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Princeton’s Ad-Blocker May Put an End to the Ad-Blocking Arms Race (vice.com)
477 points by hourislate on April 14, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 334 comments

The article puts a significant emphasis on the idea that bulletproof ad-blocking technology, assuming that's what this turns out to be in practice, will work long-term becuase of legal restrictions imposed by the FTC. If Google, Facebook, or other multi-billion dollar entities detect an existential threat arising from this or any other technology, rest assured that the laws will change as quickly as is necessary to keep them happy. Lobbyists will be paid, and donations will be made. Anti-ad-blocking laws will be introduced, or the FTC's ad identification restrictions will be relaxed. Ads aren't going anywhere, and neither are advertisers.

I unfortunately agree with you 100%. Theres too much money tied up in advertising for it to ever go away.

Google is the greatest conglomeration of Nobel worthy scientists and engineers in the last century. And their entire organization is built on advertising. After creating the best search engine and email system, they created the best web browser and most popular operating system in the world. All of this for the sole purpose of controlling the advertising platform, their raw intelligence is unquestionable.

Google's open source contributions are unmatched and this is just a small sample of the tech they keep hidden away. As much as I find myself in awe of google, I'm absolutely terrified of the ad laden future they're leading us towards with open arms. Ad blocking has one single insurmountable problem, Google, the smartest and most powerful company in the world.

>Google is the greatest conglomeration of Nobel worthy scientists and engineers in the last century.

IIRC both Microsoft and IBM produce way more research than Google. Let's keep things in perspective.

>And their entire organization is built on advertising.

Similarly the entire government is built on taxation, that doesn't mean everyone in the government wants to work on taxation or is good at it.

>After creating the best search engine and email system

Sure engine, sure. Email system, only if you restrict to web-based without privacy.

>they created the best web browser and most popular operating system in the world

Google didn't create Android, they bought it.

>Google's open source contributions are unmatched

Metrics for this are pretty lame, but even they show this is wrong: https://thenextweb.com/microsoft/2016/09/15/in-your-face-goo...

> Google didn't create Android, they bought it.


You'd have a better point if you had pointed to the Linux kernel, the many open source libraries, etc that make it up

> Metrics for this are pretty lame, but even they show this is wrong: https://thenextweb.com/microsoft/2016/09/15/in-your-face-goo...

I doubt GP's claim is correct, but that article is terrible. Those counts are any contributors to repos in an org, not number of contributors from those orgs. And you can see the immediate problem with using orgs when you see both Google and Angular are in the top 10.

Android, Angular, BoringSSL, Chromium, Dart, Go, Kubernete, TensorFlow. Not to mention the cash and services it ploughs into the OSS in various ways, from the Millions it gave to Firefox over the years, to people collaborating over Hangouts, to Project Zero.

I don't think "unmatched" is unreasonable.

Millions to Firefox to be the search engine on the browser.

It wasn't a donation ;)

And they made much more from firefox than what they paid.

How so? If Firefox didn't exist they'd make the same amount from MSIE.

Also the biggest contributors to KVM support in the Linux kernel, which is directly driving most of the container craze.

Also HBase, Hadoop, Guava, GWT, Closure. Tons of others we probably don't know of. I would guess Google has around 500 notable open source projects where they're either major contributors or authors.

You missed one:

>they created the best web browser

opera is not from google

Also I disagree with google search being the best search engine, it used to be very good 15 years ago with pages after pages of relevant results. It has gotten worse over the years to its current state of being terrible and often failing at returning relevant results.

"Nobel worthy scientists and engineers"? You'd never hire one to make you a native ad!

Native ads, integrated or disguised as creative content, are impossible to block. Creative professionals, like film directors, visual artists, writers and even ad executives are the main innovators of native advertising.

I would argue native advertising is where most of the relevant innovation in ads occurs. Not at Google.

Creative content? Not at all Google's expertise. The best engineers are the least equipped to understand appealing creatives.

- Google acquired YouTube, whose basic premise was pirating, not creating, creative content. Despite having the largest video audience in the world, Google could never make something like Netflix's House of Cards.

- They're years away from delivering a compelling experience for Daydream. Never mind a game. Every NYTimes subscriber who received their Cardboard probably threw it away.

- The folks who worked on Make with Code privately describe their Google partners as insufferable.

- The folks who work on Google's creative ad campaigns—video & design—have variously described their Google partners as aloof and stifling.

- Despite its huge penetration, Google Music has no role in music culture. No musician I know thinks about how many plays they get on Google: they worry about Spotify, Hype Machine and other things their manager actually uses. A music manager wouldn't be caught dead with something as uncool as a Google Music subscription.

Indeed, I would argue that Google's culture is toxic to artistic creativity. If they wanted to hire some writers and directors, what would they do: administer a white boarding test? Laughable! That's assuming the people at e.g. ATAP even follow up with their own recruits (which they don't).

Serious creatives are anti-conformist. Google as an institution is something serious creatives criticize and lampoon, not celebrate. Have you seen Silicon Valley? Read Circle?

Listen, I might hate David Eggers's writing. But nobody writes a book about how Netflix is a cult.

While I largely agree with you, I disagree on things like Google Play Music and Movies (includes TV). Their sales platform for other people's content works well. My wife and I used to use Spotify, a good service, but find a $15 / month family plan for YouTube Red (including Play Music) to be a good service and a good deal.

Off topic, but even though I have spent much of the last 30 years working on AI and machine learning, I did work for Disney and Nintendo for a while in the 1990s, and I have a keen amateur's interest in the business side of content production. I never would have predicted the amount of money Amazon, Hulu, Netflicks, and HBO would invest in producing their own content. Interesting that Google does not do the same thing. When I worked at Google as a contractor I enjoyed the visitor talks, and Spike Jone's talk about directing movies and the way he does it was very well received by a large crowd.

I am very glad that there are several large companies competing and not just one or two.

EDIT: I am all for decentralization and small groups/companies, but sadly we live in a world of larger corporations.

YouTube's main tech was contentid, designed to prevent piracy.

Youtube had no tech and was built on piracy to grow quickly and seize the market as fast as possible in order to reach their objective of being bought by one of the giant corp.

Contentid is from google after they bought youtube and was added as an afterthought to deal with the "we own this content, pay us now" industry.

I believe that distinction still goes to University of Chicago.

Right. There is no Nobel Prize for mathematics, computer science, or engineering, which are Google's primary fields.

Although Google deserves an Economics prize for essentially inventing adtech

Google didn't invent adtech, the only thing you can credit them for is to have resisted from contracting a third party ad network and becoming an ad network on their own to be able to keep control on the form their ads take: read less annoying and intrusive: no image, no moving parts, only text thus not alienating their user base and killing their business as other website had been doing.

Funnily from here the primary fields for google seem to be surveillance, tracking, profiling, lobbying, tax evasion, abuse of dominant position, killing useful services people actually use, buying competitors to close them, killing other businesses by making a competitor product available with no price tag (you pay with your personal data being collected), evading anti-monopoly law, and other things in the same vein.

Ads on the Internet existed well ahead of Google. Google simply captured search intent and bought out DoubleClick.

I am sorry, but I do not get the reference? What does it point to?

U of C has the most people that have won the Nobel prize historically which points toward people part of the university to win more Nobel Prizes.

is that because of the psuedo-nobel for economics? i don't think that should count towards the tally, and in any case i would have guessed it was the manhattan project

edit: for those who are downvoting, you might not be aware that the 'nobel' for economics is not issued by the nobel committee but rather the swedish central bank, using the nobel name to appropriate prestige from the better-known prize presented by the norwegian nobel committee. it is not affiliated with the nobel peace prize.

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is issued by the Nobel Foundation and chosen by the Swedish Academy of Sciences, just like the Physics and Chemistry prizes. The difference is that it was not endowed by Alfred Nobel in his will, but later by the Sveriges Riksbank.


