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Designing an audio adblocker (adblockradio.com)
285 points by dest on Jan 8, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 186 comments

A response to some of the many arguments expressed in this thread:

"Then don't listen to it". Alternatively, I'll do what I do now, which is listen to it but skip the ads and wait for software that can automatically skip them to come around, which is the same thing I did for websites.

"That's selfish" Yes, just like the millions of people who use adblock software on their browser. Of course adblock software came after web browsers built in popup blockers in response to the X-10 Spycam being 50% of web advertising circa 2001-2003, so really you could argue the web browsers are selfish and we're all selfish if we don't turn off the popup blockers. Really, even if a website says "By using this website, we're going to install malware on your computer", you're selfish if you reject the malware. If selfish means that I make decisions that make things better for me at the expense of others, then yes, I am selfish when it comes to ads. I view ads as toxic and bad for my health, and I take measures to avoid them.

"But it'll lead to the collapse of podcast publishing". Maybe. Of course publishers repeatedly said adblocking would lead to the collapse of the web, and as best as I can tell mostly idiots doing a pivot to Facebook Video caused what collapse did occur (because, as selfish actors, they pursued a greater revenue stream at the expense of quality and integrity -- oops, turns out there's no money there because the numbers are all fake.), Adblocking also ushered in sustainable models for journalism, blogging, etc. Certainly all the websites I read have found alternate revenue models just fine. Maybe that's because the ones that didn't went under, but I apparently didn't notice.

If podcasting collapses and goes back to the dark ages of being a non-commercial hobby medium like it was three years ago, like, okay?

"Stop comparing podcasts to websites, podcast ads aren't as bad" Maybe, but you don't get to decide for me my threshold for ignoring or blocking ads. Ads weren't as bad when I started using AdBlock Plus in 2004, but they were bad enough for me to decide to use it. Others may have had their breaking point later because they are less sensitive to ads. Some people might still browse the web with ads on and claim they don't care. You do you.

The strange thing to me is people expressing that they'd rather block ads, but they're too noble to do so, so they get mad at others for blocking ads? Uh, okay?

> "That's selfish" Yes, just like the millions of people who use Adblock software on their browser.

I don't see this as selfish, not when it comes online ads. I think this "moral" argument is pushed by people who generally benefit from ads and have less incentive to considers ethical issues raised by ad tech. From their perspective, advertising is free money. Publishing has a cost and people's work and effort should be compensated, all right. But you are not ripping someone off just because they picked the wrong revenue model. You are just protecting yourself by preventing your data being used by thirds parties without your consent. And you should.

And besides, there are ethical ads options. Given the choice, I would support publishers using these ads, in absence of a better solution.

A different way to think about it is to think of the web. Back when ads were just static banners, I never saw a point in blocking them.

Then, ads started actively degrading my browsing experience. Some ads would make a web page load slowly, or not load at all. Other ads would cover up the page that I was reading.

I can assume that the same can be said for some web radio ads?

If there was a paywall and it was priced too high in your view , what would you do? I assume you'd simply decide not to pay and move on. Online ads are essentially an honor system: I'll let you consume my content but you'll need to watch ads. Yet here you decide to circumvent the system instead of just walking away. Why?

The idea that there's an "honor system" always surprises me. Where is it stated that the cost of the content is watching the ads? That's not how ads work: nearly universally, what I'm told is "HEY, come get this great free content!" But when I reach for the content it's snatched away and the "but first a word from our sponsors" diatribe begins.

You can't have it both ways, either the content is free and I can consume it on my terms, or inform me of what's expected for this exchange and I'll make a decision about whether I want to pay the cost or not.

>Where is it stated that the cost of the content is watching the ads?

Does it need to be stated? When I leave my bike outside where is it stated that it's mine and you are not allowed to take a ride? Where is it stated that you shouldn't have loud conversations in the theater?

You know full well that ads pay for the content but choose to play the ignorant. You're doing this simply because you can and there are no consequences and, as of now, those that do watch the ads are financing the service you consume.

I view ads as toxic and bad for my health

Absolutely. The online advertising industry blew their goodwill with gross carelessness years ago, and have only continued to make things worse as revenues fall. Fuck 'em all. Aside from a handful of sites I can count on one hand, I'll never browse without an adblocker again. If innovations like this audio blocker catch on and start to kill podcasts too, well...sorry. Unfortunate collateral damage I guess.

The strange thing to me is people expressing that they'd rather block ads, but they're too noble to do so, so they get mad at others for blocking ads? Uh, okay?

I think most of the people doing this are playing the troll contrarian card and fishing for responses.

> "That's selfish" Yes, just like the millions of people who use adblock software on their browser.

If advertisers had gotten together and said, "people have limited tolerance for ads, so we need to work out a scheme to put limits on how much we throw at them," there never would have been any demand for adblockers.

> Adblocking also ushered in sustainable models for journalism, blogging, etc.

The new model of direct patronage is much better than advertiser funded content. They actually listen to their supporters, what a concept!

> Maybe that's because the ones that didn't went under, but I apparently didn't notice.

That's a major function of a market, forcing non-performing market entrants to shift their resources towards a function they're better suited to. It's not pretty, because it means going out of business, but it's necessary.

>> "But it'll lead to the collapse of podcast publishing".

There's money and there's money.

If one cool website gets money thanks to painful invasive advertising, I call that bad money. I'm paying them using bad money. They've chosen that I deserve that mean to pay them. Not very respectful, but I'm ok with it since I read it.

If on the other they ask me a few bucks to access them, that's good money. They basically do me a favor. The favor to have a choice : is that site so good I'm willing to pay ? 30 years ago, I was spending say 6-7 euros a month to buy magazines, so it was possible to make content interesting enough for me to pay. And it wasn't dark ages, I had some very interesting information (Dr. Dobb's, Edge, Byte...)

Last time that I brought a (local) technology magazine it was filled with ads. Paying for content and ads are not exclusive.

It's a pity in my opinion. But I understand magazine business is hard and you cannot give an alternative ad free format, more expensive, in kiosks.

