The last few years has seen an explosion in the usage of adblockers, as internet users seek an alternative to YouTube ads and pop ups that demand our attention at the worst possible times. While blocking annoying ads is far and away the biggest reason people cite for downloading an adblocker, there are many benefits. One of the most notable is that adblockers can really speed up your internet connection. But how does it work?
How does an ad slow down internet speeds?
Let’s say you are browsing the internet and see a BuzzFeed article about the 10 cutest puppies of all time. Inside the human brain is a small person who, after seeing BuzzFeed articles, hijacks the controls and drives the ship. We, powerless to stop him, must view all 10 of the puppies. Often this rogue pirate controls our judgement as well, forcing us against our wills to post the article on all of our social media accounts. Then we proceed to view that other article on the bottom about the way to lose fat that involves eating tubs of cookie dough.
The point is that we click on the article and wait patiently for the puppies to load. Before they do, however, BuzzFeed loads up all of the ads and tracking scripts that are packaged into the page. Why don’t they load the ads last? Because if they did you would simply see the puppy and click to the next slide before you have a chance to view the ad or be tracked by all of the people that want access to your data.
Ads are getting slower and scripts are getting longer
There are two forces at war when it comes to internet speeds. One (we won’t go as far as calling it “the force of good”) is the continual effort to speed up internet connections. We’ve come a long way from dial-up aka “mree-ahhh-eer-ooh-murnee-wwahhh” to the lightning fast fiber optic cables that now provide most homes with internet.
The other trend is toward bigger, slower ads and more tracking scripts. According to a CNN article in June of 2015, “The average site is now 2.1 MB in size — two times larger than the average site from three years ago.” The video ads that load on the side of your screen take just as much bandwidth to load as the videos you see on YouTube. And even before the ad loads there is a massive transfer of data between ad companies and publishers to exchange data, identify who you are or might be, and give you the ad that will generate the most revenue. It’s often the more involved ads that pay out the highest per view, so after the back and forth you’re often going to be given a large file to load.
How do adblockers increase browsing speed?
Adblockers address the above issues in a variety of ways. For one, they listen for incoming and outgoing scripts and block the ones that don’t seem necessary. These include the data tracking requests and cookies that can add up to take lots of bandwidth (we wrote a whole separate article about data privacy and cookies here). According to Farjad Manjoo of the New York Times “when you see a web page stuck loading, you can usually blame one of these trackers.”
The other, more obvious thing that adblockers do is block ads. Different adblockers do this to different degrees. Adblock Plus blocks some ads but lets others through, while Goodblock and uBlock prevent every ad from loading. The result is that the large, bandwidth-expensive ads never load, and the only thing you have to wait for is that picture of the puppy.
Sure it’s faster, but how much?
Well, it depends on the website.. Some websites really go HAM with the ads and tracking, and these aren’t just the spammy sites that you would expect. According to an article by the New York Times, loading some popular sites like Boston.com or the LA Times takes about 3 times more data and 3 times as long without adblockers than with them.
For other sites (New York Times included, unsurprisingly), the difference is much more subtle (just under twice as much data without an adblocker than with). The article tested mobile phones, where that kind of data usage can quickly lead to overage charges, but it gives a rough estimate as to the relative amount of data usage and load time on pages on desktop as well.
The bottom line
Adblocking makes your internet faster, potentially a lot faster depending on which sites you’re visiting. It also keeps your data private, and prevents unnecessary third-party scripts. These things are great, but unfortunately it comes at the cost of lost revenue and slimmer margins for the publishers that make the internet great.
At their core, adblockers are simply allowing people to take back control, and say that it is unacceptable for two-thirds of their data be spent on behind the scenes data tracking and ad serving, especially when data isn’t cheap. It’s no secret that publishers and adblockers are butting heads, but there is every reason to believe that when the dust settles it will be because a compromise is reached. People won’t tolerate the current system of advertising, but it seems fairly unlikely they would tolerate a paid internet, which publishers could fairly easily institute if they wanted to.
Blocking all ads is not the answer, and ads themselves are not evil. We believe that ads can be beautiful, funny, clever, and even charitable (just check out this compilation of amazing ads on Tumblr); and when they come at the right time they can actually be enjoyable. It’s our opinion that if users are allowed some control in their online advertising experience, a sustainable ad model can and will be found that supports publishers while respecting the users they depend on.
Written by Joey DeBruin @joey_debruin