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March 13, 2010

Tech, G.P.: A few tools can give you the advantage against annoying ads


I would be willing to bet that when I surf the Web, I have a nicer experience than you do.

I’m not bragging. I just want to make you aware that if you know a couple of the tricks that I do, you can increase your surfing enjoyment and safety. Read on if you’re interested. Let me say first that we’re going to get into some Internet philosophy here, and I know that not everyone will agree with mine. That’s the way a diverse world works. Everyone makes up his own mind, as I have. If your thinking doesn’t follow mine, that’s OK. Follow your own drummer.

But I think I owe it to my loyal readership, if there is such a thing, to inform them of options that are out there. First, let me say that advertising is part of the Internet.

Some websites depend on the income from ads to pay their bills. I don’t have any problem with that. I will let them show me ads on the pages that I look at. That’s a fair proposition. Of course, there are alternative ways of financing website businesses _ having paid subscriptions, for example.

Not many sites do that yet, but I think that will gradually increase over time. Now, I think the relationship between a website and its viewer implies a two-way agreement. The site gives value to the viewer (information), and the viewer gives value back (the viewing of ads). As long as each party is satisfied with what the other provides, everything is OK.

The problem starts when one party begins to take more than the other is prepared to give. Usually, this plays out as the website making the ad-viewing experience annoying to the viewer. It unilaterally reduces the value that the viewer gets from the site. This upsets the implicit agreement.

There is a point, admittedly one that’s very arbitrary and subjective on my part, that I consider my annoyance breaking point. Once a site goes past that point, I consider it OK to block its bad behavior. I try to be fair, but when a website shows it has no respect for my concerns as a viewer, I lose respect for their concerns in return.

In plain language, the site is forcing annoying ads on the viewer. I call these “bully” ads. I’m sure you’ve seen them. They pop out and move around on your screen, or pop up and cover what you’re reading. You know what I’m talking about. When this happens, I have no qualms about taking measures to try to stop it.

How? Here are some suggestions. First, use the Firefox Web browser instead of Internet Explorer.

The motivation behind Firefox is to provide the best experience for Web surfers. The motivation behind Internet Explorer is Microsoft’s bottom line. The difference shows.

You can get “add-ons” for both browsers, but those for Internet Explorer seem to be things that steer the user to various companies’ services.

Those for Firefox primarily do things that Web surfers want. Second, use a couple of Firefox’s add-ons. Within the Firefox browser, you can pull down the Tools menu, click on “add-ons”, then “browse all add-ons,” and you’ll get a page where you can peruse all sorts of neat things.

Click on “popular” and it will show you the most-downloaded. The very top one is called “Adblock Plus.” Select and install this one. After installing it, you will be presented with a list of “subscriptions” to select from. Just pick the one for the USA. It comprises a list of third-party ad sites that it will block.

Now this add-on doesn’t block all ads. If an ad resides on the website you’re looking at, it lets it display. If, however, the ad resides on a third-party server (very common), and is on the subscription list you chose, it doesn’t display the ad on your page.

Not only does this make the Web page less annoying, but it also speeds the loading of the page, as your browser doesn’t have to take the time to download that particular content. Here are two things to keep in mind.

One is that occasionally this add-on will interfere with the mechanics of a website. There may be a feature which will no longer work.

The second is that you can “white-list” websites that you want to be excluded from this ad-blocking. If you like the site, and want to view all the ads, or have trouble with the site’s operation, just right-click on the little red ABP icon and disable ad blocking for that site.

Remember, fair is fair.

The other add-on I recommend is called Flashblock.

This one blocks Flash content from appearing in your browser.

“Flash” is an Adobe product that allows programmers to use fancy graphics to enhance their sites. The issue here is what is meant by “enhance.”

Flash ads can be very distracting. Flash is also a good vehicle for bringing malware to your computer. Flash technology accounted for about 20 percent of malware infections in the last quarter of 2009.

If you install Flashblock, you will get a little stylized “f” in the space where a Flash element goes on a web page. If you want to see that particular content, just click the “f” and it shows it.

You can also, of course, white-list a whole website for Flash, so that none of that site’s Flash content is blocked. If you try my methods, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the difference they make.

But please remember that these are “powerful” weapons to wield against a website that depends on advertising revenue. If you do fight back against bully ads, please remember you have an obligation to be fair.

BRUCE ENDRIES is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@dailystarmail.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.