> edit: for those who are downvoting, you might not be aware that the 'nobel' for economics is not issued by the nobel committee but rather the swedish central bank, using the nobel name to appropriate prestige from the better-known prize presented by the norwegian nobel committee. it is not affiliated with the nobel peace prize.

There are more Nobel prizes than just the economics and peace prizes, only the peace prize comes from Norway.

Wasn't Alfred Nobel the son of an arms dealer, himself an industrial arms dealer who made a fortune out of wars and killing ? IIRC he was dubbed the merchant of death, and he got shunned by this woman he loved because she was a pacifist and refused to be with someone who makes (tons of) money on war and killing.

Trying to PR himself into having a good reputation after his death does not change the fact that he is responsible for countless deaths and made a huge profit out of it.

So a pseudo nobel is imho way better than an actual nobel.

Maybe the downvoters think you're Dick from the internet http://dilbert.com/strip/2015-04-02

> Google is the greatest conglomeration of Nobel worthy scientists and engineers in the last century.

And they are probably all wondering when the first Nobel prize will be issued for "the advancement of ad technology".

There is always a way to avoid ads if you want to. There always will be ways to counteract ad tech, in spite of Google's intelligence. If this makes advertising better in the process, that's very good. As much as people hate ads, they usually welcome the less than 0.01% good ads.

as you say, the search engine, email system, and web browser are the best, but the operating system is merely the most popular.

that does sound about right.

This is too cynical. You can be sure there will be lobbyists involved making the case for companies affected, but this does not guarantee results. Any business plan where there's government involved is risky.

Heck, even with a Republican-controlled Congress, the Republicans can't always get their agenda passed because they don't even agree among themselves what it is.

Nobody can rest easy that Congress will do what they want.

It would be cynical in the case of lower profile companies just looking to get their way. In the case of at least two $400 billion+ companies - combined market cap of nearly $1 trillion and the bedrock our country's image of technology supremacy - the rules change. Members of Congress, senators, and many of their constituents directly or indirectly hold shares in one or both of these companies.

It is unfathomable to me that once brought to their attention (through lobbying and donations) that these kinds of threats to companies like Google and Facebook would not be legislatively blocked.

'Breaking' the internet for 50+ million people is a no go, they would just add a 10$ / month fee at the ISP level just like music CD's, because company's just want money and politicians want to get elected.

"Members of Congress ... that these kinds of threats to companies like Google and Facebook would not be legislatively blocked."

and how would that affect say me (in the UK)?

Hard to say. Since you're a finger in the Hand, I guess the palm would tell you to fold.

..when in comes the EU, who have successfully penalized and stared down Facebook, Intel, Apple and Microsoft. And which is either the biggest (until the Brits have officially left) or the third biggest economy in the world. You can't simply ignore them, even as a company of Google or Apple's size.

This is mainly a covert trade war with the US due to taxes. The US has also succesfully penalized VW.

The brits may not leave, the english will but the scots may leave the UK to stay in the EU which may domino effect northern ireland to leave too and last I check London was thinking about segregating to become a city state to stay in the EU. Also a few islands are expected to be offered to join Spain the minute brexit is acted.

EU rules prevents EU members from dealing directly with a part of a EU member so no negociation are possible with any member of the UK until brexit.

Let's see if the scottish referendum happens...

The EU had two different pending antitrust sanctions for Google, one around shopping ads and one around Android. Then nothing more about it since about mid 2016. Are those still pending?

You do realize they're closer to the Democrat's side on most issues? The Democrats aren't doing so well lately.

Given how common it is for members of Congress to become mega millionaires over a few decades on a job that pays ~$200k/yr, I wouldn't trust them in this capacity.

How many of us would hold steady in our own ethics and morals if someone routinely offered something like a $2,500,000 payday and we had no risk at all of being fired or jailed?

> Given how common it is for members of Congress to become mega millionaires over a few decades on a job that pays ~$200k/yr

Can you provide a source for this? Don't know much about the topic but I've always assumed that, in general, Congressmembers who are wealthy were already wealthy before they were elected to Congress.

If you look at the rate of returns on their investments, they would outpace a lot of Wall Street and definitely most index funds.


From a different article, that study has some odd data points:

> The study found some significant difference based on party membership and seniority, with the Democratic sample beating the market by nearly 9% annually, versus only about 2% annually for the Republican sample.

> And representatives with the least seniority considerably outperformed those with more seniority.

"Congress Tells Court That Congress Can’t Be Investigated for Insider Trading"


But it's not even just a money issue per se. Congress is technology blind (read: stupid). Convincing an idiot to do something dumb is pretty easy. Add in a cash bonus and it's a done deal.

Pardon me, but you sound more naive than the previous comment was cynical :)

>Nobody can rest easy that Congress will do what they want.

Given enough money, I think you definitely can.

Google just has to threaten to move its operations to a different country if they don't get what they want and the political corpus will bow to its will. Intelligence services, banks, tax, jobs, economy, ... many domain would be impacted and pressure congress too so the congress cannot afford to lose google to a foreign country.

And don't forget this affair of lobbyists and whatnot is mostly an American phenomenon. The EU is far more adept at defending consumers, and has not shied away from drastic measures in the past.

I can see it now... "Advertisements are a form of free speech. Corporations are people too."

Advertisements, like any communication, are a form of free speech, but it'd be unprecedented to demand that anyone provide an audience for your speech. You can speak all you like; nobody is obligated to listen.

The audience isn't obligated to listen, but it's also not entitled to use content in a manner that the copyright holder doesn't want them to either.

If a copyright holder (like Forbes) stipulates that their content is paid for using ads and they won't let you consume it without looking at the ads, then you're neither obligated to or entitled to consume it.

Website terms of service are not law, no matter how people have abused the CFAA. You can't control how a browser displays content, whether it does so with a browser, screen reader, or musical interpretive dance.

I look forward to seeing that battle play out.

You may be interested in MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.[1] (the WoW Glider case).

World of Warcraft's Terms of Use prohibited bots. The court found that users who used the Glider bot with WoW were violating the Terms of Use and therefore were not licensed to use WoW in that way. Because users running WoW must copy its content from their hard drives to RAM to run it, the court found that using Glider with WoW constituted copyright infringement.


HN strips trailing periods from URLs; add a period at the end, or click the Search link at the page the above links to, to see the case. The raw opinion is here: https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca9/0...

It's a very interesting finding. The appeals court actually did reverse parts of the decision, including the hard-drive-to-RAM argument, ending up in favor of MDY for many of the claims!

But the devil is in the details. Even though MDY wasn't found to be infringing copyright by breaking the covenants of the license agreement against botting (simply copying static code to RAM was not considered sufficient "reproduction" to be infringement)... it was found to violate the DMCA because it was circumventing Blizzard's Warden framework designed to protect access to dynamic server-side materials. MDY therefore had the lower court's "permanent injunction" against doing so upheld.

So if you were to create an ad-blocker detector that detected all current ad-blockers, and required that detector to digitally sign a request for dynamic content, but then someone circumvented that detection by subsequently creating an ad blocker that wasn't detected, would it fall under this precedent and violate the DMCA?

And there's also fuzziness around whether MDY was tortiously interfering ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortious_interference ) with Blizzard's contracts with its subscribers. In this case, it wasn't, because MDY arguably was behaving as a good steward here. For instance, the opinion cites how MDY "enhances some players' experience of the game, including players who might not otherwise play WoW at all." One could see an argument that an ad blocker would encourage more visitors... but if there's no other revenue source other than ads, does the pendulum swing in the opposite direction in favor of the content creator?

Very difficult to tell. Just because Adblock Plus avoided a lawsuit in Germany, and (as the research paper from the OP http://randomwalker.info/publications/ad-blocking-framework-... points out) most ad embeddings today are "trivial" overlays that wouldn't be considered DRM per the DMCA, that doesn't mean that advertisers won't evolve another piece of ammunition in this war.