If ads are a valid funding model and payment is a valid model, why wouldn't both together be valid? What matters is the total price, now how it is broken down.

Here is a gross example to make my point.

Imagine, when buying your groceries, you had to pay half cash, half by prostituting yourself. Nobody would want that.

Though, prostitution is a valid funding model, as sex workers earn a living with it.

To extend the metaphor, I see advertising as some kind of prostitution for my brain. I do not want that for my brain.

>I view ads as toxic and bad for my health, and I take measures to avoid them.

That's fine, but then your response should be to not visit the website at all. Not to take take what you want as you see fit.


> Even high quality publications like the New York Times have been struggling for a decade-plus now to figure out a way just to break even online.

False. "New York Times Co. Reports $24 Million Profit, Thanks to Digital Subscribers" [1]. 3/4 of NYTimes subscribers are online-only. They take in $100mm in online subscriptions and $50mm in online ads per quarter.


NYTimes is also actively fighting against the use of the adblockers.

Because they can pocket additional money at the low, low cost of other peoples' mental health and integrity. Why wouldn't they fight against Ad Blockers?

Ads are mental warfare and take on various different forms of manipulation. Many ads are often based on emotional manipulation rather than trying to improve your life by informing you about a good or service, they attempt to belittle you or make it seem like you'd be happy if you just bought their product.

Your life is miserable without this product. This product will make you happy. I'm lovin' it.

Tell me what useful information about MetLife this very emotionally manipulative commercial conveys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bdm4NBYxII

Their website URL? That's it. A 3 minute advertisement to emotionally manipulate you and provide you with a website URL.

Wouldn't publishers rather prefer if people paid for a subscription rather than shoving ads onto them? I think the real issue is that most users are not willing to pay for quality content. Instead, journalists are forced to produce click-bait junk that would give them lots of clicks and ad revenue. Am I missing some part of the picture here?

What’s your whole idea? You completely ignore the comment you reply to, in order to apologise for ads. It’s terrible discourse.

New York Times makes most of their money through subscriptions (you ignored this). They make additional money through ads (you pretend like that’s their only revenue).

fwiw nytimes is much easier to read with my adblocker on than washingtonpost or wsj.

as long as you're OK with all the news you get being subject to the whims of a few billionaires

This as always been true for the big news / media companies.

Independents have always struggled, and their struggle hasn't gotten particularly worse in the online age - in fact, it's probably better because they were able to use 'digital' to decrease costs whilst increasing readership (although not necessarily increasing revenue).

This is a classic case of the Internet making a more level playing field, and the old monopolies being unable to react.

The problem is that "popular news" is so accessible that anyone who can type can become a publisher. Clickbait. Which is worthless anyway. People can get their clickbait "news" fix online for free, so they don't need a subscription to a newspaper anymore. People, in general, don't care about real issues, they care about "puppy saved from storm drain" or "fat person needed crane to be taken to hospital" stories. Find a stock photo, write a fictional story to match photo, publish. There's one more newspaper subscription not renewed - and if that's the case, then it was a subscription the newspaper was lucky to have in the first place.

If monetizing with ads is obviously not working, why do it at all then?

Shut off all deeper articles behind a paywall, have just a few free articles of the full content to show people what they would get if they pay, and don't bother with the ads (and by extension, ad blockers).

Would this work? If it doesn't, then isn't the real problem the articles themselves? Their value to the intended audience is not high enough.

I mean, if the articles are so uninteresting that people do not want to pay, with ads or whatever else, and the NYT (or any other news site) cannot make the articles more interesting, then they simply scale down, or go out of business completely. A business is not entitled to a revenue stream just because they happen to exist or happen to prefer a certain delivery channel over another, or some form of monetization over other, and so on.

So... how to make the articles more interesting to people?

Everything competes with people's time. Articles aimed primarily at entertaining its readers compete not only with other news sites which do the same, but also with Netflix, Youtube, games, movies, books. There is too much competition.

I say: bring back good old fashioned investigative journalism, make high impact articles which expose corruption, dig deep into things, and so on.

In short make the articles worth people's time, and they will surely pay for those, too.

And ditch the ads. (Yes, I am actually pro paywall, as long as there is a high quality freebie or two every week)

The problem with subscription models is that unlike with ad revenue and donation models, you cannot subsidize your circulation by extracting more revenue from wealthier people more for the same service.

I assume you mean this sarcastically, as that sounds like a feature to me, not a bug

I absolutely don't mean it sarcastically. If you want to make money as a media service in today's extreme wealth inequality, you need to find a way to do this. There are no exceptions.

I might be misunderstanding you then; it sounds to me like you're saying that companies need to make more money without making any changes to their service. This doesn't seem to make any sense to me; if the service remains exactly the same, then the costs remain the same, so if you keep increasing how much money you make, eventually you'll become profitable and shouldn't need to continue to increase the cost of your product. Am I missing something?

if I can charge different people different amounts for the same service, then I can maximize my circulation at the same time as maximizing my profit per person.

> Maybe that's because the ones that didn't went under, but I apparently didn't notice.

what if something of value was lost?

Its worth investigating the increased use of Subaudible tones to demarcate commercials. These subaudibles are originally intended to be captured by your phones and tablets in order to allow the company to track you across multiple devices through their microphones. the tones are also used to detect commercial ad presence for analytics companies or suites used by advertisers.


One could use these tones to 'detect' a commercial and avoid it, or strip out these tones entirely to promote operational security amongst devices.

>One could use these tones to 'detect' a commercial and avoid it, or strip out these tones entirely to promote operational security amongst devices.

Or one could layer superfluous erroneous tones into every stream to poison the dataset.

Good point. Note I have designed Adblock Radio to rely on audio only, so that it gives the smallest possible margin for radio operators to circumvent it.

I do not rely on metadata, nor do I use the usual time schedules for ad breaks.

That's great, but can't you use the subaudible tones as an additional blocking metric? Or even as an assessment metric to flag potential false negatives?

It may be possible, research is needed on that topic

And poison the advertiser's dataset as well.

