Which is better, Adblock or Adblock Plus?

Posted

Note: This is explicitly posted in my private blog rather than the Adblock Plus blog. This post represents my own opinion only. It is likely unwise to rant about a competing project but I just don’t want to keep my findings to myself. If you are here for Adblock Plus bashing and don’t care enough to read the post, please make sure to read the edit at the bottom nevertheless.

On Chrome, two popular ad blockers are currently available: AdBlock and Adblock Plus. Despite the confusingly similar names, they are completely unrelated projects. I am in charge of the latter, yet people will occasionally ask me whether I would recommend AdBlock or Adblock Plus to them. There is certainly lots of room for improvement in Adblock Plus for Chrome, so my answer typically goes along the lines of: “These projects have different approaches but the resulting products are roughly comparable.” Recently, I looked over to the AdBlock for Chrome project and was shocked to discover that things changed, a lot actually. So next time somebody asks me about AdBlock and the difference to Adblock Plus, I can point them to this blog post.

Open development

The AdBlock project started out as an open project. They used Google Code hosting to make sure people can see their source code and contribute. However, that code repository was abandoned in August 2013. The new project description points people to source code packages that they can download. So you can still see the source code but extracting individual changes requires significant effort.

Other people noticed as well. AdBlock support staff promised that the situation was only temporarily and that a new source code repository would be created on GitHub soon. I indeed found a reference to this repository so it must have been public at some point. It seems to have been marked as private however.

Several other discussions brought up this topic, in particular this one from January 2014. All of the sudden, the support staff is talking about changes they want to keep private which is why they cannot make the repository public. From the discussion, it sounds like it is all about April Fools jokes and the like that shouldn’t become public before their time has come. The discussion concludes with “AdBlock won’t have public Git repo in near future” without any explanation why the workflow suggested in some comments (separating public and private changes into different repositories) won’t work.

To conclude: AdBlock covertly moved from an open development model towards hiding changes from its users. Users were neither informed about that decision nor the reasons behind it. The source code archives are only left around to keep pretending that AdBlock is still an open source project, these are hard to find and the project owners are clearly hoping that nobody will be able to extract the individual changes from them.

What are they hiding?

Not sure about anybody else but I immediately felt the urge to download the source archives and check what changes have been implemented there. So that’s what I did. There is a CHANGELOG file in the archives but it is still better to see for yourself. Here are the highlights:

  • AdBlock 2.6.11 (2013-10-25): The AdBlock feature which sends a unique user ID to the AdBlock server every day (you knew about this one, didn’t you?) has been extended. The server can now decide that the user should see a survey — this one is being opened in a new tab, immediately, no matter what the user is doing right now.
  • AdBlock 2.6.14 (2013-11-09): AdBlock won’t just send a unique user ID to its server now, it will also transmit user’s setting determining whether Google Search ads are allowed. The changelog message for this release: “Settings measurement.”
  • AdBlock 2.6.20 (2014-02-11): AdBlock will now send a request to goldenticket.disconnect.me each time it starts up — but not in the first two days after installation. It took a while until people noticed, apparently AdBlock partnered with Disconnect.me and advertises their services to selected users. The Disconnect functionality has been actually bundled with AdBlock and ads in their search were whitelisted. Another interesting addition: the unique user ID mentioned above will be sent to getadblock.com every time an AdBlock user visits that website. Or if an AdBlock user visits getadblock.com.malicious.com. Or any other website that has getadblock.com somewhere in the host name. If I were owning a website relying on ad revenue, I would have inserted a hidden frame into every page and used that bug to track AdBlock users — maybe some websites already had the same idea? And how does the changelog describe these changes? “Beta test for survey” – yes, sure.
  • AdBlock 2.6.21-2.6.27: The Disconnect.me functionality is being heavily worked on, it looks like Disconnect developers are changing it themselves. Trial and paid memberships are being implemented, whitelisting of Disconnect search ads tweaked. According to the changelog, all these releases are “Beta tests for survey.”
  • AdBlock 2.6.29 (2014-04-28): The “AdBlock custom filters” (AdBlock-specific filter list that is installed by default and listed as recommended) add a set of filters to whitelist Mixpanel tracking on the AdBlock website.
  • AdBlock 2.7 (2014-06-06): Calling home functionality has been extended. It now sends user’s locale in addition to the unique user ID, AdBlock version, operating system and whether Google Search ads are being allowed. Also, AdBlock will tell getadblock.com (or any other website if asked nicely) whether AdBlock has just been installed or has been used for a while — again, in addition to the unique user ID. This functionality was tweaked a bit more in AdBlock 2.7.2.
  • AdBlock 2.7.4 (2014-06-20): The changelog is now visible in the extension, wow! All the sudden, meaningful changelog messages are being added again instead of just saying “bug fix” or simply referring to GitHub issues that nobody without access to the private repository can see. Now somebody would only have to make sure that these messages match the actual changes…

