About a year ago I wrote my Adblockers are the new AntiVirus piece. In the intervening period the war between ad blocking and web sites that depend on advertising has gone exponential. Many sites put up a warning asking you to unblock ads on their site, others block access entirely. And now Google, the tech company almost entirely based on serving ads, is using their control of the dominant web browser, Chrome, to limit ad blockers. Make no mistake, I am OK with the concept of advertising on the web. It is a great way to democratize access to content, whereas pay walls (however appropriate in many situations) limit information flow. But as I wrote in the earlier piece, as long as advertising remains a huge channel for distributing malicious content I will be blocking it. Because I refuse to white list them there are several web sites that I can no longer access, but it is a small price to pay for better security and privacy. On the positive side for some, there is one site I found valuable enough to pay for access rather than allow ads. But just one so far, and it was a very small charge.
While I use all three major browsers to some extent, Firefox remains my primary browser. That’s partially because it offers the most options for incorporating ad-blocking and other filtering options. It even has a built-in content blocker, though you must know to configure it to use for general browsing. One of my favorite Firefox features is that it allows you to specify a DNS server to use independent of what your system is set to use. So my family notebook computers have Firefox set to use Quad9‘s malware-filtering DNS no matter what network they attach to, without having to manually change network settings each time (when on our home network our router is set to use Quad9). I could use the same mechanism to point to an ad-blocking DNS.
Of course ad-blocking extensions for browsers are insufficient, and with Google limiting their capabilities on Chrome, are becoming the wrong point in the technology stack to block ads. There is also the problem of non-browser applications that bypass the extensions, as I talked about in last year’s entry. Fortunately there are other options. Ad-blocking DNS may be the easy and free alternative, with AdGuard DNS currently the leading option. Some routers also offer built-in ad-blockers, though they may be part of a paid service. For example, the eero Plus service for eero routers supports ad blocking. That feature has been available for years, but is still labeled as being in beta, so caveat emptor. For those who like to really hack, you can download new firmware such as Tomato or DD-WRT to your router, or build your own Pi-hole. I keep getting tempted to add a Pi-hole to my network, but it is down a long list of things I may never get time to do. More consumer-friendly hardware solutions such as the little known eBlocker are available. I suspect as this category grows the mainstream vendors will increasingly include ad blocking options on new routers, which is great because my experience with whole-home devices that sit beside the router is decidedly poor.
There are also paid system-wide solutions. I’ve mentioned AdGuard for Windows before, but still haven’t given it a serious try. There is also a version for the Mac. I did pay for AdGuard for iOS Pro, which can perform adblocking across an iOS device rather than just in Safari. Don’t confuse this with the free AdGuard for iOS, which is a Safari extension. Not that it too isn’t a good adblocker.
And then there is Microsoft (and Apple, but I don’t follow MacOS developments). It is unclear how Microsoft’s adoption of Chromium as the basis for Edge will be impacted by Google’s latest change to Chrome. Will Microsoft follow Google’s lead,or continue to support a fully featured interface for ad blocking extensions? Microsoft abdicated its leadership role in this space when they failed to move the Tracking Protection List feature forward from Internet Explorer into Edge. They could either return to leadership by adding new features to the Chromium-based Edge, emulating Firefox, add new features to Windows that work across all browsers and applications, continue to leave this to others, or adopt Google’s privacy and security unfriendly behavior. While disappointing, I suspect they will take the middle road and leave this to others.
What you should notice is the one option that would save ad-supported websites, a move by the advertising industry to truly protect security and privacy, is absent. Maybe there is some work going on there, but so far it hasn’t made it to the mainstream. As I said a year ago, they are running out of time to save themselves. The escalating ad blocking war tells us that it is just about too late.