I’ll Disable My Ad Blocker When You Stop Exploiting Me

On January 8th, ExtremeTech published a piece about Forbes forcing users to disable their ad blockers in order to see any content, and guess what happened. Malware.

For the past few weeks, Forbes.com has been forcing visitors to disable ad blockers if they want to read its content. Visitors to the site with Adblock or uBlock enabled are told they must disable it if they wish to see any Forbes content. Thanks to Forbes’ interstitial ad and quote of the day, Google caching doesn’t capture data properly, either.

What sets Forbes apart, in this case, is that it didn’t just force visitors to disable ad blocking — it actively served them malware as soon as they did. Details were captured by security researcher Brian Baskin, who screenshotted the process:


And now back to the original piece…

One of the things I loved about the internet in the 2000’s is that it was an overflowing treasure trove of content. Following in the footsteps of AltaVista and Yahoo!, Google had made the internet accessible. PHP, Java, and Ajax were coming on strong and reforging plain HTML to make the internet usable. Creative types and entrepreneurs were developing new ways to leverage the internet. Sure, there were ugly things like HoTMaiL, GeoCities, and MySpace, but we also got YouTube, Amazon, WikiPedia, CraigsList. GMail showed up, Facebook took its early steps, and Twitter popped up out of nowhere.

There were also a lot of ads. Corporate Earth had found the internet to be a new resource to exploit, and exploit it did. This was the era of the internet that created the need for the pop-up blocker feature being added to just about every browser on the planet. New advances in web tech also created news ways for site developers to be more efficient and more expressive. This created the Flash revolution and early Javascript-based pop-ups. Both website owners and ad network owners were having conniptions over click rates and revenues, and web users were getting really sick of ads splashed into every corner.

Hell, they still are.

Yet Google built their entire empire, one of the largest companies on Earth, almost entirely on the simple concept of plain text ads that didn’t stand out like a sore thumb, but few others followed that lead. From this incomplete history, admittedly lacking nuance, we know today that advertising on websites is deeply annoying. We have interstitials, ads which pop up between stories on some websites or when you jump from one site to another to keep you from reading before you look at the sponsor’s message. We have all manner of Javascript-based pop-ups that appear when you scroll down far enough, try to click the Close Tab control, or flip up to ask you to complete a survey telling them how much you loathe their website because of the ads. Even I use them to hawk my book or get you to follow me on Twitter.

DISCLOSURE: I employ Google’s AdSense on my site and a few others and, get this, I earn a whopping $30 a month. It pays a few internet-related bills. whee.

Then there’s the “Despicable”-class items. These are more behaviors than actual ads. The most common one people come to know and despise is Link Bait, links with titles shrouded in mystery, dropping just enough bombshell to get you to click. Then, of course, the resulting page is saturated in ads. One of the even more painful forms of this is the “Amazing List”-class. Here’s a simple tutorial; think up something gross or sexual, find five or more celebrities who have possibly admitted to doing it, create a gallery of these entries with one entry per page, entitle it something like “7 Celebrity Men Who Have Worn Women’s Panties”, now advertise. Guess what! Schlubs have to load that many pages, each full of ads, just to get through the list. Hideous.

Enter the Ad Blocker. Ad blockers promise one thing; to block ads from appearing in your browser. The results are simply astounding, if you use the right one. I personally use AdBlock, a plugin for Chrome on Windows, which effectively blocks all ads I don’t want to see, but allows advertisers who behave responsibly to display their tasteful ads. AdBlock is one of the most popular because it works well. In fact, it works so well, the internet advertising industry and sites that derive revenue from ads instead of subscriptions is engaging in collective howls of “foul” claiming that it works too well and too many people are using it. They’re simply loosing too much money and they’ll have to stop publishing if we don’t let them violate our eyeballs with their ads (or the ears of our deaf friends who must endure hideously convoluted crap in their screen readers).

It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that now it’s difficult to go to just about any website without seeing some pop-up (am I the only one seeing the irony here?) begging visitors to please whitelist their site so they can continue to exist. Some truly heinous asshats will just block the content altogether until you disable your ad blocker. If that wasn’t bad enough, ads are just about everywhere. They’re in our Free-To-Play games, which should really be called Free-To-Play-But-Costs-Money-To-Play-Well games. They flash brightly on giant electronic signs in our cities, blinding us while we drive at 80 MPH on the freeway. They invade our shows on Hulu, even when we pay a subscription fee (that’s changed lately, but it illustrates the point). We’ve been fed pre-movie ads in the form of trailers for so many decades, we now look forward to them! Billions of revenue dollars flow from one corporate entity to the next because of ads, but ad blockers have been putting a dent in that, at least on the internet.

Well, so what!

Who cares if you obnoxious ad people and website operators complain that not every human being on Earth is actively enthralled by your short-form, advert-oriented expositions of so-called creativity. You are hawking stuff and not everybody wants to look at gaudy promotional material every waking minute of every day so you can make a few more millions, shocking though that may be. If your damned ads weren’t so freakishly annoying and obtrusive, we probably wouldn’t be blocking them! They slow down page loading times. They require plugins people don’t want or need and likely shouldn’t be using because they open security holes on their systems. Ad networks have even been a source of viral attacks on millions of unsuspecting people who never once thought they may get a virus from their respectable website.

In a nutshell, you are exploiting us and we don’t like it. We now have the power to stop it on the internet, and that bothers you. When Replay TV and TiVo first came out, they had the ability to skip ads. Where’s Replay TV now? Dead. Where’s TiVo? They had to cripple the function to survive, but have recently announced their new console that brings back Replay TV’s long coveted 30-second jump, thumbing their noses that their oppressors. Millions of people are cutting the cord, ditching cable TV, and getting subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu’s new ad-free program, and just getting TV the old fashioned way, through an antenna. YouTube even has an ad-free service for $10 a month.

Nobody loves your ads because you abuse it and there are some people who will take that abuse to the extreme. So, here’s the breakdown. You stop horribly exploiting us users and we’ll stop blocking your entirely reasonable, unobtrusively placed ads and you can go on making revenue.

Better yet, why not try charging a super-small monthly fee to go ad-free, and no, you don’t get to spam those who don’t pay. Just consider asking for a few bucks a month. This is the internet, after all. You can reach millions of people instead of a few thousand in a neighborhood. You can make real money. It’s not that hard.

Look at Google.