To conclude: If a project suddenly decides to work behind closed doors, something bad is usually going on. In AdBlock’s case, they started monetizing their users by partnering with Disconnect.me, and they didn’t want anybody to notice. When people noticed and started asking questions, they tried to downplay the impact of this change.

What about privacy?

From the AdBlock project page:

Privacy Is Paramount

And further below:

AdBlock won’t save or retrieve your personal browsing habits or information for any reason beyond what is required to make it work.

So they say. As became obvious above, AdBlock has no scruples to assign unique IDs to their users, to collect data about them (like which settings they enable) and to track the users each time they visit their website. You also cannot avoid visiting their website because the extension will send you there occasionally, most notably on first run. There is no privacy policy, so nobody knows what happens with that data. The discussion on their privacy policy has been marked private for some reason, I guess details were published there on what data they collect.

Not just that, the AdBlock project was also so careless when implementing this “feature” that every other website can track AdBlock users as well. And they explicitly allowed Disconnect.me to be notified whenever some AdBlock user starts up his browser. At least Disconnect.me has a privacy policy and claims that no data is being collected there.

To conclude: The AdBlock project only pretends to care about user’s privacy. From their actions, it is very obvious that privacy considerations don’t play any role when decisions are being made.

Does Adblock Plus do it better?

Yes, I believe that we do. We try to be open and transparent about everything we do. Our source code repositories are out there in the open (actually available both on our servers and GitHub, so that more people find them), we have a public issue tracker and public code reviews. What’s even more important, we announce all important changes in our blog (these announcements are picked up by the press regularly), the changes really affecting all our users are announced in the extension itself. And that meant also announcing controversial decisions where we knew that they would spark painful discussions.

We have a very detailed privacy policy. More importantly, we don’t just say that we won’t collect any more data than absolutely necessary — we try hard to actually do this. This means for example that user IDs are an absolute no go. This means that the first-run page is part of the extension — our server doesn’t need to know that somebody installed our extensions. This means that we can only estimate our user numbers rather than calculate them directly. This means that we have little idea about how our users configure Adblock Plus — unless these users decide to tell us. There are many things where we have to say: “we cannot do this.” But I think that we owe that much respect to our users.

Edit (2014-08-04 09:20 CEST): Two new AdBlock versions came out since that blog post was published. AdBlock 2.7.9 fixed the bug I mentioned above, now only getadblock.com can track AdBlock users and no other websites. From the response of the AdBlock team (see comment 27 below) it doesn’t look like any other points I mentioned are considered an issue. In fact, AdBlock 2.7.9 again extends the calling home functionality. Now it will also send the number of ads you blocked.

Edit (2014-07-30 10:54 CEST): I would normally disallow off-topic comments. However, some people are just too willing to bash Adblock Plus based on misinformation every time some slightly related topic comes up and accuse me of censorship when I remove their comments for the sake of a meaningful discussion. So I relaxed this rule here and replied to comments that are only marginally related to the topic discussed. Still, please have understanding that I will not tolerate insults here. Also, I might decide that comments repeating claims I already replied to are not made visible. So if you are here for Adblock Plus bashing, please make sure to read replies to comments 8, 11 and 22 first. So far four comments have not been made visible: two containing insults, one linking to a FUD discussion without any further content, and one that was really way off topic here.

