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.

I Settled on WordPress Despite Being a PHP Hater

Those who know me personally or have worked with me professionally know I am very opinionated when it comes to tech, and I don’t sugarcoat it. So, it may come as a surprise when I launched this site, which is running in Before you go bashing me for being a hypocrite, let me tell you my story about PHP, and why I made the shocking choice.

I have been programming since I was 14 years old. I started with BASIC. By 16 I was doing assembly (and it made me ask why the fuck I was torturing myself). At the age of 23, I joined a marketing company with a loyalty platform as its flagship product. It was my first official job in the IT industry, as a PHP developer.

Yes folks, I was a PHP developer.

In the one year I worked with PHP, I understood why many people love it and stick to it. It just works. You just need to have a good grasp of the flow, and it was “dead simple” to translate that into a working site. But in reality, it is far from simple. And it will only make you closer to becoming brain dead.

I will not delve into my hatred for PHP any further, as this topic has been beaten to death and beyond.

Everything wrong with PHP in one photo. Source

So, I hate PHP. I do not trust systems built on PHP. I have rescued numerous compromised PHP-based systems (including sites built on WordPress). But why am I trusting a site built on PHP, let alone WordPress? I am simply scaling my life.

Building a website isn’t easy, especially if it is exposed to the public. Over the past 10 years, the number of things to consider to ensure that a site is working and secure has exploded. At a high level, these are the things you need to consider:

  1. PHP Configuration and Tuning
  2. Web server tuning
  3. Database tuning
  4. Network topology
  5. Security
  6. Caching

…And the list goes on.

Now, I could have done all of this myself. After all, I have the working experience to deal with WordPress. Or better, I could revive my old blogging app. But I didn’t.

You see, the most valuable resource that we have is time. I could either invest time to build my new site (which is totally doable even with my crazy schedule), or go with an established platform, and have more time for my family. At this point in my life, I went with the latter.

From a tech perspective, I am not a PHP guy (despite my background). I don’t even want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. And most of my time will be devoted to security work, which is a never-ending race. I would rather let the real experts in the platform deal with this than me.

From a business perspective, how much is your time? I could get a VPS from Digital Ocean at $10/month, spend 40 hours for the initial build of the site, and another 20 hours for security before I write my first post. That, or pay a subscription to for roughly the same price, spend the first 20 hours for the initial setup, and then start publishing.

At the end of the day it all boils down to what brings value to you. Both approaches have their pros and cons, and I have used both in various situations. For this site, I chose to swallow my pride and value my time, rather than be the perfectionist tech guy who spends hundreds of hours tweaking.