(I am not a lawyer; the above is not legal advice.)

> I am not a lawyer

You might have missed your calling.

I enjoy building products too much :)

Thank you for elaborating on the appeals court's findings. I'm really happy that the HD-to-RAM argument was thrown out.

WoW is hardly a website, let alone one that is freely available for the general public.

Not to mention this basically makes cURL illegal..


That's that hacking tool, right? I think I saw it in the Matrix. It's used by nmap.

Lack of means of enforcement doesn't void a copyright.

Forbes in this case seems to be able to control it to a certain degree anyways.

It's a felony to access a computer system without authorization, access a computer system to obtain unauthorized computer services, degrade or disrupt a computer system, take data without authorization, or to use data obtained through misuse of a computer system.

The law is so vague everyone technically commits a felony every time they load a web page. Did ycombinator give you explicit permission to use this server? No, they did not. If they want you punished for posting this and they can find a friendly district attorney, you're screwed.

I'm old enough to remember when the conventional wisdom was that sharing music on the internet wasn't stealing because nobody was being deprived of physical media. Give Google a few years to lobby and create PSAs and people will being going to jail for creating ad blockers.

The law isn't nearly so cut and dry as that. After all, if something operates as a business, and also has a brick-and-mortar storefront, then it is also liable to accessibility guidelines per the ADA (see the lawsuit against Target a few years back).

As such, publicly accessible websites are, in effect, no less common areas than storefronts.

Of course, there's a way around this; websites could establish 'membership requirements' such as using a browser that does not have an ad blocker enabled; the content for most of the website would require being a member and volunteering to abide by membership rules to access. Violate those rules, and you would risk losing your membership and access to the content, though I seriously doubt grounds could be established for a lawsuit over it.

> Did ycombinator give you explicit permission to use this server? No, they did not. If they want you punished for posting this and they can find a friendly district attorney, you're screwed.

Did your local supermarket give you explicit permission to walk on to their premises to go shopping? No - they gave you implied licence to enter their premises which is made obvious by the circumstances.

Similarly, a court would almost certainly find that having a web server which is obviously intended to be publicly accessible would result in an implied licence for use of copyrighted material on the site for typical, expected usage of said site.

Then take away Forbes' safe harbor protection for hacking my computer with unauthorized exploits.

Ever heard of the hyperlink and communication to the public of copyrighted work conundrum that has been solved by a decision of the European Court of Justice ?

  This decision means that once a work is posted on a 
  website where it is freely accessible to the public, the 
  author cannot control how internet users subsequently 
  access this work. For example, a website owner will not be 
  able to use copyright law to ensure that users who wish to 
  access a certain piece of work would have to go via their 
  homepage, where most of their advertising space may be  
So good luck to forbes with this argument.

Is it within a musicians rights as a copyright holder of their own work, that you can't play their music on <$1,000 speakers?

If a musician clearly put that on the package of a CD, why not? I dont have a constitutional right to buy an artist's CD.

Instead of making shit up about what you think makes sense, please familiarize yourself:


In that same article you can see first-sale doctrine gets murky when the distribution is digital. And it pretty much completely falls apart for subscription based services.

I don't think it gets murky. They can't "sell" something but actually mean rent it. That is false advertising, and most people aren't yet accustomed to thinking in this way (i.e. playforsure). A sale is a sale and if people want to redefine it to make what amounts to a highly conditional sale (at best), we should just call that rent.

> The first-sale doctrine does not neatly fit transfers of copies of digital works because an actual transfer does not actually happen -- instead, the recipient receives a new copy of the work while, at the same time, the sender has the original copy (unless that copy is deleted, either automatically or manually). For example, this exact issue played out in Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc., a case involving online marketplace for pre-owned digital music.

> E-books have the same issue. Because the first sale doctrine does not apply to electronic books, libraries cannot freely lend e-books indefinitely after purchase. Instead, electronic book publishers came up with business models to sell the subscriptions to the license of the text. This results in e-book publishers placing restrictions on the number of times an e-book can circulate and/or the amount of time a book is within a collection before a library’s license expires, then the book no longer belongs to them.

Legally, it does get murky in the U.S. That has nothing to do with whether it's right or not, but it does mean it's not "making shit up about what you think makes sense". It's the actual precedent described in the very article you linked.

What if the recipient receives the physical support that host the original copy , say a usb thumbdrive or a hard drive and the original customer keeps the copy ?

Then what if the customer gives a copy then delete the original but the OS being windows on the FAT entry is deleted and the data still lives on the drive ?

How would one distinguish between original copy and subsequent copy when they're all identical ?

Last but not least, if you read the fine print when you buy an audio cd, you don't buy the music but a piece of plastic and a license to listen to music the piece of plastic hold. This license forbids you from allowing other people from listening, so if you play the CD on speaker with you window open and someone happens to be walking in the street you are now guilty of an illegal communication to the public of copyrighted content.

Instead of cursing, read the link you posted. FSD is about disposing of a physical artifact, not how a licensed work is used, broadcast, or performed.

So, your argument is that, "how a licensed work is used, broadcast, or performed" is different than real property?

I agree. We shouldn't afford any of the rights we do to 'intellectual property' that we do to real property. Your argument is completely derived from that of the intellectual property owners (aka rentiers).

My argument is that innovation and creativity will continue with very minimal intellectual property protections.

Edit: Therefore, intellectual property protections are useless in the intent:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;…"

What about physical artifact holding a licensed work ? like an audio CD or CD-ROM ? Are you allowed to transfer the physical artifact but not the licensed content ? so now the person owns a CD but it is illegal for her to listen to it because she does not hold the license that was only given to the original buyer ?

If a musician clearly puts on the package of a CD that black people cannot listen to it, is that okay?

No, just like a restaurant can refuse service for not wearing a suit jacket but not because of race. It's not even a slippery slope.

Can an artist stipulate that a music CD must only be listened to on a mac?

Advertisements are a form of free speech.

6 vs 3 Supreme Court

"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorrell_v._IMS_Health_Inc. "

>Advertisements are a form of free speech.

...that can be regulated:

"After passage of the billboard-regulating Highway Beautification Act of 1965, Vermont moved to ban billboards outright in 1968. All billboards were gone from Vermont by 1974. Vermont is one of four states to have prohibited by law all billboards from view of highway rights-of-way, except for signs on the contiguous property of the business location."


> ...that can be regulated:

And in the interest of further eludicating those those that are unfamiliar with the nuanced manner in which courts use the term "free speech," I would say:

"That can be regulated, just like all other forms of free speech."

Even protected categories of speech like political speech can be regulated assuming the government interest passes strict scrutiny.

This is the reason why in the USA you will see commercials for medications ("Ask your doctor about XYZ; you know, instead of letting your doctor decide what's best.")

Hahah Actually its worse, "Ask your doctor about XYZ, and if your doctor did not tell you about it, We will find out! Since we know her name and how much XYZ she prescribed vs generic ABC!"

It was Pfizer that pioneered that, and it's cataloged wonderfully in the book "Overdosed America"

Is it really, so why they don't advertise cigarettes?

Because - at least in the US - Tobacco advertising is specifically banned. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Health_Cigarette_Smokin...

But if it is a free speech, doesn't this law then violate the constitution?

I would imagine that if it was a free speech, then tobacco industry already would have this law thrown out.

Can you legally tell children to kill themselves?

Only if you do it on twitter.

If ads are protected free speech how are tobacco ads illegal?

Speech is regulated all the time. Free speech in practice means we bias towards permitting speech, but many categories of speech are regulated. To wit: you cannot lie in advertisements, you cannot incite imminent violence, you can be successfully sued for slander and/or libel, etc.

Read the first two paragraphs of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech_in_the_Unite... ; it also discusses commercial speech.

United States still has obscenity laws, a backdoor around first amendment, which can be interpreted to mean whatever the court wants it to mean in any given situation. It exists, unchallenged, because otherwise child pornography would have to be legal.