Edit (2015-05-20): Much time has passed and it is now easier to see what kind of content these “surveys” contain. One survey is still active, it is a donation nag message. Others were advertisements for Disconnect Mobile (DuckDuckGo finds two more with slightly different phrasing). What I couldn’t find was evidence in favor of Gabriel’s claim (see comments) that users were actually surveyed about AdBlock’s funding approach or Disconnect functionality within AdBlock.

Categories:

Comments

  1. Dale Harries

    I didn’t realise this until I read this blog.

    I’m not against Adblock earning a few quid, after all they have families to feed and houses to keep over their head.

    It’s the lack of transparency that gets me.

    My hand is tentatively placed over the un-install button awaiting what the rest of HN / Reddit (I posted this blog to Reddit 5 minutes ago) says.

  2. Ishan Raychaudhuri

    Ok i have deleted adblock and installed adblock plus. just the fact that i have given so much trust to them and they are trying to hide what they are doing is enough for me to uninstall them…

  3. Gizmodo59

    This needs to be taken to a new level. Post on reddit, lets take it to front page.

  4. Kel Bizzle

    Wladimir, do know about Adblock Edge? What do you think of the project?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Some guy forks Adblock Plus, removes functionality without thinking much, his own contribution is mainly adding bugs, and he rushes to release our changes before they have been tested properly (again, introducing bugs in release that we fixed before releasing). What am I supposed to think about it?

  5. Zauber Paracelsus

    So, is this how some websites were able to block out AdBlock users? Or is it just one method? I think Adblock Plus and Adblock Edge users were affected too.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I doubt that this was the main problem. Most of the time websites are trying to see whether some ad failed to load and assume that an ad blocker is active – affects Adblock Plus as well of course. This approach is far from being reliable, it doesn’t tell you which ad blocker it is and it won’t give you a user ID that survives clearing cookies.

  6. YellowApple

    This is why I’ve used Adblock Plus instead of Adblock right from the get-go. Something always seemed not-quite-right with Adblock…

  7. Anon Guy

    @Ishan I wonder if you can uninstall this thing called Google.

  8. Andrew

    And what about AdBlock Plus hiding that Google paid AdBlock Plus to get its ads whitelisted?

    http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/06/google-and-others-reportedly-pay-adblock-plus-to-show-you-ads-anyway/

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Does that news coverage look like we were hiding anything? This is an aspect of the acceptable ads that has been properly documented: https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads-agreements#payment. We confirmed it whenever we were asked about it (except in the starting phase when there were indeed no companies paying for it). In fact, the acceptable ads program is a massive effort on our end and we wouldn’t be able to continue it without having somebody pay for it.

    But you’ve got it backwards. Everybody on our list was added because their ads conform to our acceptable ads criteria — not because they paid us. And it is still user’s choice whether he wants to support websites or not. The acceptable ads program is explained on every webpage where you can download Adblock Plus from, it’s mentioned on the first-run page, we had a number of announcements and community discussions about it. What exactly did we hide?

  9. Adrian Petrescu

    You should really consider rebranding – the majority of users have been conditioned by the App Stores of the world so that when they see “X” and “X Plus”, they expect that “X Plus” is the premium/monetized version of “X” with a couple of features added in to justify the cost.

    Heck, I’ve been using ABP for years and until I read this post I always assumed at the back of my mind that AdBlock was a lite version that was made by the same group.

    You seem to have the opposite situation here. It may not be convenient but you might be perceived a lot better if people didn’t subconsciously think of you that way.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I’d rather prefer that Michael Gundlach rebrands his product. We’ve built up a strong brand with Adblock Plus, it’s a project that has been evolving for the past eight years. The side-effect is unfortunately that many shady and a few less shady projects are trying to monetize on our brand. If we rebrand now and again invest time and effort into creating a new brand the problem will simply come back once we succeed.

  10. Blaise M Crowly

    Any open source project that starts of is making a promise to the community that they can trust it because they will be following the the ethical path and will be allowing users to actually verify it. When someone deceive users into thinking a project is open source when it is actually not, that is as evil as it gets.

