Ad blocking for the masses

Adverts, annoying aren’t they? I mean, I can stand the usual text based ads ala Google, I even put them on Ejecutive. But graphical or flash/animated ones just really piss me off, and don’t get me started on pop-ups.

I’ve been using ad blcoking software for years, and I think its about time I wrote something about my tormented struggle against advertisers.

Back in the day, it was more about speeding up the time it took to load up a web page. FilterGate was the very first solution I tried, which was recommended to my by Davey Winder in his Real World Computing column. Although I can’t really comment on it anymore, it was the best solution around at the time, and worked fairly well with Internet Explorer, blocking the majority of ads. However, pop-under ads (which were still the rage those days) and flash banners still eluded it, and the fact that it wasn’t that well designed meant I eventually ditched it.

This was also the time when software firewalls were just coming into fashion. There had been some rather high profile viruses had turned up, and the hacking phenomenon reached mainstream. The definitive software firewall then was ZoneLab’s ZoneAlarm. Intrestingly, this had a built in ad blocker similar to FilterGate, but more customisable are far more aggressive. This did mean that real content was sometimes blocked (false positives as they’re called), but the number of ads that got through reduced to about ten to twenty percent. In fact, I can’t see much difference in the ad blocker in ZoneAlarm’s Security Suite today compaired to the three-year-old version, and what they still lack is a white-list. For example, ad blockers tend to block all the images in the Apple Store, possibly as they’re all hosted on an external server. There is no way to add that site to a white-list to prevent ZoneAlarm from filtering out the ads it think its found.

For a while, ZoneAlarm lost its crown to Norton, with its Norton Internet Suite of products (of which I used versions 2003 and 2004). This also had a built in ad blocker, which was somewhat better than ZoneAlarm’s. However it did come with some severe privacy settings, such as blocking the referer by default. The main problem though, is that on any PC, Norton Internet Security would eventually kill it. I’ve had troubles with it blocking services on startup (so it took five minutes to start up my machine), breaking its own services and refusing to uninstall so you needed to completely reinstall Windows and generally being an instable lump of tard. Infact, even though it had a good ad blocker, the negatives massively outweigh any positives it had.

This is when I turned to Agnitum Outpost Pro and F-Prot’s anti virus. Outpost Pro is a fantastic firewall if you’re looking for total control, but this isn’t a firewall review. It has a ad blocker plugin, which strangly doesn’t come configured. However, you can download a blacklist for it, which removed 99% of the advertisements. Anything it didn’t get, you could drag onto the ad bin, which is a sidebar in Internet Explorer, and it remembered it for next time. Turning it on and off was a simple task using shortcut keys, and adding a site to its whitelist envolved clicking one button. It also filtered all internet content, including on e-mail clients and any web ads built into freeware/shareware applications. Score!

Unfortunatly no, Outpost is a firewall that I cannot stand anymore, but more about that later. A couple weeks ago, I got tired of using the ZoneAlarm filter (sluggish, false positives and no whitelist), so I tried the Adblock extension for Firefox. Now, being an extension for a specific browser, it has some disadvantages already; it only filters content on that specific browser and it might get broken with updates of the browser. However, that isn’t what I find most annoying about it is that it doesn’t come with a standard set of filters, instead I had to download what seems like an extension for that extension, Filterset.G. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, except that its nowhere near as comprehensive as the blacklist downloadable for Outpost Pro. It rarely catches all the ads on a page, and always seems to miss flash movies. Also, the vanilla version of Adblock doesn’t have a whitelist feature, and for some insane reason, right clicking on an ad and selecting “Adblock” does nothing!

So thats Adblock out of the picture too, so now what? Well, I don’t use anything. I just live with the ads. My biggest annoyance, pop-under ads, have been pushed back into the obsecurity of gracing only crack and porn sites, and most/all browsers have built in pop-up blockers. So the moral of the story? Don’t bother with ad blockers anymore, they’re not worth it.