Research conducted by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK has shown that blocking online adverts is on the increase within the UK with more than 1.3 million people adopting technological measures to block ads since June 2015.
Advertisers and a minority of publishers have criticised users for using technology to block their ads, claiming that this hurts publishers ability to provide free content and have likened ad blocking to theft.
The advantages of blocking online adverts are numerous, including; protecting user privacy, increased protection from malicious ads that spread malware/ransomware/adware/viruses, saving user bandwidth and increasing page load speeds.
Meanwhile, an advertiser Barry Lowenthal, gives a unique insight as to why he blocks ads, despite his career focussed on advertising;
I’ve read a lot on both sides of the argument. One side says ads pay for the content, so ad-blocking is stealing. The other side says ads have become an enabler, and clearly they don’t work since no one clicks on them anyway. The truth lies somewhere in between. But one fact cannot be disputed: The consumer experience is far better without the ads.
With ad-blocking becoming more prevalent in online communities, advertisers are seeking new ways to monitor and access your personal data (browsing habits, etc.) by developing tracker technology that will identify users and devices; Browser Fingerprinting.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a report in 2010 on web browser fingerprintability and found that
the overwhelming majority of Internet users could be uniquely fingerprinted and tracked using only the configuration and version information that their browsers make available to websites.
In our analysis of anonymized data from around half a million distinct browsers, 84% had unique configurations. Among browsers that had Flash or Java installed, 94% were unique, and only 1% had fingerprints that were seen more than twice.
PC World reported on the issue stating;
Browser fingerprinting was developed for banks to employ to prevent fraud. But now one company, Scout Analytics, offers it as a service to Web sites, and it collects not just browser data but also data about how you type–things like your typing speed and typing patterns.
Meanwhile IEEE Spectrum reports;
These browsing profiles can be so specific that they allow advertisers to target populations as narrow as mothers with teenage children or people who require allergy-relief products. When this tracking of our browsing habits is combined with our self-revelations on social media, merchants’ records of our off-line purchases, and logs of our physical whereabouts derived from our mobile phones, the information that commercial organizations, much less government snoops, can compile about us becomes shockingly revealing.
With new technologies being developed to identify users and their browsing habits for the purpose of selling accurate data to advertisers, what can users do to protect their right for online privacy?
One solution that is available for FireFox users is to install “Random Agent Spoofer” which has been developed by programmer Dill Byrne
Random Agent Spoofer allows a user to rotate browser profiles, modify headers, and control a variety of options regarding the data transmitted automatically by your browser to websites.
Spoofing the data makes it much harder for advertisers and tracking companies to identify users.
The full version can be downloaded for free from GitHub and is easy to use for non-technical users with a minimum of set-up required. For more technical users, there is a wide variety of options to further enhance your privacy online.
Random Agent SpooferRAS is a privacy enhancing firefox addon which aims to hinder browser fingerprinting. It does this by changing the browser/device profile on a timer. Each browser profile has been tailored to match the actual values used by the target browser as much as possible, within the limits set by firefox.
It also supports other privacy enhancing options.
Project Page: https://github.com/dillbyrne/random-agent-spoofer
Read Me: https://github.com/dillbyrne/random-agent-spoofer/blob/master/README.md
Installation Guide: https://github.com/dillbyrne/random-agent-spoofer/wiki/Installation-instructions
Full Version (Version 0.9.5.3): https://github.com/dillbyrne/random-agent-spoofer/releases/download/0.9.5.3/random-agent-spoofer.xpi
Source Code (Version 0.9.5.3): https://github.com/dillbyrne/random-agent-spoofer/archive/0.9.5.3.zip
You can test how unique and trackable your browser is by visiting the Panopticlick website developed by the Electric Frontier Foundation (a US based not-for-profit organisation that seeks to defend civil liberties in the digital world) at: https://panopticlick.eff.org/