  11. Mike

    Credit heromat: Surely you just forgot to mention that Google allegedly payed 25 million € to Eyeo GmbH, the company behind Adblock Plus, in order to participate in the “acceptable ads” program, a “feature” which is turned on by default and allows users to “surf more comfortably”. And that you are (or at least was) one of the directors.
    I’m most certain that there are people out there who would call this business model “blackmailing”, but I could also be wrong.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Interesting how you say “allegedly” and still treat it as a fact. Somebody invents a big number, presents no evidence whatsoever, and you believe it? See also my reply to comment 8.

    Acceptable Ads is something we have always been up front about. We explained the reasons why we do it. We also explained why we do it the way we do it. We went through a number of community discussions with it. Sure, what we’ve got here isn’t something that everybody is happy with — that’s something we had to accept. In the end, the user is still in control. So even the people who disagree with us can simply uncheck a preference and forget about it. And we do everything to make sure they know how to do it.

    How is that comparable to what AdBlock has been doing?

  12. James

    I almost deleted Adblock and installed Adblock Plus, but then I remembered that adblock plus has acceptable ads to allow certain content by default: http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/06/google-and-others-reportedly-pay-adblock-plus-to-show-you-ads-anyway/

    Very sneaky way of making money.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Sneaky? Not really. Please see my reply to comment 8.

  13. Charles

    Thank you for sharing this information, I was unaware of the differences and it was only chance that I’ve been running ABP instead of AB for the past few months. Keep fighting the good fight!

  14. manole

    I has adblock installed for many years, and I didn’t noticed that until I read here. I uninstalled adblock and installed adblock plus.

  15. manole

    WTF dude, do you whitelist Google ads? Are you serious? I uninstalled adblock plus and put my adblock back.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Please see https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads#who (feel free to read the rest of the text as well).

  16. Radhika

    Re: Dale

    It’s important to note that after downloading Adblock, you are redirected to a page that asks for donations, where the creator mentions that he now does Adblock full-time and relies on users to help out. This leads the user to believe that his primary source of income is the user donations, which is why monetization with Disconnect.me is such a big issue.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    The AdBlock project has multiple people working full time, it’s posting job ads promising salaries from $80k upwards. I am pretty certain that their operation is no longer sustainable from donations only, not even close to that. So please take the information you see on the AdBlock website with a grain of salt – maybe it was correct a year ago, right now it is definitely outdated.

  17. Sarah

    Oh neat, looks like I was already using Adblock Plus in Chrome.

  18. Michael Bernstein

    What do you think of µBlock?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Didn’t have a chance to look at it yet. So far the author has been posting proposals that were supposed to fix all that is wrong with Adblock Plus but always failed to consider some scenarios. These proposals also had a clear tendency to trade performance for memory use. It seems that he gave up taking to the stupid Adblock Plus developers and rolled his own.

  19. Piotr Machacz

    I am using AB+ on my bootcamp partition in Firefox, but sadly had to use Adblock in Safari on the mac side (Firefox’s accessibility with the Voiceover screen reader isn’t there yet.). Now I did my research and realised that there is in fact an AB+ for Safari and have immediately switched. I guess it was either not around when I got the mac first or the other adblock just came up in the results first and I assumed it was the same thing. Your post was quite helpful and it made me realise something… When I first installed the extension last year in June, it said it was free, but that donations were accepted. Recently I reinstalled my OS from scratch thanks to a botched Yosemite dev preview upgrade, and this time the message I got on first load was different. It said that the extension isn’t free anymore and I’m required to donate to the project, saying they wouldn’t prevent me from using it but were hoping that I would follow the instructions in good faith. IDK if that was supposed to make me feel pity or what, but after reading this it makes me guess this could be somehow related (IE the offers could be presented to people that don’t actually give adblock money), not that I received any myself.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Yes, Adblock Plus for Safari is pretty new, the first stable release was May this year. As the donations pitch in AdBlock – that one was always extremely aggressive, we received quite a few user complains because of it (people often don’t realize that AdBlock and Adblock Plus aren’t the same project).

