The Need for Improved Ad Blocking for A Better Digital Experience

The ad industry thinks their clients are their customers. They think the companies who pay for the production are the ones they are supposed to serve. So the ads they produce make their clients happy…but infuriate the rest of us.

Simon Sinek

Nowadays, we are constantly bombarded with ads everywhere. It has gotten worse when smartphones became popular. To top it off, companies want to track us so they can provide targeted offers (a.k.a. the segment-of-one marketing). It is not necessarily bad, but as they say, all it takes is one rotten apple.

305 ads in one page is just plain excessive and irresponsible.

Out of sheer boredom lately, I started playing with an old Raspberry Pi 2 I have lying around. It used to serve as my time machine backup, but when the hard drive attached to it got corrupted, it just sat there, gathering dust. I saw a friend of mine post stats from his pi-hole and how many ads were blocked, and decided to see if I can implement the same on my home network.

If you’re not aware, a Raspberry Pi is a small computer, that’s roughly the size of a credit card. At $35, its main use case is for educational purposes. Due to improvements in the hardware, it has gotten to a point that it can be used as a server, a desktop replacement (if you’re just a casual user), or a retro gaming machine.

After getting pi-hole running and adding a few more blocklists (thank goodness for Firebog), I turned off my main router’s DHCP capabilities to allow the pi-hole to take over as both the DHCP server and the DNS server.

After just a few hours, my ad and tracking footprint has been reduced by more than 25%.

No AdblockPlus? No problem!

Here is what I noticed:

  1. Ads and trackers are in your smart devices too. – My smart TV comes with Netflix and YouTube, and it bogs down after several hours of constant use of either app, requiring us to do a hard reset of the TV. I always thought that the TV manufacturer did a shitty job. Things changed when the pi-hole started blocking the ads and trackers from both apps. My TV no longer requires a hard reset. Responsiveness also improved.
  2. Old devices got faster. – I have an iPad 3rd gen, running iOS 9. It is horrendously slow after the last upgrade, and it got tossed aside for the past 4 years. All that changed when the ads and trackers were blocked. I could use Safari again. Firefox is still slow, but much more usable.
  3. You can identify what devices on your network has the most bloatware. – My mother-in-law uses an old Android phone, and it has so much crap. We even thought that the battery is already worn out. After implementing pi-hole on the network, I was able to stop traffic from both bloatware and malware. The nice side effect is the battery life improved.

Companies need to rethink their strategies on how to implement ads and tracking. Every time an ad is loaded or a tracker is invoked, it eats up a user’s internet data plan (especially mobile users), and precious device resources. In extreme cases, it can cause a device to stall, which most people mistake for bad hardware. Overall, this translates to bad user experiences and lost opportunities.

While most people do not have the technical know-how to implement DNS ad blocking in their respective homes or mobile devices, it is just a matter of time before someone turns this into a multi-million dollar business. VPN service providers are already poised to turn ad blocking into a premium service, which results to bandwidth savings for them and their customers. And with the push for higher levels of privacy, DNS ad blocking may become part of the new normal.