When it comes to internet software, few programs are as useful as an ad-blocker, especially when we’re talking about streaming online content. We all know how dreadful it is to find a good stream for a show you’ve been desperately searching for, only to be barraged by an onslaught of ads. Close one, another one appears. Close that one, two more come in its place – like the Hydra from Greek lore. A good ad-blocker can put an end to these frustrations.
When it comes to popular ad-blockers, Adblock Plus is a name that comes up often. In the age of the big-data collection, corporate spying, data leaks, and technological paranoia, it makes sense to want to know more about the software you use. And in the light of recent allegations against Adblock Plus, getting a full grasp of the software’s ins and outs is especially important.
So here I am, dear reader, here to explore this software’s merits. I’m reporting this to you as a curious investigator with a stake in the game. Though I already use an ad-blocker, scoping out the other options on the market is of interest to me. If there’s a better ad-blocker out there, maybe I’ll use it. But beyond my personal interest, I think it’s important that we have a clear understanding of what these programs do, how they work, and whether you should use them. So let’s dive into our review of AdBlock Plus.
How it Started
Those of us who are internet veterans remember how much nastier web-surfing was back in the early 2000s. Pop-ups were ruthless, far more so than they are today. They would flash on the screen, make loud noises, and sometimes they were graphic. This tide continued to surge until a university student named Henrik Aasted Sorensen created Adblock in 2002.
The first iteration of Adblock was simple but effective. After a few rounds of updates, the project was taken over by rue, whose real name is unknown. The software integrated with Firefox and was updated as the browser itself received updates. Eventually, coder Michael McDonald left his mark on the project, creating a premium version of the software called Adblock Plus.
Like a fumbled football, the project once again changed hands when Wladimir Palant took it over in 2005. He took the reigns and rewrote the software’s core code, effectively creating a totally new program in 2006. This is where Adblock Plus became a standalone extension rather than a premium alternative to Adblock. By 2007, the extension was catching the attention of those in the know. Little did they know just how ubiquitous Adblock Plus would become.
At the end of 2010, Adblock Plus became available on the Chrome Store. This placement further catapulted it into the fray. Everyday folks saw no downside to this harmless browser extension – the software was free, effective, and non-intrusive. And this growth has continued at a rapid pace ever since. As of December 2019, Adblock Plus was the most downloaded Firefox extension, boasting twice as many downloads as its runner up.
How it Works
Understanding what Adblock Plus does is pretty simple. When you open a website, a connection is made between your web server, the website’s server, and various ad servers connected to the website. (Think of it as a triangle.) Adblock Plus functions like all ad-blockers in that it blocks the connection between the website and the external ad server. Without this wall, ads are free to flow through and pop up on your screen.
Now, here’s where things get a bit prickly. Maybe you’ve heard about some controversy surrounding Adblock Plus in recent times. Why? Well, recently it was discovered that, in exchange for a small fee, Adblock Plus allows certain publishers’ ads to pass through the ad-blocking mechanism. Immediately, accusations of payola were flung, and the company’s reputation has since been tarnished. Critics argue that this pay-for-play scheme is anti-democratic and hurts small businesses the most.
The truth, as it often goes, is more complicated. While it’s true that huge multinational corporations like Google do have agreements with Adblock Plus, my investigation shows that it’s not a black and white issue. The fact of the matter is that the internet relies on advertising. Without this massive source of revenue, plenty of internet-based commerce would collapse. Companies like Google are instrumental in keeping that wheel turning. If all ads on the internet were blocked, large companies’ websites might adopt paywalls to make up for the lost advertising revenue. Can you imagine trying to Google something but having to pay a quarter first to do so?
And it isn’t just paid corporations that get to have their ads let through Adblock Plus’s filter. By meeting certain criteria (like being non-intrusive, subtle, etc.), “Acceptable Ads” can be whitelisted and allowed through the filter. Often, the ad-blocker is allowing the kind of ads that might be helpful, and blocking out ads that fall into the category of low-quality or spam. Furthermore, you can opt-out of the “see non-intrusive advertisements” feature, although most users aren’t aware of this.
Still, at the end of the day, ad-blockers like Adblock Plus cut the revenue stream of small businesses and individuals trying to make money on the internet. Adblock Plus disproportionately benefits large corporations, and in its own way, further perpetuates a cycle of institutionally-embedded wealth inequality. Even if its ‘Acceptable Ads’ program is (somewhat) transparent, the whole thing is a bit worrisome.
Anyway, I’m not here to moralize, but rather to uncover what I’ve found. If you decide you’re on board with Adblock Plus regardless, it couldn’t be easier to install the extension onto your web browser. Depending on the browser you’re using, you’ll install, follow some simple instructions, close and reopen your browser, and voila! A functioning ad-blocker. To customize your experience, take a deep dive into the settings. From there, let Adblock Plus do its thing.
Adblock Plus’s Features
– Selective blocking (you can allow ads from certain sites to increase their revenue)
– It’s open-source, so developers can fiddle with the code and potentially improve it
– Community forums to get help, discuss bugs or potential updates, make recommendations, etc.
– Ability to block social media “share” buttons
– Also can block web-trackers that mine and monitor your browsing history
Adblock Plus is a pretty good option for those looking to implement an ad-blocker on their mobile device. Through my first-hand experience and my research, the software seems to perform effectively on both Android and iOS. If you frequent ad-heavy sites, you’ll notice that they’re virtually gone, that the site’s load times are faster, and that your phone uses less cellular data to load the page.
With that said, the ‘Acceptable Ads’ program is in effect here as well. This means that you’ll still get some ads. Still, as we said earlier, perhaps it’s better to have some ads, rather than to have none and to lose the open and free infrastructure of the internet.
Adblock Plus’s Strengths
Above all else, Adblock Plus wins an endorsement for being so low-maintenance. Installing it is very easy, and once you have it up and running, it works almost invisibly. It’s free, mobile-friendly, and it’s mostly free of glitches. Simply put, it’s a smooth-running software that does the job it’s meant to do with only a few minor hiccups.
Adblock Plus’s Weaknesses
The only real obstacle you might consider when deciding whether you should use Adblock is whether or not you’re okay with the payola-like arrangement the company has with certain corporations. Some would argue that allowing Google, Amazon, and other megalithic entities to bypass the ad-filtering function of the software is anti-democratic and against the spirit of free internet. The counterargument would be that ads are a necessary evil in a free internet. I’ll leave these matters up to your consideration. Either way, be aware that Adblock Plus will not block all ads in its default settings.