  20. Dimitar Panayotov

    Very sad story. I didn’t realize this. I trusted Adblock for years and it really saddens me that they finally gave in to the same enemy they were fighting against.

    In any case, I was long aware of your acceptable ads program, but was never aware that the participation in it is optional. Your post helped me be much better informed, and, needless to say, I uninstalled Adblock forever and will only be using your addon from here on.

    Evidently we all must do a better job at researching what exactly are we using.

    Thank you very much for your effort on this informational campaign, and please keep sharing your insights whenever. =)

  21. Bret Comnes

    Wow Crazy!

    I made an effort to use ABP on all my browsers and devices, but just recently switched back to using Adblock on Safari. I found that ABP on safari running on older hardware caused the browser to become unresponsive for up to 5-10 seconds at a time and it was really too much to deal with (2008 Macbook Air).

    I guess I’ll be switching back to ABP, but it bums me out that its not the top performer on safari.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    We are aware of a few performance issues in Adblock Plus for Safari, but the one you are describing doesn’t sound like it. You might want to create a topic in our forum (https://adblockplus.org/forum/viewforum.php?f=18, registering isn’t required to post) and describe the issue in more detail.

  22. Master K

    I can’t believe how many people are complaining about the acceptable ads in Ad Block Plus. Do you people not know how to read? Or how to click a check box?

    The acceptable ads are totally explain on first run and in many posts when it was released. To turn it off you click ONE check box in the settings!!!!!!!

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    There has been lots of misinformation with regards to acceptable ads, in particular a series of FUD articles from a particular blogger. Some people are unhappy that we implemented this feature in the first place (which is understandable but I think we made our reasons clear), so they were just too willing to believe any conspiracy spin. This now comes up every time a topic even remotely related to Adblock Plus is discussed.

  23. john

    To be fair to the people upset with acceptable adds – they clearly cant read – so never looked in the options to see that on the first page you see there is a tick box to disable these sites.

    If they could read then i imagine they would feel much better about the situation when discovering this.

  24. Tom

    You know, your “acceptable ads program” sounds good on paper, but do you know some of us use adblock for security purposes too? Some ads are fraudulent and phishing scams and some of the white listed bullshit on google ads fall into that category. What have you got to say about that?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    That is indeed an issue, we are aware of it. So far we have been focusing on the format of ads, improving content is something that’s currently beyond our reach. Of course, we wouldn’t whitelist anybody who is in the fraudulent advertising business – but that’s not the common scenario. Typically, the advertising networks are simply unable to detect all the fraud and phishing due to the volumes they are dealing with. That’s particularly true about Google, I’m sure that they are working hard on keeping this kind of ads away from their search engine – after all, their reputation is at stake here. But it is an extremely hard problem on that scale.

    So if you are worried about fraudulent ads then I can only recommend disabling acceptable ads. Frankly, I’m not sure what we can do about it. Suggestions are welcome (not as blog comments please, either in our forum or via mail to me).

  25. Kevin

    I have always known Adblock Plus to be superior, so reading this post was just like a nail in the coffin.

  26. George

    I used to use adblock plus and when the “acceptable ads” came, I thought you guys sold out and switched to adblock.

    I now realize you were being transparent and gave an option to disable that. I just switched back to adblock plus. But based on what I am reading, I am wondering whether the “do-not-track” functionality you have added is capable of replacing Disconnect – since I had that extension as well (and I am now skeptical of that as well). I had already lost faith in Ghostery and switched to Disconnect.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Adblock Plus no longer has Do-Not-Track support, see https://adblockplus.org/blog/removing-do-not-track-support-from-adblock-plus. By now this feature is built into both Chrome and Firefox. It does not guarantee you that you won’t be tracked – it is merely asking the websites to refrain from tracking you. Unfortunately, not too many websites care so far.

    If I understand correctly what Disconnect does, it is rather comparable to the EasyPrivacy filter list that is available for Adblock Plus. You can add it on the first-run page in Adblock Plus (“Disable Tracking” feature) or on https://easylist.adblockplus.org/en/#easyprivacy.