I like this two-horned decision dropped in the broadcaster's lap.

Yeah, advertisers dataset is what I'd want to target.

Make a crowdsourced list of 'uuids' or whatever these tones are decoded as, and then just inject a constant stream of random ones into any audio signal. With 1% participation, could probably make advertiser dataset worthless.

Interesting! Thanks for sharing.

This might be a criterion among others, as there will always be ads that do not have subaudible tones.

This makes me wonder, what are other viable revenue sources for content creators besides ads?

Personally I don't mind listening to a few ads on a podcast because I assume it is helping the creator cover their living expenses so that they may continue creating content that I enjoy. And spoken ads (hopefully) are not tracking me, although I suppose there are ways to overlay inaudible tones that other devices can pick up, etc.

I find ads in general, and particularly audio ones, to be a super annoying cognitive burden. I have to interrupt my train of thought and consciously block the message they're trying to pipe into my brain.

I'm happy to pay for things if its low friction and reasonably priced, but will never accept being advertised to (in any form really, but especially audio and video ads).

An audio adblocker seems like a great thing, and I'm excited about this. If enough of us use it, hopefully we can force creators to abandon ads and find a model where they work for us, not the ad companies.

I wish there was a way to block billboards too. Back when google was making google glass, I thought it'd be possible to block out billboard advertisements someday.. to bad that didn't work. Or, just move to a state that bans them, I guess.

> If enough of us use it, hopefully we can force creators to abandon ads and find a model where they work for us, not the ad companies.

Why not just stop listening to what they’re creating?

Because the content is desirable.

Agreed. I believe a lot of people have beef with online advertising primarily because of the programmatic nature of it, which hurts user privacy and site UX by causing the page content to jump around, not to mention loading new ads if the page stays open,.

But, I don't have issues with podcasts where they work directly with a company to pitch a product. It's old school and it isn't as impersonal and cash-grabby as a junky website with an Adsense account.

I can imagine a tool like this becoming necessary when Amazon/Google start piping in ads through their home speaker products.

We just can't have nice things, I guess.

like they'll let you run this on your amazon/google ad-supported home speaker product...

> what are other viable revenue sources for content creators besides ads?

I don't mind paying content creators directly. I do mind allowing them to commodify parts of my mind.

I'd like to see a model where Patreon expands into making their apps more optimized for audio/video playback.

People could produce ad-free versions of their podcast for Patrons.

Apple or other podcast vendors would also be in a good position to provide an open standard for subscription podcasts without ads.

This happens already. A few podcasts I support via Patreon have ad-free feeds that they supply to patrons as unique URLs for the RSS feeds. Presumably they can cut you off if they find that you then rebroadcast or share those URLs broadly.

The Economist also does this - if you have a digital subscription you get a private/unique URL with an RSS feed serving the complete audio edition. If you cancel the subscription the feed stops working.

> This makes me wonder, what are other viable revenue sources for content creators besides ads?

people willing to pay for content worth paying for

Completely agree. I use multiple ad- and tracker-blocking browser extensions, but mostly due to the tracking. Incidentally, while blocking ads online can be noticed by the serving party (to e.g. display an annoying warning) those behind the goods/services being verbally advertised are none the wiser.

> There are ways to overlay inaudible tones

Are you referencing prior work or was that hypothetical? There is actual prior work on this. They were able to engineer a POC that could trigger "Hey Siri" and "OK Google" inaudibly by broadcasting it with ultrasound on a harmonic of the correct frequency, but at a pitch inaudible to humans [1]

[1] https://arxiv.org/pdf/1708.09537.pdf

The ads might not track you, but you might be tracked when downloading the podcast and the included ads might be personalized. I've noticed that the ads in certain podcasts are completely different when downloaded from a different location while traveling.

This is correct. I received Illinois relevant messaging on political podcasts towards the last US primary election, and it remained when in other states while traveling.

Other viable revenue sources must include, and I mean this seriously, having a full-time job and doing podcasting on the side.

Something that does not generate revenue (easily) is often referred to as a hobby, r&d, or fun.

I'm much more interested in the podcast that is made for fun, than one made for profit.

If you end up producing value to others with your hobby, and you decide to ask for value in return, by all means, do so, and provide a non-de-platformable method of compensation.

So you also prefer art, food, clothing, software, and housing created by hobbyists?

Food, clothing, software as part of an integrated system, and housing, no.

> And spoken ads (hopefully) are not tracking me

While I understand that there is value in physically locating you as you play it, but the fact that the spoken ad got onto your podcast means that you are in some way located, right? I've gotten area (ie. ISP that don't exist anywhere else) specific messages in my podcasts.

I guess they don't get as much usage data as lot of other apps, unless the playback app shares it.

Advertisements sell their product in a narrative that I don't subscribe to. I aggressively block all forms of advertising, and on the occasion when I'm forced to watch an ad I usually can't believe what I am hearing or seeing.

I can't help but think that advertisements are somehow toxic to the mind.

Patreon. There are quite a few which have never run ads and are making bank.

The ideal format, arguably popularized by Chapo Trap House, is that you have a weekly free show and then at least one weekly bonus episode.

Having a free tier of service is not a new concept.

I probably wouldn't use this as I would feel bad about it but as a UK listener I've listened to SO MANY adverts from American podcasts for products I can't buy.

I pay for stitcher premium and export the feed to an app that's actually useable.

I recently paid to support Thrilling Adventure Hour on patreon and find it pretty crappy they still have adverts on the paid feed.

> I recently paid to support Thrilling Adventure Hour on patreon and find it pretty crappy they still have adverts on the paid feed.

Is there any way to discover ad-free podcasts, paid or not?

I've essentially abandoned podcasts because of my annoyance with ads, and have instead been paying for audiobooks.

I remember listening to a podcast (can't remember the name) but the adverts were tailored to my location.

I think the MP3 gets generated based on location.

