Leading ad blocking app gets new feature: not blocking ads

Adblock Plus 'Allow' function is attempt to encourage non-intrusive ads

Uber-popular Internet ad-blocking Firefox Add-on AdBlocker Plus got a new feature with the beta-test build of Adblock Plus 2.0, which was posted today: the ability to not block ads.

If it seems odd that an app called Adblock Plus – whose slogan is "annoyance-free web surfing – would change course to the extent not only of allowing some ads, but turning the function that allows them on by default, you're right. It is. Adblock Plus is one of the more useful of a handful of generally ineffective or awkward apps to block ads online. Opening a hole in it isn't a mortal sin, but it's certainly an invitation to let others commit them.

The change comes for a good reason, the developers insist.

By allowing ads that fit specific criteria that define them as "acceptable" and "non-intrusive," the developers claim to be supporting web sites that depend on advertising, but only do so with ads that are not intrusive or annoying.

"By doing this you support websites that rely on advertising but choose to do it in a non-intrusive way. And you give these websites an advantage over their competition which encourages other websites to use non-intrusive advertising as well. In the long term the web will become a better place for everybody, not only Adblock Plus users. Without this feature we run the danger that increasing Adblock Plus usage will make small websites unsustainable." – AdblockPlus 2.0 FAQ, Dec. 12, 2011

The ad-allowing feature ships with the default set to "Allow" because most users won't turn it on by themselves, because most won't change the default settings unless absolutely required to do so, according to the FAQ.

Also, advertisers won't be interested in switching to non-intrusive forms of advertising unless the majority of Adblock Plus users have the "acceptable" ads setting enabled, the FAQ said.

It's a decent argument, or would be if we weren't five years past the point at which advertising became irreparably intrusive and annoying – the primary reason Adblock Plus has an audience in the first place.

The problem with ads is not the pop-ups and flashing graphics and interstitials and all the other annoying little things that flare up when you're trying to get to something else.

The problem is the spyware and malware those ads carry – the flash cookies, bait-and-switch links, location-tracking spyware, browser-tracking schemes that work even on users who opt out, commercially circulated user-tracking profiles and all the other involuntary, deceptive little tricks that have become de rigeur among effective but unethical advertisers.

    "Allowable" ads, as defined by Adblock Plus:
  • "Allowable" ads are static – they have no animation or sounds
  • By preference they are text-only, with no attention-grabbing images.
  • They allow, at most, one script that will delay a page load; in particular, they allow only one DNS request.
  • In the future, only advertisers that adhere to Do Not Track guidelines will qualify. "However, we are not yet in a position to enforce that requirement."

There are plenty of web sites that use non-intrusive, sometimes almost invisible advertising. There are also a lot that use every trick in the book to trap you on a site, track you through all your other online activities and swipe as much information as possible on what you read, what you do and what you search for.

Unlike the nosy neighbor or prying relative you try to dodge at family gatherings, these kinds of intrusions can't even pretend to have your best interest or that of the end users you support in mind. They're strictly guerilla surveillance operations with you as the target and your money or personally identifiable information as the prize.

None would hesitate to use the "Allow" function in Adblock Plus 2.0 to let their own snoops or pop-ups or other intrusive, annoying, exploitive attention-getters show up on your screen.

Adding a feature that allows a lower level of ad-blocking is not a particular sin on the part of the Adblock Plus developers.

It's naïve fantasy to believe allowing a few non-intrusive ads will encourage a whole industry to switch from being the Grinch's meaner, more manipulative brother peddling uncertified pharmaceuticals and sub-prime financial instruments to Cindy Lou Who sitting behind a handwritten sign selling lemonade.

The only reasonable response for Adblock Plus users is to download 2.0 and use the improvements in filters and scanning it promises.

Before you do, follow their directions to turn the Allow function to Off:

If you already think you see too many ads using Adblock Plus, have a look at the list of other Adblock Plus about:config entries and shut off or blacklist sources you want to avoid.

If there are some you find acceptable, just whitelist them. You can do it in either about:config or by opening Adblock Plus Preferences and adding a filter to allow ads from that particular site.

It's a lot simpler to allow a few sources than allow them all and decide afterward which are annoying and which aren't.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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