You may have assumed when you installed Adblock Plus all annoying advertisements on web pages you visit would be blocked.  After all with a product name like “Adblock Plus”, it’s not too outrageous to assume the product should block ads – right?  Well your sort of right, some ads are blocked, and some are not.  Read the fine print.

I visited ABC News web site not long ago to read one of their stories.  I noticed when arriving on their site that a video at the top of the article began playing automatically.  I knew I had Adblock Plus installed so I was a little puzzled why the video began to play.  Usually, Adbock Plus blocks not only ads but any Flash embedded in a web page.  At first I thought, maybe the video was not Flash but another technology.  To check, I right clicked on the image and sure enough, the familiar Flash menu displayed.  The video was using Flash but how could that be possible?  I had Adblock Plus installed.  I noticed in the lower right hand corner of my Firefox web browser that the Adblock Plus icon was gray.  This means Adblock Plus is turned off.  I thought that was strange it was disabled since I distinctly remember I turning it on sometime back.  Unsure of what was happening, I turned blocking back on and hit Reload in my browser.  The page reloaded and when it did Adblock Plus turned itself off again and the video began to play.  At this point, I knew something was strange was happening or Adblock had a bug.  I figured I would visit the Adbock Plus web site to see if I could find any information on the subject.

It turns out Eyeo is the parent company that owns Adblock Plus.  Eyeo provides information about their blocking policies and positions on advertising to the public on their web site.  Apparently, Adblock Plus is not designed to block all content.  The company notes, “Adblock Plus exists to save its users from annoying ads”.  A rubric defining annoying or rather Acceptable ads is provided on their web site but it’s evidently not followed or enforced on some sites like ABC News.  According to the company, it’s possible to turn off all ad Blocking if it bothers you.

Unfortunately, unchecking does not work for me when I followed the instructions.  If I uncheck the box in the filters (as shown) and select “Disable everywhere” it blocks ads on other sites but when I return to ABC News and visit anywhere under the videos area advertisements continue playing on their own.  Perhaps this is a bug that slipped past the quality testing staff?

Adblock Configuration: uncheck to disable all ads

Incidentally, I don’t object to Internet advertising.  Without advertising, I’m not sure we would have any interesting content on the Internet to enjoy.  I also appreciate the pressure on Eyeo walking in the cross hairs of the Internet ad industry by blocking ads.  Perhaps there is a lesson, maybe we shouldn’t be dogmatic about ad blocking and take a more rational approach.  Taking Eyeo’s lead, perhaps industry can define an advertisement rubric and web browsers can include new features for users to adjust their ad preferences.  Eyeo’s approach considers acceptable ads from the user perspective in terms of different levels of distraction (e.g., moving images, etc).  As a security professional I look at ads differently and consider, risks of exploitation and privacy.  So for example, I would prefer to see ads as a simple JPG or image file – no JavaScript at all.  JavaScript is not strictly required to track user activity.  There’s still plenty of information available when browsers download images.  At higher levels of risk, JavaScript and then finally plugins like Flash.

A concern today is there is a growing rift in expectations between what consumers think their software applications and services are doing and what’s actually done.  People can handle a few surprises but what happens when the surprises never end?  Trust is the only commodity eroding faster than the US dollar and when it’s gone I’m not sure what happens.  We need a modern day Andy Rooney to crack the whip.