  27. Tomas

    Wladimir, here’s the explanation from AdBlock Team:
    http://blog.getadblock.com/2014/07/adblock-and-privacy.html

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Thank you. My comment there is currently waiting for moderator approval. Here is what I said:

    Gabriel, I respectfully disagree with the points you are making here.

    AdBlock is still an open source, GPLv3 project

    Yes, technically speaking it is still open source. However, it is no longer an open project which is what I was talking about. By making the repository private and by adding changelog entries that don’t match the actual changes you are making it harder for other people to verify what you are doing.

    Note that I explicitly wasn’t criticizing the hidden issue tracker so I don’t see why you chose to justify that aspect. Even though you’ve put something better in place for end-user support (we did as well), it is still a good idea for an open source project to leave the issue tracker visible to make the decision processes more transparent. But it certainly isn’t something you absolutely must have.

    In fact, this is an actual line of code from the AdBlock source:

    Not exactly subtle!

    I wasn’t really talking about this line of code, rather the one connecting to https://goldenticket.disconnect.me/goldenticket/ticket/fetch which is far less obvious. But let’s not be picky. So, how many people noticed that line of code and asked you about it? Where did you announce your partnership with Disconnect and did you explain the implications this has for your users?

    Besides that, the folks over at Disconnect are all about privacy.

    Sure. But privacy is all about trust. When people installed AdBlock, they were asked whether they trusted the AdBlock project. When they accepted, they didn’t know that Disconnect would be on board as well. As I said, Disconnect has a great privacy policy and maybe they even live by it. But everybody should make their own decisions on who they trust. Again, there would be absolutely no issue at all had you announced your partnership.

    User IDs are randomly generated and aren’t retained across different machines, browsers, or reinstallations.

    Yes, just like cookies – and you could have used cookies instead. However, unlike cookies this user ID will survive clearing history and it won’t care about people using private browsing.

    Do you remember which Chrome feature was criticized the most when Chrome first came out? Right, the unique client ID they assigned to users upon installation, all for the greater good of course. It took a while but Google finally decided to get rid of this magnet for bad press. But at least they documented it from the very start.

    All ads are still blocked by default.

    Yes. Disconnect search ads will only be whitelisted if the “private search” feature is enabled (which seems to be opt-in). Is that something that people are informed about when they opt in?

    And of course the MixPanel tracking isn’t ads, so I guess whitelisting this by default wasn’t a big deal.

    This is so the AdBlock homepage knows if AdBlock is installed

    A user ID isn’t required for that, a simple “yes, AdBlock here” would have been sufficient.

    Did you know AdBlock didn’t even have a home page until the middle of last year?

    No, I didn’t. adblockforchrome.com was created in March 2012. Your Google+ page has posts dated 2011. Even this blog has a post from 2011. So if the point was showing that you had no means of communicating with your users – I don’t think so. From my point of view, 2013 was merely the point where adblockforchrome.com functionality moved to getadblock.com.

    So, is a privacy policy the only change you are planning to implement?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Sorry, I confused the domain names in my previous comment. The domain name previously used by the AdBlock project was chromeadblock.com of course, and it was created in 2009.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Replied to his remaining points today (August 4th):

    It seems that a few people will actually read this blog post now (when I replied earlier there were no links to either this blog post or the blog itself), so I should probably address your remaining points as well.

    I wouldn’t presume to know his or his team’s mind

    Of course, I don’t know what the AdBlock team was thinking when they implemented some of the “features” in question (I wish I could). I’ve only communicated with Michael Gundlach so far, he seemed to be an able developer and not the sneaky type. Unfortunately, the privacy violations I found in combination with your contradicting promises can only be explained by either malice or incompetence. And assuming that Michael is still involved in the project (seems to be the case), incompetence doesn’t cut it.

    We use it to get an anonymous, very rough idea of what our user base looks like.

    Right now, the AdBlock website is still claiming that “AdBlock won’t save or retrieve … information for any reason beyond what is required to make it work.” From your blog post it seems that you don’t see anything wrong with this. Is retrieving this information (combined with a unique user ID) somehow required to make AdBlock work? Or are you planning to change this statement on the website?