My question was, wouldn’t this ruling be a basis to challenge the outright Tobacco ad ban?

Before the ban there was still regulation, the ads had to be offset with other content, pro-health etc. Just like with political ads on public airwaves now.

In Canada, for example, the Tobacco ban was successfully challenged in court as violating Freedom of Speech as recently as 1991. Ultimately the ban remained in place because of another backdoor called “peace, order, and good government.”

cases like these usually depend on who is making money in the event of a decision. business make money off advertisements, therefore it's free speech

This was the argument telemarketers used, it was their right to call you and try to sell you crap you don't need!

That sounds annoyingly plausible; how did that claim get overturned?

Hey how do you feel about corporate speech now that you've got someone like Trump who could've used the opposite ruling in Citizens United to clamp down on media criticism?

Watch out for the corresponding ruling that adblockers are not free speech ...


Although I agree (in essence) that legal personhood is something most people misunderstand, I'm not sure the NYT is a very good example given that "the press" is specifically listed in the text of the first amendment (and has been understood to mean a newspaper production organization since even before the amendment was ratified).

Wouldn't that fall under freedom of the press?

The law can be passed, whatever it must be (I'm honestly struggling to imagine it), but what is it worth if you can't enforce it? Evidently some people believe they don't steal because it's illegal, but they actually do it only because they can be caught and punished, and it isn't worth the hassle. If we are talking about some abstract computing environment and not just some proprietary, DRM-bound OS — I can chose to show on the screen whatever the fuck I want, if I can watch some movie at all, I also can watch it in vertically-flipped sepia mode, with whichever parts of the picture blacked-out. Same with any content. It may be illegal, but you cannot verify it, and then prove I did it on purpose.

I think solution will be found, but it more likely will be technological. There's no such thing as "end to the arms race". Never can be, almost by definition.

That been said, the "news" here isn't even that much sensational. Just vice.com, as usual. Journalists, eh. The most obvious thing is that CV-based solution, while being buzz-wordy and fashionable isn't preferable by any means: for me the main point of blocking ads is not "hiding them" (I don't even care that much), but making web-pages faster and less obtrusive, which requires blocking ads before they are loaded.

Not sure Anti-ad-blocking laws are practically enforceable. Even with the ad labeling requirements relaxed, unless it is truly deceptive, a CNN could identify it just as well (or better) than we can.

Already you have restrictive software/firmware running on your computer. Look into Intel ME (Management Engine) a likely backdoor into your computer you have no control over, don't know what it does, and can not disable it. It already helps many DRM applications to restrict what content you can play and how. Legislation to disable adblocking could be reinforced already be implemented into the next generation of Intel/AMD chips so you bet this could be enforceable.

> Legislation to disable adblocking could be reinforced already be implemented into the next generation of Intel/AMD chips so you bet this could be enforceable.

But this would be limited to chips to be sold in the US, so US sales would take a hit and import of chips from foreign market would get a boost. Ultimately the chip manufacturers would have to swallow the extra cost of adding this to chips towards the US market while facing a drop in sales in the same market. This situation would prevent the move from actually happening in the first place.

> It already helps many DRM applications to restrict what content you can play and how.

[citation needed] - I'm aware of the hypervisor capabilties of ME but not aware of it being used for DRM yet?

Yeah using PAVP "Protected Audio/Video Path". Basically there are chunks of memory that are only accessible to the Management Engine. (Note at this point it doesn't work in reverse, there is no memory that is not accessible to the Intel ME. It can see and manipulate everything). When your media player wants to play protected video it sends the encrypted content to the graphic card which then sends it through ME for decryption.

But regardless of whether this was already in there or not, Intel could simply put any code in there to force the display of ads or media and there is nothing you can do about it. Also, although this hasn't been done yet as far as we know, they could remotely update your Intel chip the next time you are within range of a known WiFi router to include this new anti-feature.

EDIT: Adding source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Active_Management_Techno...

Do Ryzen chips have this?

AMD has a different but equivalent thing called PSP, or "platform security processor", which is ARM's TrustZone.

Read about Palladium and Trusted computing, basically every CPU from intel and AMD have had this or a similar feature for several years. I'm not sure about ARM.

Luckily no.

@filoleg unfortunately you are wrong. AMD has equally invasive technology called PSP (Platform Security Processor).

"The PSP is a universal computer with it's own CPU, RAM, ROM, clock etc, that can run whatever software AMD wants it to run, hidden from the user. It could load software anytime without you even noticing. AMD controls the PSP by using unique cryptographic keys which are burnt into each PSP." - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13781408

You get all that for free with every new AMD processor, including their new Ryzen chip.

> Not sure Anti-ad-blocking laws are practically enforceable

An anti-ad-blocker ad would probably be easy to enforce: arrest the people making and distributing ad blockers.

However, I think the main threat is a repeal of requirements to label ads (which this technology relies on), not to ban ad-blockers outright. I bet that would cause less resistance. Quoth the OP:

> Perceptual ad-blocking, on the other hand, ignores those codes and those lists. Instead, it uses optical character recognition, design techniques, and container searches (the boxes that ads are commonly put in on a page) to detect words like "sponsored" or "close ad" that are required to appear on every ad, which is what allows it to detect and block Facebook ads.

You assume everyone who writes an ad-blocker lives in the US, or a in country the US has coerced into joining WIPO. If an ad-blocked is written by a Chinese citizen, hosted in a Russian data-center, and attached to an Iranian domain name, what precisely is the US government going to do?

Don't you remember when libdvdcss was so illegal you had to run a script (that Ubuntu shipped) to download it? The horror!

Probably drop a MOAB on the datacenter.

That would work for a country that can't defend itself or retaliate. I'm not sure that applies to any of the three mentioned.

Arbitrarily seize the domain name.

Interesting question. Given the incredible latitude that courts have afforded to the CFAA, if a site put in its TOS that accessing it with an ad blocker enabled is prohibited, would that be actionable? Could ad blocking companies in such a case be held liable for tortious interference and/or conspiracy to violate the CFAA?

I don't know the answer, but I can certainly see a lower court ruling that way before it is decided by the Supreme Court. To be sure, that's where this would be headed if this kind of technology becomes ubiquitous and effective.

I'm pretty sure that, if the ad is embedded into a platform that's locked up with DRM, then an ad-blocker developer would necessarily be violating DMCA provisions by publishing their work. It's thankful that no major PC or mobile OS is yet considered to fall under those regulations, but I think it would already apply in the case of game consoles.

DMCA outside the US is the story of polite anakata and retractable batons.

> Not sure Anti-ad-blocking laws are practically enforceable

Many doubted that DRM was practical to enforce.

Piracy is still booming. It kind of support my point that ad-blocking laws wouldn't be enforceable, just like anti-DRM laws.

And as they were impractical apple removed them from itunes in 2009.

Why not? Even if the risk of getting caught is small, if the penalties are large, the risk isn't worth it. Feel like risking a trip to jail just to avoid some ads?

Not to mention that it is fairly easy for government to clamp down on distribution of software that allows ad blocking.

As blockers will still exist, but adoption will plummet if the only place to get a ad blocker is torrent sites and such.

Thing is an ad-blocker is merely a content blocker that happens to block ads. making ad blocking illegal would not make content blocker illegal.

You could still use those to block trackers which are the underwater part of the online ads iceberg. Making an anti-tracking-blocking law would be a different beast because now you're attacking a fundamental human right to privacy and advertisers would still be mad because they lost their ability to upsell their ads that can't be targeted or retargeted anymore.

Alternatively just go back to using the system hosts file, or replace ad blockers by whole website blockers, use a vpn to a country that does not have this law. There are options around such a nonsense piece of legislation

You just can't jail everybody that avoid DRM or blocks ads. There would be nobody left to pay for said prisons.

Or simply a hardened browser DMCA, with signed write-or-execute JS VM that ensures that integrity of the page as rendered cannot be messed with by some pesky extension.

