Stretched across websites, carefully placed beside content and at times popping out of nowhere to steal one’s attention, we can run from online advertisements, but we certainly can’t hide.
This billion-dollar industry continues to gain strength as print advertisement dwindles. According to a report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the online ad industry earned $17 billion in the first half of 2012, up 14 percent compared to the first half of 2011.
However, as these figures increase, the popularity of the business gains the attention of cyber criminals looking to exploit the complex nature of online ad distributions as a vehicle for malvertisements: phony ads that deliver malicious payloads to compromise an end-user’s computer.
But an unlikely security tool may be able to help thwart this scourge: ad blockers, browser add-ons that allow users to block any online advertisements.
One example is AdBlock Plus, which currently has 42 million active users and continues to grow, said Till Faida, co-founder of Eyeo, a Germany-based tech startup that owns the software. Although features that block web tracking and bolster privacy aren’t promoted, Faida says that using the software provides additional security.
While these tools are primarily used to experience undeterred web surfing, the supplemental security can often entice users to download the tool.
However, as ad blockers continue to gain momentum, many question if there are grounds for a legal battle between the developers of the software and the ad industry, seeing as many of the world’s largest and most powerful internet companies depend on revenue from online advertisements.
Although no legal action has yet taken place, Maxim Weinstein, executive director of StopBadware, a nonprofit that focuses on preventing mischievous web activity, believes that repercussions are inevitable if ad blocking become more mainstream.
“It’s unclear if this backlash would be carried out in the courts, through technology, via business agreements or a combination,” Weinstein said.
Coming from an online marketing background, Faida says the ad industry should not perceive ad blockers as a threat, but as a challenge to alter the way it produces ads, which, he said, have become more intrusive over time.
“If ads are more user-friendly and if users decide to not block them anymore, then they can reach a much larger audience,” he said.