06 June 2017

SBA Research: “Block Me If You Can–A Large-Scale Study of Tracker-Blocking Tools”

AdBlock Plus is by far the most popular ad blocker, and our findings show that AdBlock Plus blocked the least amount of advertising-related, third-party requests of all tracker-blocking extensions in our measurements. The blocking behavior of AdBlock Plus can be attributed to its acceptable ads program (discussed in Section 3)which resulted in an overall decrease by 4% of blocked advertisements in our measurements. Table 6 details our findings: the majority of browser extensions, e.g., completely block googleads.g.doubleclick.net, while Adblock Plus still allows it to be included in about 1.5% of pages through HTTP and 13.7% of pages through HTTPS.

Furthermore, our measurements highlight an important issue: a number of browser extensions fail to effectively block social widgets (e.g., Facebook’s “Like” button or Twitter’s button) from tracking users. Disconnect fails to block requests originating from Twitter’s social widgets in our measurements. uBlock Origin, with the community driven EasyPrivacy rules, fails to significantly impact tracking by major social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. PrivacyBadger is the only extension to completely block third-party requests to https://www.facebook.com (see Table 6) but does not block all requests to Twitter.

Georg Merzdovnik, Markus Huber, Damjan Buhov, Nick Nikiforakis, Sebastian Neuner, Martin Schmiedecker, Edgar Weippl

Interesting study about the effectiveness of various ad- or tracker-blockers on the web. I’m not particularly surprised by the results: although the most popular, AdBlock Plus is the least effective blocker, while lesser used alternatives like Ghostery or uBlock have a much better success rate. At the same time, these extensions use less system resources than AdBlock Plus, so it’s hard not to recommend them more widely. Fortunately, in the past months they have released versions for Microsoft Edge as well, so they are available for all the major browsers. I am currently trying out uBlock Origin on Edge, while on Chrome I have been using Ghostery for at least a year.

Categories blocked by different extensions on the study
Categories blocked by different extensions, and all extensions combined. The data shows the categorized and aggregated numbers of the 30 most popular third-party services in our sample of 123,876 websites.

While on the subject of ad-blocking, the recently released Mary Meeker 2017 internet trends report has a couple of slides on the usage of ad-blocking tools, and, as expected, it’s on the rise all over the world, on desktop and on mobile. And we’re not talking about third-party tools exclusively here: with the next update, Apple’s Safari browser will start blocking third-party ad trackers to improve online privacy.

Internet trends 2017 - Global Adblocking users

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