It's no secret that ad blocking software is on the rise. One study released by Adobe and Pagefair, a company that tries to help publishers get around ad blocking tech, earlier this year found that there are 45 million active ad-block users in the United States — a figure that increased 48 percent between June 2014 and June 2015.
And Edward Snowden, the source for a slew of reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere that revealed the extent of the government's digital surveillance capabilities, thinks that's a good thing.
Here's what he said in a recent interview with Micah Lee at the Intercept:
Everybody should be running adblock software, if only from a safety perspective …
Essentially, Snowden is making the security case for using ad blockers.
Part of the reason is because so-called "malvertising" attacks are on the rise. In these kinds of schemes, bad guys buy ads through an online service, which then places them on legitimate Web sites. Visitors to those sites are then served malware as soon as the ads load. Malvertising rates more than tripled in 2014, according a report released this summer by cybersecurity firm Cyphort. Such attacks have even shown up on major sites like Yahoo.
Some who use ad blockers also have privacy concerns about how their data is collected as part of the online advertising industry. What happens, for instance, if that data is breached down the line?
And ad blocking users may also be shielded from other spying eyes.
Documents revealed by Snowden also show that government surveillance efforts are sometimes bolstered by online advertising practices. For instance, in late 2013 The Washington Post reported on a National Security Agency presentation that showed how the agency piggybacked onto Google cookies, little snippets of code used to track online behavior, to help pinpoint targets it wanted to hack.
Some argue there are ethical issues raised by using ad blockers. Many Web services and content are provided for free because they are funded by data collection and advertising. When someone uses an ad blocker, he or she still gets the free services, but isn't fully participating in the second half of the equation. The Adobe and Pagefair report estimated that ad-blocking will cost publishers $22 billion in advertising revenues in 2015.
But critics of the online advertising industry argue that its current practices have made the arrangement between Web publishers and users unsustainable. "The 'implied contract' theory that we’ve agreed to view ads in exchange for free content is void because we can’t review the terms first — as soon as we follow a link, our browsers load, execute, transfer, and track everything embedded by the publisher," wrote developer Marco Arment in a blog post about the launch of an ad blocker he released for Apple mobile devices earlier this year.
Even though his ad blocker reached the top of Apple's paid app charts, Arment later took it down. "Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit," he wrote in a blog post about removing the app.
Yet even in the same post, Arment said he still considered ad blockers necessary and recommended competitors.
And it's clear that Snowden thinks they're needed too.