Ad-Blocking and Why You Should

You are being constantly tracked, surreptitiously, through the web. Various sites are tracking you with the intent of selling you products or selling your information. It’s one thing if a website inquires basic information when you are visiting, it is another thing when a website stalks you across the internet. I believe this to be, at the very least, unethical and it is your responsibility to protect yourself, your privacy and your data as much as possible. Unfortunately, the tracking is largely done trough advertising agencies embedding code in the advertisements and leaving hooks into your browser. You don’t have to take my word for it, go ahead and do a web search on the subject.

I realize that this blathering in many ways actually hurts me with monetizing my site, Realistically, it is not as though it makes much of anything, but this is information is something that should be shared. The goal here is to make it easy for anyone to limit at least some portion of the tracking out there.

I am not a security or privacy expert but I have implemented some strategies to reduce my attack surface. None of these suggestions will completely protect you but they will make you a more difficult target. Also, if you want to be a peach, you can do me a favor and temporarily shut off the ad-blocking when you visit, it is helpful, but, that of course, isn’t required. Do what you think is best for you.

Why Ad Block?

Some sites egregiously use ads that are ultra annoying. I’m quite sure that you have experienced this more than once. The ads will pop up, steal focus and prevent you from reading anything unless you sign up for some special offer. Clicking the X in the corner will close it but you are likely to get another one pop up. It ultimately makes for a poor information consumption experience.

Many advertisements invade privacy and track you around the web. They leave hooks in your browser in the form of cookies so that they can build a kind of profile on you to present tailored advertising to you. You may notice those Amazon ads of something you were just looking at follow you around on other web sites. You should find this disturbing.

Very briefly, cookies really aren’t bad, in and of themselves. Originally called “magic cookies” the were intended to add a level of convenience for the user experience back in the early days of the internet in 1991. The purpose was to verify whether you visited a website before and remember your preferences. It was also a handy solution for enabling e-commerce website with virtual shopping carts. It was an overall enhancement to the web experience and essentially still provides that function.

Interestingly, the public became aware of them in 1996, when reporting started on the potential threat to privacy. There were concerns about how cookies were storing information on user’s computers without their knowledge or consent. There have been various mitigations and user controls provided over the years and now as of fairly recent, websites are required to present what some sort of agreement to the user about accepting the cookies from their site.

The problem is not cookies, really, the problem is how advertising domains use cookies, what were almost exclusively used for user convenience and twisted them into a method of advertisers leaving your “preferences” for advertisers to conduct targeted marketing, essentially stalking your from site to site with the purpose of extracting money from you. As the web has developed, the sophistication of this targeted advertising has advanced and become far more precocious.

The result of this aggressive advertising has deteriorated the web experience. Users don’t just load a website with some text, pictures, audio and maybe some video but also numerous scripts that are executed that frankly, cost you money. Last I checked, electricity isn’t free and if you pay for internet by the Gigabyte, you are spending money for unwanted advertising. I very much question the ethics of these practices.

I also want to I am a big believer in supporting content creators on their own websites or YouTube as they put all this work into it so I generally leave my ad-block off, unless I personally support them in some way. but I have had some ads that were 20 minutes long without any option to skip. I am not going to sit through a 20 minutes advertisement to watch an 8 minute video. I am also not against advertising, the bills have to be paid somehow, the issue becomes, how do advertise ethically and until advertisers clean up their methods, blocking the attacks is the unfortunate necessity.

Browser Protection – uBlock Origin

There are many options for ad-blocking out there but I am going to recommend uBlock Origin. I have used several but this one, as of today, has been serving me the best. I used this on Firefox, Chrome and Edge. What I really enjoy about this is the user interface. It tells you just enough about what it is doing without overwhelming you with a torrent of information that cause your eyes to glaze over.

This also allows you to go through and make additional changes to the options such as blocking remote fonts, media elements larger than a size you specify, disable JavaScript or cosmetic filtering. I have left this with the default settings.

It also give you some statistics about what is being blocked. If you are interested in digging into the numbers and seeing the specifics, that can all be done here. It’s fun to see, immediately, that the ad block is working. I have taken the time to add additional filters for my own sanity as well.

Another extension that works similarly is called Ghostery. I don’t use it but there are a lot of people I know that

Whole Network Defense with PiHole

A bit more advanced of an installation but I highly recommend that you set up PiHole on your network. This is a physical device that needs to be added to the network. It provides DNS filtration to your home network that blocks requests that go to specific web advertising domains.

It is actually pretty remarkable how much this can increase the speed of your internet browsing. By blocking the requests for the ads, trackers and the like the various pages will load much quicker. The general reduction of the cruft on so many pages will greatly improve your internet productivity.

It should be noted that there are some cases where web pages may not load properly as a consequence. My attitude about that is, if I can’t access the information due to egregious tracking practices by the site, than it is a garbage site that should not be trusted anyway.

You can check out my article and video on this here:

Pi-Hole the Easy Way

My recommendation

For the most part, just installing uBlock origin will be enough to improve your browsing experience on your computer. There are some privacy focused browsers out there that build in other tools to guard you from intrusive advertising too. That list of recommendations is ever shifting but I prefer Firefox with the privacy tools enabled and uBlock Origin active.

If you have some sort of streaming device like the Roku media streaming device or the Amazon Fire Stick, they “phone home” a lot sharing all kinds of juicy goodness advertisers can use to target you. For that you will need to install a PiHole device on your network. There is a bit of a learning curve and it would benefit you to learn the technology that you have running on your network as to help you with troubleshooting and the like.

Also, I recommend running Linux, specifically a Linux distribution that does enable some security tools by default. openSUSE is one such Linux distribution that I highly recommend. There are others but I won’t single out those that I believe to have poor practices.

Potential Issues

There are some sites that will just not let you utilize its services if you have an ad-blocker activated. Specifically, I know that “Learning Management Sites” I have used would not allow you to go through the training with the ad blocker activated. uBlock origin and PiHole can easily be temporarily suspended for whatever time is necessary.

As with any bit of technology you introduce into your home, for the best results, it is best to read some portion of the documentation. You should know how to properly operate it, understand the benefits as well as understand the potential pitfalls that may materialize.

Final Thoughts

Ad-blocking would not be necessary if so many sites weren’t so irresponsible with it. Tracking you across the web, interrupting your quest for knowledge with pop ups and focus stealing code is completely unnecessary. I find it unfortunate that ad-blocking has to be a discussion, but this is the reality in which we live. Very unfortunate.

I have to reiterate that I am torn on the ad-blocking extension for your browser. On one side, I would like content creators on the internet that bring us information and entertainment to be rewarded for their efforts. The other side of it is, there is just too much awful activity being conducted on the web in the name of advertising.

Hopefully someday, we will somehow, collectively, be able to responsibly and profitably create an advertising system that will render ad-block extensions a thing of the past.

Pi-Hole the Easy Way
openSUSE from a CubicleNate perspective

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