But then people could just get a list of ad hosts and modify their hosts.txt to redirect those addresses to localhost. I think there's other ways to stop this though. It doesn't seem like a huge stretch for ad providers to give hosts all the stuff to host the ad from their server directly, for example.

You mean EME? They could basically deliver a single-frame video containing the ads, text and image of the page. With some hitboxes layered over the <video> element so that when the user clicks on something it still is interactive.

.. which requires banning all existing browsers, which is something Microsoft, Apple and Google are unlikely to go along with quietly.

So, next step is DRM for webpages/content in addition to video, either you see all or nothing. The W3C is probably already running with the idea to destroy the "free" web :-)

If an anti-ad-blocking law were to pass, the next step would be link blockers to sites with unwanted ads, tracking or other content. This is what I do for sites I'm sick of landing on only to be told I can't see the content unless they're allowed to track me. I haven't seen a link to WSJ, Forbes, Wired, etc. in months. Wide adoption of such a tool would force sites to find a better means of funding or just disappear.

Personally I wouldn't be offended if users of these services were denied access to websites that for example depend on ads. Its something like a violation of contract by the user.

There's no such contract for publicly accessible website. If there was one it could be denounced as any other contract and would allow suing the website for breach of contract.

Then there's countries outside the US with different contract laws, so imagine the headache to have a blog online.

Just like how big coal was able to prevent all EPA regulations, and big tobacco is still allowed to advertise to children and on billboards, right?

For anyone doubting the absolute veracity of this comment, here's a 5 minutes video on how laws are made in America: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5tu32CCA_Ig

If you were right, they'd have already done it. If they can so easily get laws changed to what they prefer, ad-blocking would be illegal right now. It costs Google a lot of money. I haven't seen an ad on their search, adsense or youtube platforms in years.

> If Google, Facebook, or other multi-billion dollar entities detect an existential threat arising from this or any other technology, rest assured that the laws will change as quickly as is necessary to keep them happy. Lobbyists will be paid, and donations will be made

Money will be paid and wolves will be invited in the house to essentially bring a legislation that is not enforceable. As a profit hungry business owner that sounds like a real bad move.

If I were google or facebook I would rather have a much more robust plan B that would involve using technology and size to benefit from the strategy.

Oh, the legislation is enforceable all right: just require cryptographic remote attestation for access to online services.

Corey Doctorow was right about the coming war on general-purpose computing.

In a few decades with no oil to extract from the ground, antibiotic-resistant pathogen everywhere, generalized food insecurity, power shortages, polluted air and difficulties to access clean water I'm pretty sure advertising will be gone and advertisers with their lack of useful or transferable skills will not be part of this world.

I don't think it will get that out of hand. There is huge popular support for ad blocking, and many of the general public would show force on this.

On the flipside, if humans can detect what is an ad, then ultimately a computer (e.g. through deep learning) will also be able to detect it.

There a fairly common forms of advertising that are used because humans are very bad at detecting them (where the commercial message is incorporated into content with another surface purpose rather than delivered alongside it in a discrete form), so that just means those forms will become more common as a share of all ads.

You're forgetting about companies whose business is not ad based (eg. Apple), they will make sure not to allow those laws to pass.

Why do you think google has put so much time and effort into controlling the user agent?

The United States is only one of the many countries that Google and Facebook operate in. They have to follow the laws of the other countries as well, and they have done so in the past. Furthermore, if humans are still able to recognize the ads as ads after they are not explicitly marked as ads, a perceptual ad-blocker might be able to detect them too.

If the adtech companies modify the ads enough that the ads are indistinguishable from non-sponsored content, this xkcd applies: https://xkcd.com/810/.

They have to, but they do not and they argue that they don't have to. This is a thing in Europe right now, among which tax evasion through the double irish sandwich.

Anti-ad-blocking laws sound likely to be as effective as anti-piracy laws.

The music industry failed.

How can anyone prevent me from coding an ML-based ad blocker and releasing it as open source and as something that would install between the broswer and the network?

They can't but very few people would use it if it is (a) illegal and (b) some weird geek thing, so it would not have much cultural or economic impact.

I do not have "block ads". I simply do not request them.

Users do not intentionally make requests for ads or pixels from tracking servers. Browsers do. Automatically.

People writing web pages that aim to cash in on advertising budgets depend on this "feature". However it is optional. I read hundreds of web pages and never see any ads. Because for eading the news I do not use a so-called "modern" browser.

It seems the entire web ad industry requires browsers to operate a certain way. If browsers do not follow these assumptions, then the user sees no ads.

Despite strange notions like the one in the top-voted comment in this thread, there is nothing that requires any user to use browsers written by people whose salaries are paid directly or indirectly from ad sales revenue.

Assuming certain companies were as all-powerful as the commenter suggests, then why not require users to access pages using software written by companies who profit from such web traffic? And make the software proprietary?

Surely no one would complain. Thank you sir, may I have another?

Let us not forget some of these "multi-billion dollar entities" are just websites. If the traffic dies down, the business of selling ads is no longer feasible. And the company disappears along with the website. It has happened before.

98% of revenue from web traffic/ad sales.

Castles made of sand.

I'm guessing you use something like w3m or lynx? (if not, I would love to hear about it) The problem is that text-based browsers of that ilk are not user-friendly to the general population.

If you have the knowledge to implement that kind of not-requesting of ads, I bet one of the fringe/experimental browsers (I'm thinking of Vivaldi) would be a great place to implement what you're talking about.

I use umatrix for not loading ads and for tracking protection. It is a tool to define from which domains a certain website may fetch resources. It is a bit less convenient than a adblocker, because for every new site you have to configure it, but I think it is great. It's really eye opening how many things some websites load that they do not actually need to show the content I am interested in.

This is not the end of the arms race.

At some point we will have AI designing and AI delivering ads, and while we may have AI designed to prevent us from having to watch ads we don't want we will also have AI that watches everything, gathering and filtering information that is too much for us to handle but tuned to our needs since it's "our AI". Then the race will be that one AI wants to trick the consumer AI into giving their information more weight and attention.

So instead of the race humans against humans we'll have a race humans => AI ("sellers" of anything, from goods to news) => AI (consumers) => human (us).

It's going to be a lot more complex: Right now all that people on both sides have to know is human psychology. In that future they'll have to understand the potentially far more varied world of possible AIs - and if that isn't enough the complex interactions between them and also between the AIs and the humans.

Are we creating the diversity and complexity that we remove from the biosphere (the ongoing mass extinction and/or reduction of many species) anew but in a completely different space? In addition to technical systems we are also getting much better (and better faster!) in controlling biological systems, creating our own ideas. At least some programmers of the future will write their code in DNA - or possibly even something more complex, something that can encode completely new proteins that the current code can't represent. And then there's combining biology and technology... an explosion of complexity and diversity?

I studied CS more than two decades ago. I kept up to date and continue to do the odd course in my field, but what I consider an amazing experience (for an IT guy) was when I spent the last few years taking hundreds of hours of courses in biology and medicine. Looking for new ideas? Take an introduction to biology and genetics course instead of learning an only very mildly different programming language, for example (free): https://www.edx.org/course/introduction-biology-secret-life-...

Check out "General Adversarial Networks". It's basically training a two-part AI via an arms race; one part is trying to fake out the other, the other is trying to detect the fake.

Small fix, I believe it's "Generative" Adversarial Networks.

You are correct sir.

> Check out "General Adversarial Networks"

Another way to describe GANs is that the loss function, which used to be hand-made, now is a whole separate neural net and can be learned bottom-up instead of dictated top-down.

There was a time when features were hand-made. Now we have deep learning and finding good features is automatic. GANs automate another part of the process.

So you start a company to produce two networks with GAN techniques, then sell them as separate products, to the opposing sides...

Essentially how AdBlock operates, without the GAN/ML (yet)

Yeah, "end of the arms race", are you kidding me Vice?

