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How Ad Blockers Have Triggered an Arms Race on the Web


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A representation of online ad blockers.

A study of ad-blocker detectors on Alexa's top 100,000 websites found 1,089 ad-block-detecting websites, most of which employ passive techniques for spotting and responding to ad blockers.

Credit: virusresearch.org

Muhammad Haris Mughees at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and colleagues have conducted the first large-scale analysis of ad-block detection on the Internet.

The team designed a machine-learning algorithm to crawl the Web for ad-block detectors and tested it on the Alexa top 100,000 websites. The researchers found 1,089 ad-block detecting websites and they report most employ passive techniques for spotting and responding to ad blockers, such as requesting users switch off the software or even withholding content until they do.

Still, it is relatively easy for Web users to ignore or bypass these efforts. However, a few sites are now turning to third-party ad-block detectors that use more sophisticated techniques to display ads, even when ad blockers are present and are much harder to manipulate. The use of more sophisticated techniques is not surprising, considering online advertising totaled $50 billion in 2014.

"The clash between ad-blockers and ad-block detectors has resulted in a new arms race on the Web," the researchers note.

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