Blockers will win the ad-blocking arms race

Ad-blockers begat ad-blocker-blockers, which begat ad-blocker-blocker-blockers, with no end in sight.

But a quartet of distinguished security researchers from Princeton and Stanford say that the blockers will win in the end — publishers will not be able to make their ads unblockable, nor will they be able to detect whether their ads were blocked.

The researchers start from the assumption that advertisers and publishers will have to put up with some constraints on their tactics, lest they be accused of deceptive advertising practices. They also leave an open question of whether publishers will be able to successfully sue ad-blocking companies — which would mean all bets are off.

In this paper we have presented an approach to ad blocking
which is radically different from current techniques.
Current ad blocking is based on the laborious process of
creating filter rules and is easily disrupted by obfuscation
implemented by publishers. In contrast we take a principled
approach to the problem and present solutions that
are easier to implement and harder to evade. Our work
refutes the belief that the battle between publishers and
users is leading to a permanent arms race between the
two parties, and presents a much more nuanced picture.

Ad blocking is an important area of study for the security
community. It combines old techniques from the domains
of malware and program analysis with some new
concepts such a mimicking human behavior. There is a
significant need for follow-on technical work into the expansion
of techniques that we have introduced as well as
a debate on the ethics of ad blocking.

The future of ad blocking
[Arvind Narayanan/Freedom to Tinker]

The Future of Ad Blocking:
An Analytical Framework and New Techniques
[Grant Storey, Dillon Reisman, Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan/Randomwalker]o