Facebook vs. ad blockers: No matter who wins, you lose

Tips & tricks
3 mins
An image of Facebook downvoting ad blockers

NOTE: This post was originally published on December 15, 2018

In the latest chapter of Facebook’s war against ad blockers, developers have reported that the social media king has been actively injecting extra lines of code to help thwart ad blockers’ attempts to hide any sponsored posts.

This game of cat and mouse (where Facebook updates its code and developers scramble to detect the new changes) has been happening for years now, but FB’s recent maneuvers have left many ad blockers, well, blocked.

Under current FTC rules, Facebook (as well as every other social media platform) is forced to label each and every sponsored post. Unfortunately, Facebook’s working overtime to block the ad blockers, and so by altering their code, the social media giant can bypass any detection software and serve users adsregardless of whether they want to see them or not.

The diverging dilemma

According to the BBC, Facebook has been able to throw off ad blocking developers by inserting extra letters into their code, adding additional words into posts, and even mixing regular and sponsored posts by blurring the lines between both.

The problem isn’t necessarily spotting these changes; it’s keeping up with them. Because Facebook is such a massive platform, it’s able to change its code every few days, which puts ad blockers at a severe disadvantage. By the time they’re able to catch up and block the latest ads, Facebook’s already using a different code.

On the flip side, Facebook does offer some level of customization when it comes to personalized ads. As its help center states, “You can’t opt out of seeing ads entirely, [but] you can influence the types of ads you see by giving us feedback or hiding ads and advertisers that you don’t want to see.”

In other words, ads are a requirement when it comes to Facebook, but you can control which types of ads you’re served.

How sponsored posts typically work

There’s no question how important ads are to Facebook’s business model. “Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on,” Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth once said.

But that doesn’t mean users shouldn’t have the option to disable them. It’s no secret ad blockers have become commonplace. Millions of people use some form of ad blocker today, but more than 90% say they don’t block every ad.

Common ad blockers like uBlock Origin and Adblock Plus (which we’ve both written about before) offer users the option to pick which ads to block and which to allow. This gives users more power to customize their browsers and lets the advertisers earn revenue without having to resort to window pop-ups and automated ads.

Why you should be using an ad blocker

Yes, companies make money off ads, but some ads contain trackers, malware, and other harmful add-ons that can reduce your browser’s loading speed and infringe on your privacy. What’s more, hackers can inject spyware into ads that can steal your data without you ever knowing.

Big companies like Yahoo and YouTube have both fallen victim to malvertising in the past. Many web browsers have started implementing their own ad blocking software by default. In fact, Google’s latest blocker for Chrome, which automatically filters and blocks ads it regards as “annoying,” has single-handedly reshaped how companies view online ads.

Using an ad blocker not only helps protect your device, but it can also improve page speeds, as your browser will no longer have to worry loading all that extra data.

In short, ad blockers aren’t just good security tools, they can help filter out all the fluff in the sites you’re browsing. If you’re using an ad blocker with Facebook, you may want to keep an eye out for those sponsored posts.