A lot of audio ad broadcast software uses a combination of audible or inaudible tones to act as "triggers" to mark a location where an ad can be injected using some kind of location/time/etc aware data, the ad itself is very rarely baked into the stream unless it is something you're listening to a host read themselves.

In podcasts, the ad injection software will often pause the audio at the point where the ad tone occurred while it plays the ad, and resume it afterwards for continuity.

AdSwizz's AIS suite is one example of the tools commonly used for this: https://www.adswizz.com/ad-insertion-suite/

(I work in the internet radio space, lots of old-school internet radio streams are similar).

How does this work with a typical podcast player? The media download is typically just an mp3. The podcast software maker would have to be in on the scam otherwise it's an mp3 that plays from beginning to end.

When your player requests the mp3 file in this example the server on the fly can generate an mp3 file that your player then downloads. This means that they can serve different ads in old podcast episodes or even remove them in old episodes.

I heard about this tech on a podcast actually.

If you're just downloading an MP3, there isn't any kind of ad injection going on.

Ad injection would apply if you were using your favorite podcast network's app, webplayer, etc.

Ads in a plain MP3 are "baked in"

Similar to Cue Mark [0]

I remember my dad pointing this out many years ago on ITV in the UK.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cue_mark

I also did hear American ads when listening to a foreign podcast in a non-English language.

It seems like the ads are added to the audio file at the start and the end of the podcast.

(I use Player FM)

I've seen this too. A politics podcast I listen to on Spotify played me some targeted get-out-the-vote messaging about my local & state races in November. I'm assuming Spotify provides them that data via customer's billing addresses. Or maybe they get it from location sharing via Waze (which has Spotify integration).

An MP3 files is mostly a collection of encoded frames. You can just concatenate them.

Podcasts without chapter marks should be deleted.

Why downvote? Chapter marks are a must-have.

Panoply has developed software for podcasts that allows them to inject targeted ads into downloads, which makes podcast advertising closer to the nightmare that we see on the web.

However, that could offer another avenue for ad-blocking. If you download multiple podcasts from different IPs, you can isolate the ads by finding the parts of the audio that are different.

That's a great idea if the injected ads are exactly the same length and always get put in the same place. If you have a 30 second ad in one download and 40s in another, 10 seconds of legitimate podcast audio gets interpreted as an advertisement.

It works even if they don't, you just need a more intense algorithm to do similarity matching across all offsets.

With maximally repeated sequences, you can https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/6012115

You "just" need to find all the common segments between different downloads; those are very likely to be the actual content, and not differing ads. Naturally this doesn't work very well if the pool of ads is low and you get repeats.

I'd be really excited and willing to pay much more than the normal mobile app price to have this for my podcasts.

Nothing pisses me off quite like the time waste that is podcast advertising. I skip them, but I was dreaming of a system like this...

> Nothing pisses me off quite like the time waste that is podcast advertising.

Why would you be more willing to pay to an app developer who will shut down the revenue stream for the content creator, than to listen to the ads and therefore fund the content creator?

Unlike with web advertising, you're still downloading the ad in this case, there's no way for the creator or the advertiser to tell that you blocked it after.

I've never bought anything from an ad, never intentionally clicked one or visited a link from a podcast ad. There's truly no difference for me. Their revenue stream will remain intact, the kind of people who do that will keep doing that.

The revenue stream won't remain intact. This lowers the effectiveness of ads in the long run, reducing the price of ads and reducing the revenue for content producers.

There's no way to spin this around: this reduces revenue for the creator of the free content you're consuming (and for all other creators).

Everyone loses, except for the app maker, that makes money (if they are selling the app) by sucking it out of the content creators.

I don't think so, the people who would use this are likely to be the same people who click the skip 30s button now and wouldn't buy things from ads anyways. The only reason this doesn't work out in browser based ones is because we block at the HTTP level and they pay per impression not per spot/per download like podcast advertising.

But if you do happen to be right and the model falls apart, that's even better. I'll gladly chip a bit of money to creators who are worth it, but right now there's no easy and affordable way to do that. I actively want to see advertising based business models fail so we can see those systems evolve. I hate ads.

I'm going to spin it around: It reduces revenue from ads, thereby reducing advertising. Now the question is, how much content do you think is both something you truly want to listen to and something few people are willing to directly support financially. Personally, I'm starting to think that maybe all the crud advertising enables is just another downside to ads, not the benefit in the cost-benefit analysis.

So you'd kill advertising and content for everyone else just because you're personally willing to fork up money?

I don't know about the OP, but I would.

The advertising industry has repeatedly shown itself to be sleazy and underhanded and willing to throw everybody under the bus to make money for themselves. Spam, malware, pop-up ads, tracking cookies, extra loud volume commercials, etc. They can't go out of business fast enough, IMO.

You probably wouldn't defend a pay-day loan business, so why defend advertisers?

I don't have that power, and even if I did, I wouldn't ban advertising. That's not what I'm suggesting at all. I'm saying I'm growing skeptical that the content advertising finances is actually valuable to the consumer, and am starting to think it may actually be harmful.

A lot of media is designed to be addictive, hooking the consumer in order to create a captive audience for ad delivery. I'm no longer sure the ads themselves, or even the tracking they often entail, are the worst thing about the whole system. That's why I'm not too bothered about giving people the tools to not see or hear ads if they so choose.

> that the content advertising finances is actually valuable to the consumer

They are not, advertisement never creates value for the society, it's a 0-sum game. They never add value they only shift the stream of money from a producer which makes a good product which would sell without ads to a producer which has money to invest in ads to trick people to buy the worse product.

> advertisement never creates value for the society, it's a 0-sum game

You're plainly, absolutely, completely, wrong. But, as you made the claim, I'll wait for your burden of proof.

> They never add value they only shift the stream of money from a producer which makes a good product which would sell without ads to a producer which has money to invest in ads to trick people to buy the worse product.

You just stated a very narrow case, as if it represented the whole.

Your argument is essentially "if you're selling well without ads, then ads will not add value", which is self-evident, but irrelevant.

How am I wrong that ads are a 0-sum game for the society? Perhaps I'm ignorant, but I really don't see where the value is for society. I understand that it's not for the advertiser, but for society?

