Internet advertising often falls somewhere between annoying (strobelike flashing slogans), intrusive (expanding boxes that take over the screen), and bizarre (dancing babies).
All that bandwidth-guzzling video and sound also gunks up load times, so the stuff you actually want takes longer to appear because the ads weigh it down.
There’s an easy way to get rid of this nuisance. Most Web browsers allow for downloadable extra features called ad blockers. Once installed, they tell your computer to ignore anything coming from the servers of popular advertising companies. This tight defense means fewer ads and faster loading times.
One of the best options is Adblock Plus, a free add-on for the Firefox browser. It stands out for three reasons. It’s effective, letting you decide which ads to block. It’s popular, ranking as Firefox’s No. 1 add-on with more than 780,000 new downloads each week. And it’s got a conscience.
Adblock Plus’s creator, Wladimir Palant, understands that advertising fuels the Internet. Much like network television, most of the Web is free because ads help pay for it.
In May, Mr. Palant wrote that “my goal with Adblock Plus isn’t to destroy the advertising industry.... The only problem is that ads are becoming increasingly intrusive and annoying as webmasters try to maximize their profits which is the main reason people install Adblock Plus. So the idea is to give control back to the users by allowing them to block annoying ads.”
If people can block bothersome advertising, companies will design less intrusive ways to get their message across, he argues.
But he worries that users took it too far. They crank up the filter to its highest setting and never look back.
So, Palant has tinkered with a fairer alternative. He asked users to help develop a system that tracks your Web history and, if you frequent a particular site, Adblock Plus will nudge you to do the right thing and let it display the ads. You will still be in control, he stresses. Permit ads on a website you want to support; boot them off if they become too obnoxious.
Palant’s online forum, at adblockplus.org, is still taking suggestions on how best to deal with this morally gray and increasingly common question. In an age of TiVo and Adblock Plus, should technology let you push back against overreaching ad men?