Friday 28 October 2016

Ad blockers are breaking the internet, study finds

Madhumita Murgia

Published 20/04/2016 | 08:00

‘The rise of ad blocking is an unintended consequence of how the ad-funded internet evolved’
‘The rise of ad blocking is an unintended consequence of how the ad-funded internet evolved’

Ad blockers don't just block ads on the internet - they actually break websites such as British Airways and Vodafone, a new study has found.

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According to tests conducted on the UK's 100 most popular websites, ad blockers didn't just block pop-ups, but accidentally corrupted useful parts of a website, such as an airline check-in screens or retail order tracking pages. If you were browsing, all you would see is an error message or simply a chunk missing on screen, but no explanation for what was behind it. 

In the study by London ad-tech company Oriel, the researchers tested 24 common ad blockers, including Adblock, Adblock Plus and uBlock Origin,  on a range of popular websites including BA, Aer Lingus, RyanAir, Vodafone, P&G and Land Rover.

For me it was triggered by the genuine fact that I couldn’t check into British Airways and wanted to find out why," said Aidan Joyce, CEO of Oriel. 

For instance, they found that the software prevented users from checking in online on the BA and RyanAir websites, because it blocked the terms and conditions check box.

Rather than notifying you that an ad blocker is active, you just get an error message. 

They also found that the ad blockers prevented them from tracking an order delivery on the Vodafone site, and blocked videos on the Land Rover site, among other problems.

According to Oriel, ad blockers often tend to be "blunt instruments" which indiscriminately delete harmless bits of code that are not related to advertising. "The effects of this varies from small issues to problems which can render the site non-functional for its users, even where advertising does not exist," the study said. 

"Some of the more aggressive browser extensions like uBlock Origin actually have a filter list for anti-ad blocking sites," Joyce warns.

For instance, if a legitimate media site tries to reach out to its audience and requests them to allow ad viewing, they are filtered, and automatically have their request message blocked. 

Mobile ad blockers are still in their "infancy"

While ad blockers are estimated to be installed on roughly a third of computers, the $100 billion-a-year mobile advertising industry is yet to take a hit.

According to recent data, mobile ad-blocking is still in its infancy in UK and Europe. 

Estimates from Oriel suggest that mobile ad blocking is only at 2.5pc of which is typical for UK and European users. In the UK, this is slightly higher at 7pc.

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