Facebook cant win against ad blockers, says Princeton professor

Last week, Facebook had announced that it was taking measures to prevent ad blockers from working. But, Princeton University assistant professor Arvind Narayanan and undergraduate Grant Storey, who have created an experimental ad “highlighter” for the Chrome browser, says that Facebook can’t win the war started on ad blockers.

facebookIn a blog post introducing his ad highlighter, the Indian-American professor argues that Facebook simply can’t win. Facebook had claimed earlier that it would make its ads indistinguishable from regular posts and thereby impossible to block. But soon, Adblock Plus, the developers of leading ad blocking company released an update which enabled the tool to continue blocking Facebook ads.

“What is happening here is that Facebook’s HTML code for ads has slight differences from the code for regular posts, so that Facebook can keep things straight for its own internal purposes. But because of the open nature of the web, Facebook is forced to expose these differences to the browser and to extensions such as Adblock Plus. The line of code above allows Adblock Plus to distinguish the two categories by exploiting those differences,” Narayanan writes.

Researchers created a prototype tool that detects Facebook ads without relying on hidden HTML code to distinguish them, ‘MIT Technological Review’ reported. It looks at the parts of the Web page that are visible to humans. Facebook Ad Highlighter simply looks for and blocks any posts with a giveaway “sponsored” tag.

The report in the MIT Technology review further states that a user who installed the new ‘Facebook Ad Highlighter’ can see ads in the News Feed as grey and written over with the words ‘This is an Ad”. The research team claims that Facebook can’t prevent their experimental add-on for Chrome browser graying out ads in the News Feed.

Narayanan concludes in his post that Facebook’s anti-ad blocking campaign is doomed, at least if it continues the current vein of acting as if the social network can somehow neutralize ad blockers completely.

“This is a simple proof of concept, but the detection method could easily be made much more robust without incurring a performance penalty,” he writes. “All of this must be utterly obvious to the smart engineers at Facebook, so the whole ‘unblockable ads,’ PR push seems likely to be a big bluff.”