back to article Firefox passive-aggressives adjudicate Nerd Law

Last week, blood was shed in the Firefox community as two popular extensions to the browser - NoScript and Adblock Plus - finally started slugging it out over a conflict that had been underground for quite some time. It came to a head when Adblock Plus developer Wladimir Palant woke up in the morning next to a severed horse's …

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Boffin

Huh?

I am one of the people that use both Adblock Plus and NoScript. I didn't even know there was a problembetween the two until I read it on here. For my NoScript updates, I get a notice it needs to be updated, I click on install and it updates. After the update, it loads up the NoScript web page, at which point, I promptly close it. My point being, I didn't even know the author of NoScript had ads showing on his page.

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Alert

I smell an elephant

I'm somewhat surprised that nobody appears to have picked up on the implications of "[interfering] with the internals of Adblock Plus to allow ads." Have we just seen our first firefox extension trojan?

(PS. there should be a "freetards say/do the darndest things" icon)

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Anonymous Coward

Bias ?

Ted, its obvious you dislike the practice of blocking ad's. Tough luck. Most people out there hate them.

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And even moreso

NoScript isn't exactly something people- except an incredibly hardline less-than-a-handfull- are going to sit refreshing all day. It's just a single-shot install. So any inconvenience would just be- to the normal user- maybe once or twice a year they have to put up with ad-bars at either side of the page. Whooptie freakin' do.

It's not worth the fuss on the paper that the blog wasn't written on.

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Stop

What else is made of wood?

"For someone who maintains software that is antithetical to the internet's general business model, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it really does a number on those social skills."

Uhhh... Burrito?

I'm having real trouble drawing any kind of connection between internet advertising and social skills. Is it just me? Should I be scared that I'm staring at my shoes too much because I'm an AdBlock user? I'm a NoScript user, too, and I'm pretty happy I don't have to pay any actual money for it.

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Silver badge

Ted, Ted, Ted. Too easy.

"antithetical to the internet's general business model "

The only "general business model" of t'IntraTubes is that I pay for my end of things.

You pay yours. They pay theirs. We pay ours.

But there is no "they pay mine". That's all Holland & tulips & the mid-1630s.

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A title is required.

Wow man! That's a really, really big chip you have on your shoulder there!

Two children squabbling over a toy does not constitute a problem with software engineers.

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Fail and Ted

What is this crap? A load of embittered wittering - with a big side order of grovel - from some twit who wants to write two pages of guff about something I didn't know about, in order to tell me that it doesn't matter? Get this hopeless blogger off your front page! I come here for news, not opinion pieces in which the writer has to spend two pages telling me why I should have an opinion!

Fail and You? Indeed! Go away Ted, you pointless little man.

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Very enjoyable

Nice column, Ted. And it just goes to show - you don't need to pepper it with expletives to poke fun at people. More of this type of thing, please !

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DT
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pot/kettle

An article about how other people are introverted, girlfriendless, AOL-using nerds who *shouldn't* settle their differences with passive aggressive blogs (and *shouldn't* resort to petty name calling over the internet!)

Would you like me to "Digg" this?

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Hmm...

Me, I love all those sites I mooch off of for free, without contributing to their running costs, so it is critically important that Adblock and Noscript work perfectly. Ahem...

Actually, I don't really care about in line ads, buit I do get bothered by ones that are over-the-top-of or popup. I also recognise that a large amount of web sites are run by advertising, so it isn't sustainable for everyone to block their adverts.

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More expletives please...

The story was boring without them!

Ok it wasn't, i did enjoy it but you should stick it to all those nancy boy's who don't like to surf to the Register and see a swear word, "oh no my boss is going to sack me because I have a webpage that has the word fuck on it!"

Good article showing how narrowminded some kids really are.

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Flame

Crossing the line

The line was crossed when the NoScript author wrote code to interfere with his nemesis' extension. That's just dirty!

As for his nemesis, given that (as someone already pointed out) the end-user only sees the adverts on the NoScript page once in a while (and if you're upgrading NoScript, you'll probably get the text versions), if those adverts really offend you, you can always block them explicitly with, erm, NoScript or AdBlock Plus.

On a scale from petty to manly, it's just a story of two people flailing each other with the palms attached to their limp wrists in the playground: petty, indeed.

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Flame

You speak too soon...

" For example, under no circumstances will a police officer throw you to the ground and introduce you to his friend the Tazer if you crawl a website and disrespect the robots.txt file..."

I was going to say "Yet!", but then I realised that in several countries, such as Australia or Germany, placing links to a link to a Wikileaks article can get you raided (presumably with Tazers et al, or real firearms if you are a pensioner in the UK).