Advertising enables product discovery, price discovery, and so on. That should be enough to answer your question.

Putting up a sign in front of your shop saying "New Mousetrap - Improved Design" is advertising.

If you make a better mousetrap and nobody knows about it, your mousetrap is irrelevant.

Sure, not all advertising generates benefits to society, just as not all products do.

There is a difference though, if I want to know something then I search for information, I go from one shop to another and do research to discover the best product. Which is kind of a pull mechanism.

What advertising does is a push mechanism, where they try to flood my brain with nonsense so that I get confused and don't buy the best product for me, but instead buy something the advertiser sells.

Product and price discovery can be done by me doing research, so saying that it's advertising enabling that is just dishonest.

Sure, and putting up a sign in front of your store is advertising.

Advertising is communication, you might not like it, but it is communication. It is product and price discovery.

>The revenue stream won't remain intact. This lowers the effectiveness of ads in the long run, reducing the price of ads

This is a good thing.

>and reducing the revenue for content producers.

They'll just have to be creative in finding ways to monetize.

>The revenue stream won't remain intact. This lowers the effectiveness of ads in the long run, reducing the price of ads and reducing the revenue for content producers.

That would only be true if everybody hearing the ad responded to it. Obviously that doesn't happen, and there's an implicit assumption in advertising models that only some percentage of the listeners/viewers will respond to the ads. People blocking the ads are unlikely to respond anyway, so whether they block the ads or not doesn't make much difference in the long run.

>I've never bought anything from an ad

Do you mean any ad ever, or just a podcast ad? If it's the former that is a pretty bold claim.

Really? At least for ads which track the click I am almost certain that I can say that I never have. I've been using AdBlock since the very early stages when it was available and even before I actively avoided clicking on ads. It might be that before AdBlock I would have seen ads about something so that my subconscious mind attributed the constant reminder about that product with some kind of quality (like TV ads). Then, once I had to buy a product which did what this one did I would more probably buy the one which I felt I knew already. But that is a negative thing about ads, not a positive.

I'd be happy to fund the authors, with money. I don't ever want to see or hear another advertisement in my life, and I never will. If there's an option to pay the authors, great.

I'd love to see adblockers so successful that that "revenue stream" becomes completely worthless and nobody considers advertising again.

I dislike advertising more than I like the modal podcast I listen to. Isn't the question obvious? Why do people pay for any <X> and not <Y>? Because they've decided <X> is a better buy. The real surprise here shouldn't be that I or anyone else holds that view, it should be that podcast providers pursue a revenue strategy that makes their customers take money they're clearly willing to spend on podcasts and spend it elsewhere to make podcasts enjoyable.

The interesting thing about this is that the listener already isn't likely to be a converted customer from the ad anyway, and these podcast ads are recorded in place for forever (and as such are usually, in my experience, a fix cost and not variable like ad images). So, it doesn't seem likely that the creator is making "less" as you imply, at least not immediately.

I would prefer to instead pay the content creators for an ad-free version, but many of them don't sell that.

Hi, author here.

Thanks for your message.

Please submit your podcasts on https://github.com/adblockradio/available-models

Are there instructions for training so we can contribute our own models? I've been wanting to play with ML and this seems like a fun way to do it. I read the write up and briefly looked at the repos and didn't see training instructions.

Training is not open source (yet?).

Among other questions, there is an issue with the copyrighted dataset that needs discussion.

Is the preference to bulk submit a single issue for a list of 6-10 podcasts or make individual issues for each?

Please do it individually, thanks!

I aggressively block ads and all other forms of tracking in my browser, but I have to admit that I don't generally have a problem with podcast ads. Listening to some podcaster blather on for a minute about some product or service at least gives me the warm fuzzy feeling that they're earning something for their efforts.

More podcasters really do need to get on the premium ad-free model though. I pay money to make ads go away on a few platforms (YouTube, Spotify etc) and would gladly put my money where my mouth is and do the same for podcasts. Websites, too, if anyone can come up with a decent way to make it work - AND STOP TRACKING ME!

I agree but generally avoid podcasts that are heavier in ads. As for website ads, Ars Technica has an interesting subscription that stops ads and tracking.

I agree and also pay for YouTube, Thunderbird (donations) and a couple of podcasts (via patreon) which do not have ads. Interestingly mostly american podcasts have ads, the German and Swedish ones don't.

> Listening to some podcaster blather on for a minute about some product or service at least gives me the warm fuzzy feeling that they're earning something for their efforts.

You don't feel the same way about a website? What is different about podcasts? Genuinely curious, because I have a similar initial reaction but am not exactly sure why.

I'm not the person you're asking, but most websites offload the ads to a different service on a different server. It's the difference between your favorite podcast performer reading some copy, and a movie on TV fading out to showcase the great deals at Luke's Honda Dealership & Taco Shop Come On Down For The Tastiest Deals In Town.

It also strongly indicates that the podcast author has vetted the ads, and is at least implicitly approving of the product; on the web, it's very likely that the author has absolutely no idea what ads are being shown to their visitors.

I built a device to do this many decades ago. An electronics magazine published a schematic for a "voice/music discriminator". This was a simple analog circuit that ran the audio through a low-pass filter and then detected sharp cutoffs. Voice has those, but music without lyrics doesn't. It's not perfect, but it cuts off ad blithering before it gets annoying.

(I should find that thing. It's in my garage somewhere.)

I would be really curious. I some day you find it please drop me an email!

This post is very well written! I like the colloquialism, exhaustive list of experiments (both successes and failures, to better educate others), future work and call to action, and a pervasive lack of fluff. In particular, this reads like many contemporary scientific papers, but is much clearer (I can understand everything with one pass - whoa!), albeit absent tabled data and extreme technical details. I wish more scientists wrote like this.

Thank you for the kind words

That's exactly my thoughts about this post.

Personally I want the same option I get from Google. I can see ads on YouTube or I can pay for an ad free YouTube. Now a creator will put their own ads inside the video is up to them. Personally I like when they put them at the end, like Smart Everyday does.