I see 13 year olds watching their favorite youtube stars showing off the new products they're being sponsored with this week. How exactly would you block this?

That's a very good point. But maybe it's a theoretical end of the arms race when it comes to predatory ads. I will take ads spoken by the host of a YouTube channel over autoplaying videos, adult dating banners, scrolljacking, and annoying modals any day. If all those things get replaced by advertising that is essentially voluntary and not deceptive or wasteful of computing power, then the ad blocking war may be won. We'll see.

Also, your username. lol

Assuming vice is right and this is the end of it and people use it, how do you expect youtube to stay online once google lose its advertising revenue ? This product placement problem just solved itself.

Streaming video on the scale of youtube or facebook is not sustainable due to bandwidth cost.

That's just a return to how video advertising worked initially on TV, where Boston Blackie would light up a Lucky Strike and casually comment on how great it was in the middle of the action.

This is an asymmetrical game because most ads are meant to be recognized as such (product placement and sponsored content are subtler than that). So the anti ad AI has an advantage over the ad publishing one. If an ad gets through because the adblocker doesn't recognizes it AI probably the reader won't notice it too.

You assume ads will be recognizable as such, but even today we have ads that few people recognize. From waves of reddit /r/funny posts about certain sitcoms or sugary beverages to product placements in articles, shows, films to magazine and news articles, not always recognizable as ads because often they are not actually ads but actual articles that only happen to mention some products. Very nice for publishers who get whole articles that they don't have to do much to produce.

So even today even 100% human "ad blockers" are unable to block a lot of ads because they are unaware they are looking at one.

Even mentioning /r/HailCorporate in a Reddit thread generates hostility and defensiveness from people angry at the thought that they upvoted what amounts to an ad, even if it wasn't overtly one.

Ads as content works really well, so well that people refuse to believe it. Huh? It's just a funny picture of a tall, frosty bottle of Coca-Cola!

Soon Adsense will offer server-side content placement instead of just 3rd-party-served banner ads. People act like the arms race is over because they added some entries into a hosts file. Not even close.

I am fine with ads that are subtle enough to pass by an AI guardian. What I want to kill is stuff that dominates the page space, can't be ignored, follows you down the page as you scroll, autoplays video, runs so many scripts that my cooling fan spins up to full speed...

I don't object to the existence of advertising. I object to advertising that is intrusive and/or resource-intensive enough to impair site usability. (And malware served over ad networks, of course, but that's a bit different as a problem.)

My issue with advertisements is that they are designed to be manipulative, esp. emotionally. "Smart, young, beautiful people" buy this product - don't you want to be like them? The ads that are strictly informational ("This product exists, here is why!") typically don't make good advertisements or are so poorly done that they become a form of comedy.

Ads subtle enough to get past an "AI Guardian" mean they are meant to influence your behavior. That is my issue with advertisements and why I actively refuse to purchase products I'm introduced to through advertising.


I'd like to clarify that by "make good advertisements" I mean as in the goal of advertisements (get people to buy) and not "good" as in "acceptable".

You could train an AI to rewrite manipulative psychology out of all content.

Has the added bonus of fixing a lot of news in the process.

(Okay, so it's slightly more complicated in practice -- you would have to reduce the manipulative content there, and then add back a certain chosen bias so the reduced manipulation is overpowered by the chosen one.)

I'm more concerned about ads that subtly and insidously impair my life, than ads that overtly impair a website.

No you won't because that's ilegal. An advertisement must be clearly understood as such (at least in EU) and in fact (for instance) now the channels in here are actually having to tell you that you are about to see advertisements.

So, no, we won't have AI tuning the advertisements so that they can't be catch by software like this one because that means it also wouldn't be catch by humans and that a very big no.

I can see this as a paradigm change in the internet it's true, and it's hard to see the full reprecursions of this all.

Then again, I think that if we get back to sane advertisements in web pages, that are just a couple of lines of text clearly marked as such (like Google ads used to be), then people would be ok not using an ad blocker in those cases. The thing is, the marketing companies just pushed it too far...

I think it's myopic to dismiss this based on legality; companies of all sizes frequently flout laws and regulations. I agree that it's difficult to see the big picture (we didn't even see the paradigm shift of smartphones coming - there's no way anyone can be expected to predict how the advertising landscape will look in 15 years) but I certainly don't envisage a return to vintage era Google Ads. We tend to forget that (mostly due to this echo chamber in which we're participating) that regular people don't think like us and without the momentum of a large group, a reversion is unlikely to be affected.

That said, WRT GP's post, I don't think it's a million miles off. AI will undoubtedly become a cornerstone of modern life and I don't think the scenario they outline is entirely unlikely. Siri is objectively pretty hopeless, particularly when compared to its counterparts but it's been a nice clue as to what we can expect from modern innovation.

I'm not sure what to make of your comment, it's a little.. "weltfremd" (unworldly says the dictionary, not sure if that conveys the same meaning as in German though). There are MANY ways around it. It is like lobbying: Bribes are clearly not allowed, and yet politicians can easily be bought without actually breaking any laws.

The problem with that attitude is that when you are looking for bad things you are looking for intent, which is really not necessary for bad things to happen. This is like looking at individual neurons and not finding psychopathy (or whatever else actually is a system outcome of the network's actions, not of individuals).

I don't think people will understand the point you're making here, so let me recommend the absolutely fabulous analogous exploration of your point in David Brin's Existence. http://www.davidbrin.com/existence.html

Native ads will always evade this tool.

Also the end composition of the page can reveal to javascript what is or is not removed

> Another technique used to hide the ad blockers' activities is even more impressive. They are able to "create two copies of the page, one which the user sees (and to which ad-blocking will be applied) and one which the publisher code interacts with, and to ensure that information propagates between these copies in one direction but not the other."

So this ultimate ad-blocker would potentially consume twice as much resources as it would have been?

Coauthor of the paper here. No --- this is not one of the three techniques that we implemented. It was a hypothetical suggestion for future work. Unfortunate that the article didn't make that clear.

Here is the paper http://randomwalker.info/publications/ad-blocking-framework-...

Here is our blog post about it: https://freedom-to-tinker.com/2017/04/14/the-future-of-ad-bl...

Just a throw out question:

One of the biggest issues (IMO) is the security threat... if there is a second copy that "we" don't see, doesn't that mean that the second copy can do "bad things" still?

Case in Point: Forbes requests you disable ad-blocker... then serves pop-under malware:


I could stomach ads - just like I stomached commercials on TV shows... you get used to them and they become white noise... if the ads were unobtrusive and non-invasive (IE: Google Search Results)... it's full screen, pop-up/under, audio, video, etc. Then throw on top of that malware...

What's to stop the malware from biting on that second copy?

This is what matters most to me. My dislike of ads are out of fear of malicious code first, tracking second, and wasting my bandwidth third.

The simple gif banner ads of yore were tolerable enough.

Neuromarketing proved that they do not become white noise, you just stop consciously noticing them and how they affect you[1]. But even if you somehow developed some kind of immunity, you'd still be affected by ads because advertising costs are factored in product prices, when you buy something even if you never seen any of the ads for this product, you're still paying for them.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromarketing#Study_examples

Here's what probably amounts to a dumb question why couldn't we just have an AI act like a real person and click on some of the ads that it deemed 'safe' and in a separate sandbox type browser instance? This would reduce the negative effects of adblockers on content publishers.

Looks like you've accidentally repasted the paper URL for the blog post

Oops! Thanks, fixed.

Maybe. We already have front-end libraries that are maintaining a "virtual dom".

i'd wager that it would take a substantial refactor of layout and rendering code to avoid significantly increased resource usage while also preventing sketchy ad code from being able to detect that it's being blocked.

This was my question as well.

Just change the alpha values in the `coverContainer` function in `utils.js` and it actually blocks ads.