    We surveyed a tiny group of users and asked them if they’d like using Disconnect’s functionality in AdBlock and how they’d like it funded. This of course requires adding the code to let the surveyed users try the feature.

    Ok, let’s assume that this set of changes was really just “a survey” for you when it was implemented. Let’s even assume that the entire code could have been simply removed had the users said “no, don’t like it” – even though so much effort was invested into it. Then it is still strange that you’ve implemented two sets of survey functionality – one working through your own server and another that worked through Disconnect’s (the latter having obvious privacy implications). Ok, let’s write this off as “incompetence.”

    Even with these assumptions, the survey functionality was done with AdBlock 2.6.20. The changes between AdBlock 2.6.21 and AdBlock 2.6.27 only touched Disconnect functionality. So, are you saying that not mentioning Disconnect wasn’t the main intention when these changes were described as “beta test for survey”?

    The phrases “monetizing their users” and “they didn’t want anybody to notice” conjure up a mental picture of AdBlock’s users all being secretly turned into dollar signs. In fact, what we’re doing is straight up asking our users where we should take AdBlock next.

    Quite frankly, I have no idea how many users saw the message and what exactly it said. This isn’t part of the source code and you didn’t bother documenting any of it. The point isn’t to brag but these things can be done differently.

    What I know is that an unknown number of AdBlock users had Disconnect functionality enabled for them, obviously as a test before that feature is rolled out to the entire AdBlock user base. I also see that you are promoting paid Disconnect memberships and that you are automatically whitelisting Disconnect ads when the user enables the Disconnect feature. The latter happens without any notification, the user isn’t informed that ads will show and he cannot disable the whitelist either. So you are making sure that your partner earns money, and you do it in a sneaky way that disempowers users. The logical conclusion is that you are either getting your share of that money or that you were promised it once the feature is rolled out to all AdBlock users. If that’s not the reason then I’m very interested to hear what it is.

  28. Cowicide

    Thank you for your post and your response to Gabriel’s response. We need more people looking out for privacy and transparency like you are and it’s very much appreciated here.

  29. AH

    long time adblock plus user. Saw the acceptable ads option during install or upgrade (can’t even remember) and switched it off without even a microseconds thought. I’ve come to revisit that decision and allow it now.
    It’s an easy, harmless and non-intrusive way of supporting a project that makes my life easier on a daily basis. Just consider for a moment the situation openssl is in. Would heartbleed have existed if the project had been sustainably funded?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    While we do fund our project through the acceptable ads program (otherwise we wouldn’t even be able to pull it off), we really do it because of the websites struggling to survive – I’m not happy with the current situation either but so far nothing other than ads can provide them with a reliable source of income.

  30. Rapster

    Was about to install adblock, but no chance now… adblock plus all the way :)

  31. Famlam

    Well, I’m glad I left the AdBlock project as a programmer a long while ago :-).

  32. fyreflye

    A new product, Adguard Adblocker, which appears identical to AdBlock Plus, has become available on Chrome and Firefox and more recently on Safari. Do you know anything about this and have any comment about it?

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    It isn’t really a new product, my understanding is that they were on it since 2011. The main product is actually a freemium (closed source) application for Windows that works outside the browser. They apparently noticed that this approach has issues, so they started offering browser extensions as well. The browser extensions promote the paid application as the “full version.” These extensions have been developed independently of Adblock Plus but are clearly heavily expired by Adblock Plus and probably violate the GPLv3 license terms. Some website content has also been copied from adblockplus.org almost verbatim.

    I have no idea how well these extensions work but I guess that you are more interested in trust, right? As I already said, it is completely closed source. The company behind this product is Performix, a Moscow-based consulting company. The project website has a privacy policy that lists explicitly what information the extensions collect. That information seems to be mostly correct, e.g. it mentions that extension installations and updates are being reported to their server unconditionally. It claims however that only extension type and version are being sent there, in reality it also has a unique client ID that is being transmitted. And it sends some user settings along, in particular whether acceptable ads have been enabled.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Oh, I remembered that I looked into who is behind AdGuard a while ago – there isn’t much information available on Performix LLC. Interestingly, there seems to be an entire network of companies involved. For example, there is InSoft LLC (a web hosting company apparently) which owns the AdGuard trademark and has the same CEO. The same guy is also the CEO of Management Networks LLC, a company that was founded by some TLC Center LTD. I couldn’t find any registration record for TLC Center LTD but it appears to be selling AdGuard licenses and doing nothing beyond that.

