Friday, 28 April 2017 10:47

Google bans adblocker 'that could eat into profits' Featured

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Google has removed an ad-blocking extension known as AdNauseam from its Chrome Web store because it appears to interfere with the search behemoth's method of making money from advertising.

One co-founder of the extension, Daniel Howe, has no way of serving it to users as Google disables extensions remotely, preventing even manual installs, Mushon Zer-Aviv, another co-founder of the extension, told iTWire in response to a query. The third co-founder is Helen Nissenbaum.

AdNauseam was blocked in January after having been in the Chrome Web store for two years.

Nearly 60,000 users of AdNauseam suddenly found that they had lost the extension, according to an article in Fast Company. All comments, statistics, ratings and reviews also disappeared.

When the AdNauseam developers asked Google why their extension had been banned, they were directed to a developer agreement that gives the company “the right to suspend or bar any Product from the Web Store at its sole discretion".

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The poster created by the AdNauseam team in their bid to protest against the takedown of their extension from the Chrome Web store.

And the company added: "An extension should have a single purpose that is clear to users. Do not create an extension that requires users to accept bundles of unrelated functionality, such as an email notifier and a news headline aggregator."

Other adblockers like uBlock, Adblock Plus, Adblock, and Adguard also hide and block ads, trackers, and malware the way AdNauseam does. But none of these have been evicted from the Chrome Web store.

The developers have thus theorised that there must be another reason for the block. AdNauseam does not just hide ads, it automatically clicks on ads in the background, muddling efforts by advertisers and ad networks to determine a user's preferences and identity as he/she browses the Web.

This makes it impossible to determine if a click on an ad is genuine or not and would get in the way of Google making money. If these preferences cannot be determined then micro-targeting of advertising becomes difficult.

Google recently said it plans to introduce an ad-blocking feature in both the desktop and mobile versions of its Chrome browser

In a post on Princeton's Centre for Information Policy blog, Howe wrote: "So we are left to speculate as to the underlying cause for the takedown. Our guess is that Google’s real objection is to our newly added support for the EFF’s Do Not Track mechanism.

"For anyone unfamiliar, this is not the ill-fated DNT of yore, but a new, machine-verifiable (and potentially legally-binding) assertion on the part of websites that commit to not violating the privacy of users who choose to send the DNT header.

"A new generation of blockers including the EFF’s Privacy Badger, and now AdNauseam, have support for this mechanism built in, which means that they don’t (by default) block ads and other resources from DNT sites, and, in the case of AdNauseam, don’t simulate clicks on these ads."

Howe said this could represent a real means for users, advertisers, and content-providers to move away from surveillance-based advertising. "If enough sites commit to Do Not Track, there will be significant financial incentive for advertisers to place ads on those sites, and these too will be bound by DNT, as the mechanism also applies to a site’s third-party partners," he said.

"And this could possibly set off a chain reaction of adoption that would leave Google, which has committed to surveillance as its core business model, out in the cold."

Google only looked at ad issues from the point of view of whether the ads were intrusive or ugly, never from the privacy angle, Howe said.

"What they refuse to change (though we hope we’re wrong about this) is their commitment to surreptitious tracking on a scale never before seen. And this, of course, is what we, the EFF, and a growing number of users find truly 'unacceptable' about the current advertising landscape."

Zer-Aviv told iTWire that the only way to install AdNauseam on Chrome was in developer mode. The extension for Firefox works fine and can be installed from here.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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