If there was an outlet where I can just pay for ad free podcast I would be happy to do it. It also would pay far more than what ads pay. I still remember the release of YouTube Red was how this was hurting creators but it was a cynical argument that paying actual money would pay less than a paying customer.

Would be fun to record 'antivertisements' to replace the ads with. Ex. Instead of an Uber ad, its 15 seconds spiel about a recent scandal they've been involved in.

Punishing advertising dollars is the only way to reduce marketshare of the industry in the long term.

This concept reminds me a nice Youtube video where the presenter suggests to associate brands with unpleasant situations in professional meetings.

It's in French, but there are subtitles. https://youtu.be/AqCB6tGR3hs?t=658

I want this for my TV in the form of an HDMI pass-through device that mutes the audio and/or greatly dims the picture while commercials are being played.

There is already software to skip TV ads. Not perfect, but good enough apparently. For a short review see https://www.adblockradio.com/blog/2018/12/10/ad-blocking-tv/

You could set that up on a raspberry Pi, to play IPTV.

A pure HDMI pass-through may be expensive because of the HDMI acquisition-side.

Great work! It is very interesting to see the different algorithms you've used and the changes you were forced to make due to legal trouble.

Detecting speech and music is particularly intriguing for different variable playback speed for speech bits and 1x for music bits.

I do not understand your sentence :/

I think that they're saying it would be interesting to use music detection to have the podcast playback switch from an accelerated playback speed during speech to normal speed when music is detected.

OK, this makes sense, good idea

I like ads on podcasts: not invasive, support the shows and can't put malwares on my pc. Honestly I find an adblock for podcasts a total dick move (outside of the intellectual exercise part of course).

> Honestly I find an adblock for podcasts a total dick move

If you expect payment for a service, give your "customers" an opportunity to support you directly. It can be a premium account, merchandise, or even a simple donation service. Don't force your "customers" to become the product.

I don't see why podcasts should get a pass.

> If you expect payment for a service, give your "customers" an opportunity to support you directly.

...but if that option isn't available, that makes stealing ok? "Hmm, I like this podcast but I don't like the ads. There's no premium support option. Therefore... I will consume the content of the podcast without the ads."

I find this line of thinking a bit immoral, to be honest. The moral option is to not listen to the podcast. And before you jump on me asking if its immoral to go to the bathroom during a TV ad break, I'm talking strictly about algorithmic ad-blocking.

It would be like if I had a place setup where you can get a copy of one of my indie video games I've been privately developing after watching an ad. My place has no option to flat out pay for copies of my indie games. But... you really like my indie games so you decide it's okay to just walk in and steal copies of my indie games until I provide you with an option to pay for them.

Not listening to the ads is so far from stealing, I am almost not sure if you're serious. It's my right to decide whether to rewind a minute, to lower the volume, to skip a whole boring episode etc'. It's also my right to process the content with an app that modifies it, for my own use.

It's not the act of not listening to them that's stealing, it's the act of algorithmically excising them that's stealing, especially (but not exclusively) if there is a premium option available.

For example, watching non-premium crunchyroll with an ad-blocker enabled is dishonest, IMO.

I agree. IMO, using an adblock is not very different from online piracy. The consumer is robbing the content creator of any kind of profit from their creative work. What is so hard about manually skipping the first 1 minute of the podcast? Or turning down the volume for a while?

If we all start using audio adblockers, advertisers will then develop adblock detectors for podcasts. Then, it is likely we will get completely unskippable ads.

The only moral options are to 1) Power through the ads (or fast forward through them) so that you may listen to the podcast for free 2) Become a premium user to skip the ads (unfortunately this isn't always an option) 3) Don't listen to the podcast

I don't understand. Why is manually fast-forwarding through ads morally okay, but using an automated adblock is not?

I find it strange that you draw the line with the introduction of algorithms. It's somehow less immoral to skip ads if the user has to put some kind of manual effort into it each time? It has the same effect on the content creator.

The content creator is not rewarded by your extra effort. A lost view is a lost view.

> It's somehow less immoral to skip ads if the user has to put some kind of manual effort into it each time?

It's morally grey, in my opinion.

If we can agree that:

1. Using an adblocker on services that offer premium versions (such as Crunchyroll) is dishonest

2. Going to the bathroom/looking away from the TV during an ad playing on Crunchyroll free is not dishonest

Then the morality line is somewhere in between there.

My philosophy is to always support the content creator in some way. To consume content while robbing the creator of their source of income (even if it's pennies) is dishonest, in my opinion. I don't have qualms manually skipping an ad I've already seen 5 times, and can quote buy heart, however.

Many podcasts actually do offer this, either via a Patreon or something like Stitcher Premium. One podcast I listen to (and subscribe to their Patreon) has mentioned that only ~10% of their listeners subscribe and that ads are a much larger source of revenue for them (even doubling subscribers wouldn't make up for this gap).

> One podcast I listen to (and subscribe to their Patreon) has mentioned that only ~10% of their listeners subscribe and that ads are a much larger source of revenue for them (even doubling subscribers wouldn't make up for this gap).

This is interesting, but isn't be an argument against offering a pay-for option. I expect the paying subscribers are more valuable per user, so any user you convert to paying increases your revenue.

I agree, I like that they offer a paid option. I just also understand why they're not eliminating the ad supported version.

Their is a difference between ads and forcing someone to be a product. The tracking software in JS ads is what turns someone into a product in my opinion.

The annoying thing is that I like NPR podcasts, and donate to NPR. However, they don't have any premium option AFAIK.

I'm with you on this one. Podcast ads usually are tasteful, non-invasive and moderately used.

The trouble with the rest of the online ad space is that they destroy performance and are VERY invasive.

Tracking and malware are serious issues as well but they're not the main reason for the vitriolic hate. Even if they didn't track you and were vetted flawlessly for malware, they would STILL be avoided like the plague by any user savvy enough to do it.

