Block Ads on Websites not within Podcasts

created Dec 5, 2019 - updated on Feb 26, 2020

Hacker News post from Dec 4, 2019:

My first initial thought was "Why?" I despise ads on websites and on TV. The only time that I watch over-the-air TV is when I watch the Cleveland Browns, some other NFL games, and The Masters golf tournament. That's my exposure to TV advertising.

We watch YouTube channels on our Roku TV, and small ads exist, and sometimes, it's possible to skip those ads. I'm not annoyed by ads on YouTube.

But "normal" TV?? I don't know how people watch ad-based television. When I watch NFL games, if I can listen to the same game on the radio, I'll choose that option while watching the same game on TV with the volume down. Radio ads are far less annoying than TV ads.

Since I listen to podcasts only occasionally, then my view about podcast ads could be irrelevant, but I have not been annoyed by ads embedded within podcasts. TV ads are infuriating with the half-second flashes of images. The NFL advertises too much. It's a major reason why I watch less NFL outside of the Browns. Netflix has changed how I view TV programming.

Ads used on websites should be blocked for security, privacy, usability, and local computer performance reasons.

That HN thread contained 255 comments. Top comment:

I block ads on the web because web advertising networks proved that they had no respect for user privacy, lacked security controls around their ad delivery, and were targeting using data that they probably shouldn’t have had access to.

Podcasts do not suffer from this. It’s much harder to identify a user, the ads aren’t software, just audio, so security is better and there’s not much way to see who is listening to the ads other than voucher codes/referral links (which are inherently opt-in).

Yes I can always skip ads. Do I feel any security or privacy need to automate doing this? No.

If/when podcast advertising goes the way of web advertising, then there will be an eager market for this product, but until then let’s enjoy unobtrusive, respectful ads from hosts we trust, with targeting done broadly by podcast rather than personally identifiable information.

Referring to that commenter's first paragraph, I say shame on the media orgs that use potentially nefarious third party ad tech on their websites.

Another comment:

I block ads on the web due to the invasive tracking and targeting. I'm not opposed to ethical, reasonable ad space which is why I don't tear ad pages out of magazines when they arrive. If news sites would run their ad infrastructure focused on presentment rather than tracking I would grant them an exception to my ad blocker. While they outsource ad space to adtech and use their platform as a method to execute arbitrary code on my computing devices the block stays up.

That's why I block JavaScript on most websites that I visit.

If websites used their own ad system, hosted from "their" servers, and displayed web ads humanely, then users might be more accepting to the ads. If the ad system requires JavaScript, then I will continue to block the ads, and I have no sympathy for the websites that use such hideous systems. Go back to the banner ad gifs. Or better, use text-based ads.

The media orgs should place their ads on a separate location within their websites called "Ads." It would be a page or a directory that would show only ads. Readers can choose to view this section of the website.

But the ads should not be displayed within news articles, especially for paying customers. Nothing will convince me that media orgs should display their horrendously bloated, ad-filled, hostile reading experience to subscribers. When media orgs mistreat customers like that, then the media orgs should not be surprised when people cancel their digital subscriptions.

It's possible and likely that podcast ads will become user experience problems, and when that occurs, then blocking such ads will be good for security and privacy reasons. Maybe the above "Show HN" app is a little ahead of its time.

As to websites, can ads be displayed ethically? Sure, but the publishers would probably miss some "features" that are offered by the big ad tech firms.

July 2017 daringfireball.net post titled New on Daring Fireball: Display Ads. Excerpts:

For readers, these are ads that, again, are visually unobjectionable, and which offer the most privacy you could hope for. Not only is there no tracking involved, there is no JavaScript involved. They’re just images, text, and HTML links. (The images are even served from daringfireball.net itself.) You have my word that I will never allow tracking via these or any other ads on Daring Fireball without posting a big prominent “OK, DF Ads Are Now Tracking You” post on the site. I don’t expect ever to allow this.

I doubt that the ToledoBlade.com will ever adopt a similar ad philosophy.

A couple of my older posts:

Feb 26, 2020

"Brave Browser and the Wayback Machine: Working Together (archive.org)"

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22417627

I've gone back and forth on my interest with the Brave web browser. Today, I decided to install Brave on my new Linux laptop.

Excerpts from the top HN comment:

Opinions are obviously split here among HNers about the merits of Brave and what it's actually trying to achieve.

I can only speak for myself but I find that Brave as a daily driver is a wonderful browser. Since it's built on Chromium, it has all the common extensions I use with Chrome (Dark Reader, uBlock Origin, etc.). It has built-in Tor and a rich set of default privacy features. The ads it provides are opt-in and the way that it allows the user to choose which website/content creators to reward allows a level of freedom to users that other browsers typically don't.