Patched `utils.js`: https://pastebin.com/YLyN2uJ8

Covering is not as good as not loading.

Loading brings all the malware, the tracking, and the bandwidth/load times.

"Not loading" doesn't make sense in the case where the ad is inline in the response body (i.e. "part of the site", like Facebook's ads are.) Which is the case where this ad-blocker uniquely shines.

Besides which, the algorithm involved is a computer-vision one, so the ad needs to be rendered before the algorithm can recognize it as an ad.

The best solution here, if you want maximum privacy, would be to use a traditional ad-blocker as a first-line defence, and this algorithm as a second-line, for the ads which make it past regular ad-blocking (and which are therefore probably inline-content ads anyway.)

> where the ad is inline in the response body

That only applies to the HTML, which generally is fairly lightweight. They still load additional images, videos, do XHRs for tracking etc.

You could feed back the visually blocked ads to a system that profiles their HTML/etc and then generates new rules for the first line blocking (which is usually itself a combination of not loading and not rendering).

There's a big chance that the AD blocking AI would consume much more power than the AD scripts and make browsing slower.

I agree, it's a limitation of the perceptual blocker, as it needs to `see` the ads to detect them. However, combined with a regular ad blocker to catch the ads that the regular ad blocker missed, it seems like a reasonable solution.

But the whole point of this approach (as I understand it) is that companies may be able to deliver the ads in the same HTTP response as the content, they may render the whole page as a <canvas>, they may go to crazy lengths, but by sitting on top of all of that, this software can still block pixels that look like an ad.

Hey—I wrote this article ... if anyone forks this and makes it real please let me know. @jason_koebler on twitter or jason.koebler@vice.com

Anyone know if it interferes with uBlock? I'm on mobile and can't test now.

This is probably obvious, but where is that file?

The chrome extension file (.crx) is a zip file (with meta data). Just unzip it and you'll find the files, including the 'utils.js'.

I made a repo for the patched extension: https://github.com/byrnehollander/perceptual-adblocker-edite...

At risk of being very unpopular, am I the only person that doesn't mind ads? I mean some are pretty intrusive, but largely I'm happy to make the trade off. I'll look at (and maybe click on) your ad, if it means you have the cash to bring me what I want to look at. It's fantastic to think we live in a world where the web can support itself without ads, but it's not really practical, is it? Some stuff I'd support - but the best thing about the web is that I can dip in and out of sites completely based on one off content, knowing I don't have to pay before I read.

And the HN crowd is the sharp end of the web. A lot of us ARE likely to support the web in another way. The blunt end not so much. They're also the ones more likely to click on ads.

I have 0 problem with websites that serve up ads that:

1. Are from their own domain 2. Are not flash/autoplaying video 3. Don't track me/aren't ad tech 4. Actually have something to do with the content

Run a homebrewing site? Great, run ads for stuff to do with that. I'll probably click on them, I am looking up homebrewing info! Run a homebrewing site that serves me ads for refrigerators, because I looked at one on Amazon three weeks ago? That's creepy, and that's getting blocked. Same with pop ups pop unders etc.

Advertisers seem to be moving in the same direction - Viacom has reported a lot of wins over the ad-tech insanity.

Apart from duckduckgo, can you share some examples of such websites ?

For a long time I didn't adblock, because I do believe in paying it forward. But--set aside the psychological battery enacted to make you Believe In The Brand and still, at this point, advertising is a threat vector. Text ads? Don't mind them. Image-based ads like Project Wonderful? Also fine. But I block a lot of ads now just because I can't evaluate effectively the safety of their payloads.

This is the only reason I use an ad-blocker. They are often an attack vector for 0day exploits. They remove that risk and the block comes off.

I don't mind ads in sidebars, banner ads, etc. I whitelist my adblocker and there's only three reasons I've ever blocked a site:

* The ad prevented me from getting to the content (popup modals, youtube preroll ads)

* The ad made noise (I've recently started using an autoplay-blocker which is on by default and helps with this, as well as annoying autoplay videos that aren't ads)

* The ad massively slowed down or crashed the page (for some reason, wikia seems to be particularly bad for this). This is much less common now that I have flash disabled by default.

I don't mind advertising in principle. The advertising from The Deck was fine by me. I do mind pervasive tracking, ugly webpages filled with attention gobbling trash, heavy webpages, malvertising, and the horrible morals of the advertising and ad tech industries.

I wouldn't mind ads so much if they weren't implemented so poorly. Much of the web ends up being unusable, because ads slow down the rendering and mess with the usage of so many web pages.

I don't mind ads typically. I still haven't bothered to figure out how to block ads on YouTube. I started out tailoring Ghostery to just block trackers but not ads. But the clickbait ads from taboola and friends were just so terrible (grossly misleading clickbait, half-naked women, tryptophobia) that now I don't feel bad about just blocking everything.

Is Ghostery overkill if you already use NoScript?

Ghostery is tracking and profiling people who block ads for the ad industry. Don't use it. Use ublock origin or umatrix or request policy[1]

you could also use random agent spoofer and better privacy or privacy settings.

[1]: https://requestpolicycontinued.github.io/

Oh cool, I didn't realize uBlock Origin blocked trackers - thought it was just blocking ads.

If anyone want's the source of the proof of concept extension[1] here's a link to get it. Just use wget


You should just be able to unzip it.


Or you could add some fangs to it yourself[1] by forking it...

1: https://github.com/citp/ad-blocking/tree/master/perceptual-a...

From the description, it only finds very specific types of ads:

For Facebook ad detection, it finds newsfeed items by looking for containers within the given width constraints and border on the side; it looks for the sidebar ads by searching for containers with the proper size constraints in a sidebar. It then determines which newsfeed items are ads by searching for the "Sponsored" link within them and checking whether this link ultimately goes to the Facebook "about ads" page.

For Adchoices detection, it runs a content script in every iframe which searches all of the images, (those explicit in an img element, those in the background-image css, and those drawn as an svg) and then uses fuzzy hashing to compare them to example Adchoices icons. If any of the images match, it highlights the iframe as an advertisement.

That won't remove a typical banner ad, or an ad popup.

Assuming this is true, why do we need AI for something like this?

We can build a repo of images that's used to show ads, and just block by images. There's a pretty big multiplier on number of visitors to the number of ad pictures.

What would a post-ad-supported web looks like?

Only selling user data without a way to use it to target ads?

Consumer software that isn't free?

Sock puppet marketing run rampant?

It would sure be a different world.

> What would a post-ad-supported web looks like?

Probably a lot like the pre-ad-supported web.



HTTP 402's and cryptocurrencies (fractional payments for access)?


I remember talking to a friend who was trying out 21co's "bitcoin" computer and that 402+cryptocurrency payment seemed like something to evolve from that project. It seems to have changed focus a bit since that discussion.


Isn't there a global limit of 3 bitcoin transactions per second and a cost of about $10 in electricity too?

21.co was an obvious scam with near zero sales.

7 trans actions per seconds. But there are several changes in the pipline to fix this. One solution is having "off-chain" transactions not on the main blockchain, this would allow us to not record every coffee purchase made in bitcoin to be stored on the main chain. Look up Lightning Network if you are interested in how this is being done. Your main point is correct that Bitcoin can only handle 7 tps while Visa can handle 20,000 tps.

How does HN pay the server bills, etc.? Is it essentially paid for as a marketing / recruiting aid out of ycombinator funds? Or is it a charity paid for by PG?

PG has explained that HN is an ad for YC, both indirectly, and directly (YC companies inject "sponsored posts" into HN frontpage, to advertise jobs.)

> How does HN pay the server bills, etc.?

I believe it's two relatively simple servers running the Arc code of HN, and Cloudflare as CDN.

HN does not need much processing power or bandwidth - 5 assets (cacheable+versioned CSS/JS, three tiny gifs) and thanks to gzip usually two-digit KB sizes of content. The only real expense is the manpower needed for moderation.

