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Free news sites step up pleas for consumers to disable adblocking software

One tech expert says consumers might want to ignore those requests

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If your web browser has recently updated, or you’ve loaded some new browser extensions, you may be seeing a message when you visit certain free content sites.

“Please support journalism by allowing ads,” one of the pop-up messages reads. 

In the message, there is a large link that will disable the adblocker extension in your browser. There is a smaller link that will allow you to proceed to the site while continuing to block ads.

Dominic Chorafakis, with the cybersecurity consulting firm Akouto, says adblocking extensions aren’t exactly new, but it’s possible browsers have strengthened them in recent updates.

“Sites that rely on ad revenue, of course, don’t like this at all, and there is quite a bit of effort being put in from their side to detect when a visitor has adblocking in place and either ask them politely to disable adblocking or outright prevent them from viewing their content unless they disable it,” Chorafakis told ConsumerAffairs.

Not all ads are harmless

Should consumers oblige and disable their adblocker? It’s one thing to support certain websites, but it is quite another to open devices to ads that might be more than simply annoying.

“Malicious ads are a very real thing, and the companies that are making massive profits from internet ads are not doing enough to stop hackers from posting them,” Chorafakis said. “As a result, many legitimate sites end up serving malicious ads to unsuspecting visitors.”

Chorafakis said he makes it a point to keep adblocking enabled on his devices until he sees publishers do more to control the kinds of ads they display.

“I would rather not see a site’s content than take the risk of being served up a malicious ad if that’s how they want to behave,” he said. “If there is something that I absolutely must see but am being prevented by blocker detection, then I will temporarily use a different browser without adblocking that I have specifically for those very rare instances.”

Two business models

The issue highlights a growing dichotomy of the internet. There are companies that earn their revenue from services and subscriptions and those that earn money by showing ads and collecting data. 

Many news sites have erected a paywall that prevents consumers from reading their content unless they subscribe. Most TV stations and TV networks continue to allow viewing for free but show ads to produce revenue.

This split in the internet burst into the open last week when Apple changed its privacy policy and Facebookangrily responded with full-page ads in newspapers denouncing the move.  

Apple’s newly announced  iOS14 privacy changes will require app developers like Facebook to “provide information about some of your app’s data collection practices on your product page.” The change will also require Facebook to “ask users for their permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other companies.”

In the ad, Facebook maintained that Apple’s changes will be “devastating to small businesses” that rely on its ad network to leverage clicks and sales. 

It also highlights the internet’s divide between consumers who value privacy and are willing and able to pay for the content they view and consumers who are willing to accept some limits on privacy in exchange for free content.

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