Opposing viewpoint:

Can we not work with the Brave browser? Technologists like us and archive.org should be boycotting it. Cryptocurrency nonsense, swapping ads with their own, soliciting donations for creators without their permission... Brave is a known bad actor in the browser market.

Reply:

I disagree. Existing browsers are "good actors" in an online wasteland devoid of privacy [1], and Brave is a "bad actor" in this context because they're trying to disrupt this awful status quo. Per Krishnamurti, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." So it is with the browser landscape.

No doubt they will make some missteps, that's typical of any novel approach to finding a balance of privacy vs. viability of free content. The ad model is perfectly sensible in this context.

[1] https://www.scss.tcd.ie/Doug.Leith/pubs/browser_privacy.pdf

Excerpts from another reply:

As a privacy-minded, ethically-motivated technologist I support Brave for their strong position on privacy - a position in which they are peerless amongst other browser vendors.

HN comment:

Very happy to engage in an ethical debate on this one.

This line about 'swapping ads with their own' has been an attempt to imply in the reader's mind that Brave was / is nefariously replacing actual ads with their own, which is not true.

The truth is Brave blocks all ads by default, and nothing more.

Do you believe it's ethical for a user agent to block ads, or that it's unethical and a form of theft?

I'm with gorhill of uBlock on this [1]:

That said, it's important to note that using a blocker is NOT theft. Don't fall for this creepy idea. The ultimate logical consequence of blocking = theft is the criminalisation of the inalienable right to privacy.

https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock#philosophy

I agree with gorhill.

Blocking or deleting cookies, blocking ads, blocking trackers, and disabling JavaScript can be viewed as safe and secure web surfing, especially for users who like some amount of privacy.

Being concerned about online privacy is not the same as using pirated software.

Back to the Feb 26, 2020 HN thread, a commenter mentioned an anti-ad quote by someone named Bansky.

I did not realize that Gawker content was still online. Anyway:

Viral Banksy Quote on Advertising Plagiarizes 1999 Zine Essay

"People are taking the piss out of you everyday," begins "Banksy on Advertising." The four-paragraph quote has been widely distributed on Twitter and Tumblr, with attribution given to the elusive (and still anonymous) artist Banksy.

The problem, as graphic designer and writer Sean Tejaratchi points out, is that the quote borrows heavily from Tejaratchi's essay "Death, Phones, Scissors," which was published in his Crap Hound zine back in 1999. While Banksy's first paragraph is original, the rest of his quote shows significant similarities to Tejaratchi's piece, including some direct repetition.

And there's no denying a connection. The Banksy quote comes from his 2004 book Cut It Out. While Tejaratchi and his publication are not directly credited, the back cover of the now out-of-print book reveals Banksy's "influences," including Crap Hound.

Here's the quote or version attributed to Bansky.

People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

I despise ads in all forms. Except for the NFL and The Masters golf tournament, I don't watch over-the-air TV. We don't have cable nor satellite TV. We watch YouTube channels on our Roku TV, and some videos contain ads, but most ads can be skipped after a few seconds. We watched shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Prime Video will display ads for Amazon's original shows.

I control my ad experience on TV by not watching much TV, and if I do watch TV, stick with ad-free or nearly ad-free streaming services. We do not have a Hulu account because it shows too much advertising for me.

I control my ad experience on the web by disabling JavaScript and/or by using uMatrix and Privacy Badger browser extensions. I also use the Links2 web browser on my Linux laptop computer.

For radio, I listen to pubic radio stations from Toledo and Ann Arbor. I listen to AM 850 WKNR, which uses much less advertising than the local and national shows that air on a local AM iHeart Radio station. The local talk shows on AM 1370 WSPD are ad networks with some local talk sprinkled in. I monitored the afternoon show once for a couple hours. The talk show host was on the air, doing his show for about 34 minutes for each hour. That means 26 minutes of each hour were used for commercials, "news", sports, traffic, and other non-talk show-related crap. That would be like a half-hour sitcom containing 17 minutes of actual show material.

AM 950 WWJ Detroit is an all-news station, but again, it seems like that it consists mostly of ads with some news programming sprinkled in. AM 850 WKNR is its own radio network or station. It's affiliated with ESPN, but the station sets its own ad schedule. In other words, it's local talk show hosts start their shows at the top of the hour. The Really Big Show starts at 9:00 a.m. and not at 9:06 or 9:08 a.m. like other AM shows because the top of the hour is used for news and ads.

In the car, I mainly listen to public radio, AM 850, and 89X, which is FM 88.7, an alternative rock station from Windsor.

I should listen to more podcasts to replace my radio listening at home. I'm fine with ads within podcasts. When I watch Browns games, I turn down the volume on the TV and listen to the Browns announcers on the radio. For one, I prefer the home-team announcers, and two, radio commercials are far less annoying than TV ads.

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