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Spending hours on the internet exposes all of us to seemingly endless swarms of advertisements on a regular basis. While acknowledging that many websites could fade away without ad revenues, the ever increasing aggressiveness, duplicity and disregard of privacy displayed by ethically challenged marketers has become a constant annoyance.
The introduction of Windows 10 with its detailed delineation of the depth and breadth of personal information routinely tracked, ostensibly to “let Cortana get to know you very, very well”, may well have rekindled public awareness of the relentless electronic surveillance routinely imposed on all of us.
At least you may opt out of some, but not all, items to be reported. Such extensive monitoring is hardly new – Apple, Google and many others are similarly curious about your habits and willing to provide some services in trade.
The voluntary “Do Not Track” effort originally proposed in 2009 has been ineffective and is roundly ignored by most websites. Savvy web surfers have sought protection from ads and the data mining firms that track and target us all by turning to ad blocking software. While free ad blocking software has been around for years, adoption is now rising rapidly. Nearly 200 million people routinely used blocking software in 2014, up 41% from the prior year! Roughly 16% of US computers block advertisements. Most ad blockers are browser specific add-ons, but iOS 9 for iPhones (launched this year) includes support for ad blockers. Expect to see imitative behavior on other mobile devices soon.
Among the most popular ad blockers are Adblock Plus, Adblock, HTTPS Everywhere, NoScript, ScriptSafe, Flashblock and Ghostery. Lately I’ve been using Ghostery; it identifies and blocks over 2000 different trackers and lists how many of these are in use on the website you are currently visiting. There are versions for most popular internet browsers. So far, my personal worst web page served up 36 trackers!
Advertising firms and web based businesses regard ad blocking as a consumer protest, but even more importantly as 22 billion dollars in revenues lost last year. One impassioned web site editor lamented that “Every time you block an ad, what you’re really blocking is food from entering a child’s mouth … That adds up to a lot of lost jobs, all because some people don’t want the inconvenience of having to close a pop-up or scroll past a flashy graphic.”
A few web sites simply request donations to remain ad free. More aggressive sites allow opting out of advertising by paid subscribers. Some advertisers are reconfiguring their efforts to be less invasive and less offensive. A number of major companies have paid Adblock Plus to have their ads declared “acceptable”, leading to accusations of extortion. Others are developing methods of avoiding or circumventing ad blocking software. Still another tactic is the blunt force approach: block our ads, no access to this website for you today! Yahoo mail recently started refusing delivery of Yahoo email to those blocking advertising.
What will be the next escalation in the war for a moment of your time?