blog: Don Marti


Notes on "turn off your ad blocker" messages

29 September 2018

At least three kinds of software can be detected as "an ad blocker" in JavaScript.

full-service blockers, the best known of which is uBlock Origin. These tools block both invisible trackers and obvious ads, with no paid whitelisting program.

privacy tools, such as Disconnect (list-based protection) and Privacy Badger (behavior-based protection), that block some ads as a side effect. This is a small category now compared to ad blocking in general, but is likely to grow as browsers get better at privacy protection, and try new performance features to improve user experience.

deceptive blockers, which are either actual malware or operate a paid whitelisting scheme. The best-known paid whitelisting scheme is Acceptable Ads from Adblock Plus, which is disclosed to any user who is willing to scroll down and click on the gray-on-white text on the Adblock Plus site, but not anywhere along the way of the default extension install process.

So any ad blocker detector is going to be hitting at least three different kinds of tools and possibly six different groups of users.

  • People who chose and installed a full-service blocker

  • People who chose to protect their privacy but did not specifically choose to block ads

  • People who may have chosen their browser for its general privacy policies, but got upgraded to a specific feature they're not aware of

  • People who chose to block ads but got a blocker with paid whitelisting by mistake

  • People who chose to "install an ad blocker" because it got recommended to them as the magic tool that fixes everything wrong with the Internet

  • People who are deliberately participating in paid whitelisting. (Do these people exist?)

Sometimes you need to match the message to the audience. Because sites can use tools such as Aloodo to get a better picture of what kind of protection, or non-protection, is actually in play in a given session, we can try a variety of approaches.

  • Is silent reinsertion appropriate when the ad is delivered in a way that respects the user's personal information, and the user has only chosen a privacy tool but not an ad blocker?

  • When the user is participating in paid whitelisting, can a trustworthy site do better with an appeal based on disclosing the deception involved?

  • For which categories of users are the conventional, reciprocity-based appeals appropriate?

  • Where is it appropriate to take no action in a user session, but to report to a browser developer that a privacy feature is breaking some legit data collection or advertising?

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