    There is also the advertising company AD Shows LLC which is owned to 70% by the Performix CEO. The only activity of this company on the web appears to be signing some AdGuard builds.

    I don’t know what all of this means, your guess is as good as mine. But I strongly suspect that some money laundering scheme is involved.

  33. Lophis

    Whoa, I just came upon this. Switched back to Adblock plus. This is getting ridiculous. I kinda feel offended and stupid at the same time b/c I gave Adblock the benefit of the doubt.

  34. Andrey Meshkov

    Hi Wladimir!

    Thank you for looking into our privacy policy, of course we should mention user ID being sent.

    >> and probably violate the GPLv3 license terms

    I guess we should make our extension open-source so you can look at the source code and do not make such statements. Open source is a good thing so we’ll do it soon.

    >> Some website content has also been copied from adblockplus.org

    Are you talking about the page with filter rules syntax? Adguard extends ABP syntax so we’ve taken some parts of the article from the “Writing Adblock Plus filters” article.

    I think it is our mistake that we don’t mention the source of these parts. Is it ok if we mention ABP and add the link in the disclaimer?

    >> Interestingly, there seems to be an entire network of companies involved

    We have two projects we are working on. Hosting company and Adguard. That is why there is a number of companies. We need an offshore company to make buying hardware for hosting simpler.

    So we’ve created Performix LLC which one and only purpose is developing Adguard. Trademark has been transferred to it.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    I actually looked at the source code of your Firefox extension – I didn’t really study it thoroughly but some parts looked awfully familiar. Of course, making it open source would be one way to address licensing concerns. :)

    Yes, please link to the source of the text on the page. So far we haven’t looked into choosing a proper license for adblockplus.org content but we’ve been very liberal when people asked us about using that content – but using it without asking and without attribution of any kind isn’t nice.

  35. KD

    Until this day I thought AdBlock and AdBlock Plus (never heard of the third one, also called AdBlock something) were the same product, just different versions (but by the same developer). It is more than confusing that all ad blocking software products use the same base name and even the same icon in the toolbar (the stop sign).

    I don’t think that monetizing a service is in any way a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t hurt the users and I’m sure that AdBlock Plus is making (a lot of) money from various sources as well.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Sure, Adblock Plus makes money – we never made a secret out of it, we wouldn’t be able to sustain the project otherwise. I fully agree that this isn’t a bad thing as long as it doesn’t hurt the users and the users know what is going on.

    As to the name and logo – the AdBlock project chose a name and logo that are confusingly similar to ours. No, I’m not happy about that either.

  36. Noitidart

    Thanks for your reply in comment 27. It’s really nice to see such a proponent of open-ness. Anyways Firefox for the win, we don’t have nearly as much of this bogus sneaky-ness.

    But AMO had a policy change which is allowing stuff like:
    http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?p=13839635#p13839635

    I created a bugzilla topic to try to make them undo this policy change, do you think you could help to get AMO back to its greatness by reverting this policy change?

    Thanks!!

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Feel free to make a stronger point in this bug. AMOs policy is that extensions are allowed to do questionable things as long as these features are opt-in and the user is correctly informed about the implications. This policy makes sense, otherwise the policy would be too limiting and indeed prevent many professional developers from even considering that market – and AMO would stay a sandbox for amateurs creating buggy and badly designed extensions. From the description, the extension you are complaining about does things correctly. The user stays in control of the experience and at least the extension description explains things well. Is the description incorrect?

  37. Shane Horlock

    Thanks Wladimir. Interesting blog. I only recently started using Google Chrome and today noticed AdBlock symbol on my toolbar. I don’t recall installing it or asking Chrome to activate the extension. So I have taken the step of deactivating all extensions! I will have a look at AdBlock Plus website and decide whether or not I need it, so thank you for this blog and it’s commentators – I feel safer already.

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