I wish websites would stop fucking around and realize that there is a limit to the amount of advertising we will tolerate. I like free stuff and I don't mind ads to fund it. But if the annoyance of the ads exceeds the entertainment from the content, you're shooting yourself in the leg.

I personally dislike podcasts that are distributed through CDNs that "personalize" the file by injecting ads (they truly resemble radio ads, in the sense that they are irrelevant and way louder than the episode).

On mobile, I use a VPN that blocks ads or malicious websites, and it happens to block the whole episodes from downloading on such podcasts.

I do agree that some ads can be enjoyable (like the sponsored narrations of the authors endorsing a product in a playful manner -- think "No Such Thing as a Fish" or "Comedy Bang Bang").

I try to support artists that accept donations through Patreon (on a per episode or monthly basis), but this quickly gets expensive.

I would like some sort of way of actually prorating a set amount of money between the podcasts I'm listening to (something like Brave browser, but with more accountability).

I always skip them and I never buy the products. Like with web ads, Adblock here will just increase my quality of life with no cost the content creator.

Except if everyone did it, pretty much every podcast would have to shut down.

True but irrelevant

Worse things could befall the world.

Agreed, or if you're not in the mood just fast forward a wee bit

One of the major problems I have with podcast ads, is the terrible timing of ad breaks. Certain networks have a tendency to ignore the pacing of their show's content, and break into the middle of a dark and serious moment to advertise some idiotic comedy show. It's tasteless and super distracting.

The other issue is that a handful of the shows I listen to that are patreon supported, are starting to introduce insane amounts of ads. One of the shows I listen to, always opens with 5-7 mins of ad reads, and then continues to have smaller, 3-4 min ad breaks throughout the show. It's frankly too much.

I've done my due diligence and left low reviews on these shows, but that really doesn't matter. I'm all for adblockers due to the seemingly brazen injection of more and more advertising in a space that used to use advertising in moderation.

Guess I disagree. They are a mental burden that I didn't ask for and don't want. My life, my rules.

And I totally despise ads on podcasts. I find them very invasive. When I'm listening, I often don't have hands free to fast-forward.

The problem with "premium" podcasts is that every publisher has their own premium, and some publishers don't seem to have a premium ad-free option at all.

What I'd prefer is an ad-free central podcast service or app that I could subscribe to for ad-free podcasts. I'd be happy to pay for that. Failing that, I'd jump on any podcast player that used this technology to skip ads automatically for me.

Music streaming services license music this way IIRC.

I hate ad and meta content on highly produced podcasts like 99% Invisible. They waste at least 2-3 minutes at the beginning and end on credits and ads, plus additional ad time in the middle. I already skip past it, it'd prefer if it was skipped automatically.

The same goes for public media beg-a-thons. We get it, you want people to donate. Don't waste 30 min of our time begging.

This is why I can't watch most "youtuber" youtube videos, I get unreasonably frustrated when I hear the words "like" and "subscribe."

It supports the subscription business model.

This is fantastic. Can we use this as a proxy when we input RSS feeds into our podcast apps? I use Overcast on iOS, for instance. I'd love to remove all audio ads from Overcast, both dynamically inserted and normal "live reads," which are also fairly toxic.

Dynamically inserted ads could be automatically removed. Live reads are more difficult. It would require natural language processing, which is out of reach for now (but help is welcome!)

Adblock Radio as a proxy is totally feasible (Pi-Hole like https://pi-hole.net/). I am currently working on this.

I should note the dev of Overcast has his own podcast, which is replete with TONS of ads! I don't want to listen to these ads at all. I guess may as well add this feed to the training set.

That's what I've been dreaming for ages!

I've been musing about a system/software that could listen on my PC's audio and control/adjust/mute the volume when it detects ads.

Such a system could also work for video content played on a PC!

This system could also be implemented on a dongle-like Raspberry Pi that would take the PC's audio output (3.5mm jack in/out), process the audio, and play back the "clean" audio to it's jack output: that could be seen as an audio firewall.

I think that working with analog audio (instead of official radio's streams) is the way to go to avoid legal issues: they cannot plug the "analog hole"!

I would really like this if only because I listen to a radio station through iheartradio and they run the same 3-4 commercials during breaks for weeks at a time. Just give me some different ads and I might not want to skip them!

I will be very interested to see how well this does. This has been something I wish existed for a long time. Great work!

I’d much more prefer to pay the podcaster directly than to listen to ads. But this doesn’t seem to be an option.

In the UK this is called a TV Licence, it funds the BBC radio stations (local and national) that feature no adverts at all. I cant stand commerical radio and have never listened to one through choice.

Hey op, my 2¢: just mute them, everywhere. Duplicate the audio stream, detect ads, use that to mute the volume of whatever is playing the ads.

It's what I do on adblockradio.com/player

I am currently working on Sonos / Google Home / Amazon Alexa

> Sonos / Google Home / Amazon Alexa

Interesting, are you planning to mute Sonos/Home/Alexa by analyzing it's audio output stream? If so: do you plan to use the devices audio controls?

Are you planning on using the Sonos/Home/Alexa microphone for detection of other sources?

I plan to "man in the middle" the HTTP stream.

It would be cool to have a bluetooth speaker that has an embedded ad blocker (muting or e.g. replacing the audio by favorite songs).

What would be your psychological price point for such a product?

At most 1.5 times the price of a conventional speaker.

Why not have a service that maintains metadata for popular podcasts with the timing of the commercial parts so players that know how to read it can auto-skip? The players can charge for the option and the metadata can be supplied by the content creators so they get a portion of the proceeds. If the content providers don't want to supply the information it can be crowd-sourced.

Seems interesting, I will try it. If it is working I may finally listen again to radio in my car after having stopped it for many years.

made a comment when Apple acquired Shazam a few months ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18066724

>...Unfortunately all product paths I can foresee will surely lead to targeted replacement ads, played at higher volume

Any thoughts on other ways to monetize? ;-)

"I started Adblock Radio in the end of 2015, a few months after completing my PhD studies in fusion plasma physics."

Now I feel sad.