> The only real expense is the manpower needed for moderation.

dang, who would want to do that as their job?

Punmeister Meisterpunner sees what you did there. ;)

> What would a post-ad-supported web looks like?

It was possible, even though most people disagreed at the time, to make open source thrive and write the largest, most complete encyclopedia. Stackoverflow filled with answers without pay.

An ad-free world would be ok, people are creative, we can make our own stuff. I, for example, read mostly comment threads, research papers and watch user made videos. We don't need their content and ads at all.

In an ad-free world, only the affluent members of society would pay for access to intelligent journalism. The rest of society would be a mixture of information-starved, and fed information by special interest groups that provide content more cheaply than the paywalls.

EDIT: Just to be clear, my own opinion is that online advertising is a horrifically ugly, cynical blight on the human experience, which causes huge amounts of unintelligent visual content to be put in front of billions of human brains. But an ad-free future is hugely problematic for the maintenance of a well-informed society, and we have seen where a dumb electorate gets us.

Isn't that what we have currently? Quality journalism seems hard to pull off with only online ads. Most of it nowadays is supported by subscriptions and/or print editions. They help subsidize free access to some of the content.

Would you say that, today, most people who read quality journalism do so by paying subscriptions? I'm not sure about that. The Guardian is one obvious exception, but I agree the center-right newspapers have moved to subscription.

It's very broken though. The whole idea of paying a subscription for a newspaper is outdated -- it's based on the days when the head of household would select a newspaper and have it delivered to the house before breakfast. Most of the time when I'm reading news online I'm wasting time that I would prefer to be using productively, so there's no way I'm going to pay for that. Additionally, there's so much good free material on the internet that there's not enough incentive to pay for it. I think the major newspapers should accept that the days of a single cathedral-like website for their newspaper where devotees will spend hours are gone; if we could pay a small amount effortlessly on a per-article basis, choosing between many different sources, that might make sense.

The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist are all behind partial or full pay-walls.

I'm not sure that a subscription is outdated. It still makes sense for a bunch of editors to make a selection of what is news-worthy in their opinion. Leaving it to algorithms to tailor your newsfeed to your exact tastes risks leading to a feedback loop of reinforcing biases. I like The Economist, once a week, the most important news and a bit more in-depth than most newspapers. Their Espresso app seems interesting, but I haven't tried it yet.

I don't know if you can fund good investigative journalism with micro-payments. Maybe we haven't seen it yet because there is no good system for micro-payments, but maybe the market just isn't there...

My biggest beef with all those newspapers is that they never rethought their product when they went digital. It's just the same content as the print edition, only on a screen. It would be relatively easy to link to sources and more in-depth data supporting the main article, but you hardly ever see that. It's all boiled down to a few simple graphics and tables.

I agree with what you're saying. But I wasn't suggesting having algorithms pick our news items; agree with what you say about reinforcing biases. I'm suggesting that in the modern era, with adults who have grown up with the internet, it doesn't make sense to ask them to pick one source and pay a monthly subscription for it; we are used to an enormous range of quality reading options. Instead I'm imagining a middleman/broker site where one can see story headlines from a large selection of newspapers and pay to read on a per-story basis or via subscription (e.g. a monthly balance but still the newspaper whose story you click on is the one that gets the micropayment). People would happily pay $20 a month or whatever to read $their_desired_monthly_number_of_words of intelligent journalism if they can choose the range of sources from which those words come. But very few will pay 4 x $20 for 4 sources. (replace $20 with whatever's right).

I'm hoping it would be something based on micropayments, maybe through a service like flattr. That would keep content accessible (for a small, affordable fee) and completely block out the bad actors (i.e. advertisers).

I've been hearing lots of good things about Patreon, especially from Youtube personalities. I haven't heard of Flattr being used much recently.

Flattr just got got bought by Adblock Plus...

Patreon works around the concept of subscriptions, rather than one-off payments. One-off payments seems like the better idea, and a cryptocurrency seems like a natural fit. Perhaps not bitcoin, since the fees are so high, but maybe ethereum or litecoin.

The problem with one-off payments is that payments are just that... one-off. If you make $500 this month, the correlation on making $500 next month isn't strong enough for most people to feel very comfortable trying to make a living or reliable hobby out of whatever you're trying to pay them for. The long tail is generally going to have "hits" where they spike up on certain posts or videos or whathave you, but those are unreliable. People don't generally like their income to follow a power law.

So I think that's where the core Patreon advantage lies; get around 1000 people to give you 1-5$ a month and you're living a middle class lifestyle with some reasonable assurance that next month you're not going to make 1/50th what you made last month. (It isn't perfect, but nothing is. There is not a single person reading this who can guarantee me with mathematical 100% precision that next month they're going to have positive income.)

In fact I'd point out that when it comes down to it, the incentives created by pervasive, automatic micropayments looks almost identical to what we have now. Clickbait, low-effort high-volume articles would rule. There would be fewer trackers, but that would be about it. I like what the Patreon ecosystem puts out waaaay better than that. I think you actually need that bit of detachment between the product and the payment, if you ever want to see a work produced with a thought other than "How many clicks can this exact article get?" Patreon artists are not severed from the need to make sure they stay popular with their base but at least they can go down tangents and be speculative sometimes without it instantly trashing a noticeable portion of their income.

> The problem with one-off payments is that payments are just that... one-off.

That makes it pretty similar to ad-supported sites now. The difference is, the revenue comes from the user, who is more likely to incentivize good content.

> In fact I'd point out that when it comes down to it, the incentives created by pervasive, automatic micropayments looks almost identical to what we have now.

That's a really good point, and as you mention that's pretty much what we have now. I would think that in a micro-payment based world, where you have to pay a bit to read an article, publishers would gain reputation to protect against this.

If it cost a teeny bit of my own money to look at a buzzfeed quiz, I'd probably stop doing that pretty quickly.

But I do agree that it isn't the best model for all sites, and it would be nice to offer micro-payments along with Patreon-style subscription, for those who know they'll want content from this site a lot. Kind of like how newspapers used to work.

One time payment are bad, they require more overhead and don't provide stability or security. Subscriptions are preferrable.

About cryptocurrence, maybe look at steem and steemit.

I imagine part of it might look like some sites already look today. Ads that are not served through third-party ad networks, but are created and displayed by the owners of the site based on direct relationships with advertisers and sponsors.

It could go the cable television route, where gatekeepers get paid for monthly subscriptions to 200 channels. Similarly, on the web gatekeepers like Facebook could get paid for monthly subscriptions to content from 200 websites (more than anyone could ever need, right?).

Maybe we will see more "sponsored content".

> What would a post-ad-supported web looks like?

Maybe something like steemit

A few days back, I started working on an high powered machine with a vanilla firefox. Even with just 20-30 tabs open, the software started to crawl. Please note that most of the pages open were either github pages, hn, stackoverflow or articles linked for hn (implying fairly reputable sites). Initially I thought it was the fault of the browser. (That performance was jarring as I am a tab hoarder, frequently having hundreds of tabs open). Only later did I realize that I had not installed Ublock Origin. Did it and Poof! The difference was night and day.

What I am trying to say is that, the advantage of ad-blockers is not just the removal of ads but also a significant removal of cruft that adds no value and hogs the system resources. The solution proposed in this article actually renders the page. So, it solves only one of the issues. It could still be beneficial to use it in conjunction with UBlock Origin.

Does this cover the issue of tracking, etc? It seems that in order to detect/block the ad, it must allow it to load - and at that point, the malicious payload is already on my machine, and I've already spent part of my precious allotted bandwidth on someone's idea of profit-making.

This is my thought as well. I avoid ads because of the additional resources they require, network requests, javascript, etc. Not because my eyes can't handle them

Same. I’ve wasted several minutes whitelisting various ad networks for the maniacs at Forbes and Wired, but when they say “we rely on ads, stop being a dick” and I try to comply; it turns out they’re not talking about ads at all.

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