, Ethan Zuckerman, wrote a public apology in 2014 for inventing them.
Poor advertising practices aren’t limited to the Web — take reruns of Friends, for example. In 2015, the Wall Street Journal discovered that cable channels were actually speeding up footage from the show to serve more commercials to viewers. Other tactics include cutting content, shortening intro sequences or even speeding up credit sequences to the point where they’re entirely unwatchable.
A 2014 State of the Media report by Nielsen indicated that almost a quarter of each hour of programming was devoted to commercials. For every four hours of television watched, viewers were forced to sit through an entire hour of ads.
Ads are so annoying that an entire industry was spawned to circumvent them. TiVo, which produces set-top digital video recorders, heralds the ability of its new Bolt DVR to skip commercial breaks with the press of a button.
Internet ad blockers such as AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, uBlock and even new iOS ad blockers such as iBlocker, Purify and Crystal, advertise their products’ ability to speed up browsing and protect against malware.
What a few of these services, like Adblock Plus, fail to indicate is that they’ve entered into deals with advertisers to allow certain “good” ads through their blockers.
Even so, in a world where the alternative is to be at the mercy of infected or intrusive ads, bearing a few “good” ads is better than dealing with the Wild West that is Internet advertising entirely unprotected.
The best way to end the intrusive, dangerous and privacy-infringing practices of ad networks is to block ads entirely.
By doing something as simple and cheap as installing an ad blocker, you’re throttling the fresh flow of views these parasitic practices require to survive.
Bernard Wilchusky is the Editor-in-Chief of the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @cameraphotodude or email him at BernardW@centralfloridafuture.com.