What makes you sad? The fact that there is not enough funding for fusion plasma research? Or my unconventional career choices? :)

I think the way to go is directly supporting Podcast makers (outside of the platforms like Patreon who have dubious censoring practices). The ad-based model is inherently flawed and luckily it seems that most podcasts providing valuable content are moving away from it.

Care to give some examples? Patreon allows pretty much everyone.

The has recently been a controversy with Patreon removing some content creators accusing them of "hate speech". Here is a pretty comprehensive summary: https://podnews.net/update/patreon-controversy

Quite a few conservative “undesirables” were banned recently.

I have an automated system that is recording mixes from various radio stations and I was wondering if it's possible to get this to run on a saved file? Say I had an mp3, is there a way to run it through such program and get a resulting ad-free version?

I would love to implement this on my Google Home mini when I listen to radio stations. If the radio stations are not going to provide an option to pay to not hear ads, I will gladly pay for a service to block ads.

I am working on a "Man in the middle" device that would filter audio streams before they reach players like Google Home.

Great article, thank you for sharing.

About the machine learning model; forgive me if any of these questions were covered in the article:

1) Why classify as three categories (music, talk, ads) versus just two (ads, content)? Seems like that might help simplify things, since I assume all we care about is whether something is an ad or not.

2) So based on the description you're feeding 4 seconds worth of buffer into the model for classification, every second; the model being a stateless RNN. I'm curious, did you try just using a (1D) CNN instead? That would allow you to use a more robust architecture, versus RNNs which tend to be finicky. (And RNN doesn't seem to provide benefit, since you aren't using its state, other than potentially being a smaller model).

3) AFAIK there are loss functions which penalize false positives (in this case, penalizing incorrectly tagging content as ads). Was this experimented with?

4) This one is more of a curious idea: 4 seconds worth of buffer might lack enough context, which we can see play out in some of the failings alluded to in "Future improvements". So I'm curious...

Suppose, if your architecture isn't set up this way already, that you've got a layer before your final layer that's just a little bit bigger than the number of categories. Say, 32 features. (A lot of RNN architectures are built with an output matrix that's HiddenState => Outputs (n=3). So I'm suggesting HiddenState => Embedding [n=32] => Outputs [n=3]).

Train that architecture like before. Now, take that trained model and chop off the output layer so that its output is those 32 element vectors. We can now build a secondary, context model on top of it. It takes as input those 32 element vectors (one vector per second) and outputs the same classifications (ad/not-ad). But since its input is much smaller, you can train an RNN with a much, much deeper BPTT.

Hopefully this model can not only be more intelligent by using context, but also take the place of your hysteresis.

Since the underlying model is fixed, you can pre-compute its outputs on your dataset, so there's absolutely no cost while training the higher order model (and the pre-computed dataset will be really tiny; 32 elements every second would be only 100mb for your 10 day corpus.)

Now, this is somewhat dependent on your corpus being of the nature "here's a long section of audio where the ad is tagged precisely". i.e. it can just be a mixed bag of "this whole audio segment is ad/not-ad". If you don't have that kind of data you'd need to create it (assuming my crazy idea is worth the effort). Hopefully you wouldn't need much. This higher order model shouldn't need to be very complex, which means it doesn't need a big corpus.

Or you could try to use a CTC loss function, in which case you just need a dataset that's large chunks of audio and vague labels like "this length of audio has 1 ad somewhere in it."

By the way, this isn't intended as advice; I'm by no means a domain expert here. I'm really just thinking out loud. And since none of the other comments at the time of this writing are discussing anything other than the morality of this software, I thought I'd take the time to inject some more technical discussion.

> hip-hop music, easily mispredicted as advertisements

Well given the endemic use of name dropping and product placement in popular hip-hop, I'm not sure that's a misprediction ... :P

Joking aside, one thing that might be useful is to find a stream with positively no ads (e.g. Spotify Premium, Apple Music, etc). Play that through a trained classifier. If the classifier ever detects an ad, add that audio sample to your corpus.

Thank you for your high-quality technical questions.

1) Audio streams are naturally segmented between those three states. Separating talk from music is rather easy. The most challenging part is to separate talk from ads (spoken ads) and music from ads (musical ads). Filtering ads and talk gives you a music-only experience, which is good when you want to work for example.

2) 3) I am not an expert on RNNs. My understanding is that the LSTM keeps the state between each prediction. I will hopefully get back to you with more precise answers.

4) Your idea about the embedded layer N=32 looks very smart. The dataset is, strictly speaking, a mixed bags of 10-second 100% ads, 100% speech and 100% music (with some slight tolerance at the edges of the track). But when labeling data, I have often tried to label contiguous segments of a minute to several minutes. Though, to not spoil the dataset, I often get a discontinuity on transitions (e.g. music -> ads). So in conclusion I would need to create the dataset you describe. Not a big deal I guess.

X) Streams without ads are quite common. E.g. http://www.radiomeuh.com/ or https://www.fip.fr/ The thing is that you get a very big corpus of whitelisted data. Too big actually. The solution I have used for a while is to monitor the radio metadata (using https://github.com/adblockradio/webradio-metadata) and downloading musics with youtube-dl. It worked quite well to bootstrap ;)

Is there any way we could keep in touch apart from Hacker News? Feel free to email me if you feel like it.

The reason ads for podcasts don't deserve blocking and are OK is that they are completely opt-in. You have to enter a code or go to a URL in order for the podcaster to get credit.

The reason why audio adblocker should definitely exist:

those ads will be updated one day.( Company/product shut down...)

I would suggest to integrate a simple local music player during ads and allow to select a specific playlist.

I would not know how to do it on the web player, such as https://www.adblockradio.com/player/ Do you have an idea?

On standalone players, it a really great idea and it is already being considered.

I wonder if this could work with Spotify free tier.

I've tried this a few years back when Spotify started repeating some annoying ad over and over. It's quite "low-tech" compared to adblockradio, but it worked pretty well.


OP here. Feel free to tinker with this!

Like the sound of this!!

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