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@Bias

If most people hated ad's, companies like Google would be in deep poo now wouldn't they?

For many/most non-geek Internet users, ad's are exactly what they DO want.

Say Aunt Mildred is shopping for Nephew Jimmy "one of those little blue computers you can carry around" and she types in "Acer by Aspire One".

While that's incorrect, there will most likely be relevant ads that appear and direct Mildred to a place where she can purchase an Acer Aspire One (in blue obviously) and maybe even one of the pink ones for little Rosy (even though Rosy is only 5 and doesn't really need a computer of any sort).

Ads, like operating systems and browsers, can all be rated on the "ZM tech-savvy scale" in which the usefulness of certain features/products declines as geeky-ness increases.

Obviously you rate high on the ZM scale and don't require ads as you can place your pizza order via command line and manually managed IP routing - but that's not the case for the people who actually spend the money that makes the Internet go 'round.

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about:config

I would assume NoScript users to be smart enough to disable the extension's first run redirection in about:config. The same applies to FlashGot.

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Frequent updates to NoScript

I've been getting a bit annoyed recently at these ('cos they hold up the browser opening, and then often never display the link I'd originally clicked on in the first place), and also at the home page opening every time too. I never once thought it was purely because the author was feeling a bit skint...!

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@Solomon Grundy

Well, I see the point in an imaginary ideal world where that ad is actually of any use to that end. In the real world, online advertising has been just about as useful to me as the proverbial bycicle is to a fish. Why? Because a match that's only _nearly_ good enough -- that is, it matches some unrelated word on the same page -- is at most good for a quick chuckle.

Among my fondly remembered ads on Internet pages:

- I read the lyrics for some gothic suicide-themed song, and the google ads on the side are for sleeping pills. Mildly funny, but not as useful as, say, linking to someone who sells the album.

- I look up "sycophant" on dictionary.com, I get an ad for some children's book about how to become a president. I guess it would explain Dubya.

- I look up "insipid" and get two ads for jewish cuisine. I haven't tasted that stuff yet, but it seems a bit harsh ;)

- I do a search for "Apache jackrabbit" and get a long list of ads to dildo sellers.

And then there were the old EBay match-all-searches ads, which got us such gems as "buy Steve Irwing dead on Ebay", as covered occasionally even on The Reg.

And I'm not even getting into keyword hijacks by competing companies, so googling for "Acer Aspire One" might actually get you ads for some MSI reseller instead.

So, yes, in an ideal world, Grandma would promptly get an ad for a local reseller of that computer. In the real world, the ads will be to some ebay scam, the links to some CounterStrike board where someone mentioned trouble playing it on his Acer Aspire One, and the ads on _that_ one will be to God knows what unrelated thing.

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Boffin

@jake

You may be correct that you pay for your end, (though several recent reports suggest that actually most broadband plans are not fairly distributed, depending on whether you are a light or heavy user), but the fact is that no-one is able to operate a web site without getting something back, somehow:

The BBC gets money direct from the license fee,

Retailers get the money from increased sales,

but for informational sites, (like this one), sponsorship of some kind is the only viable model as things stand. I agree, we all hate obtrusive adverts, and everyone's opinion will vary, but blocking all adverts is not a sustainable policy in the long term.

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NoScript ~= adblock

I can't use AdBlock @ work due to policies about software that auto-updates itself, but I can use NoScript, and I find that even in its most permissive mode, NoScript blocks most ads by blocking the 3rd party scripts that fetch them.

I see some ads, but they are hosted by the actual site I'm on, and therefore can't do rude things like keep a tracking cookies across sites.

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title

If Maone thought that countermeasures were necessary to stop NoScript users from blocking ads, he could easily have updated his own extension to automatically disable itself when run together with AdBlock. After all, if those users are cutting off his revenue stream, why should he provide them with service?

But that isn't what he did. Instead his extension monkeypatched AdBlock to disable parts of its functionality. It also did this using obfuscated code, so Maone obviously knew he was doing something a bit fishy. This left his extension very close to malware in my mind.

It would have been far better to let the user continue to use AdBlock but show that it has negative effects as well as positive ones.

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@Hans Mustermann

I don't like you 'ideal world' Hans.

Sounds a bit too much like a press release from Phorm to me...

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@tony

Well, "ideal world" is an euphemism there, you know.

It's that imaginary world that ad-peddlers try to tell me about, where advertising is good because it actually gives people links to exactly the stuff they always wanted. The world where Grandma actually finds links to the netbook she always wanted, mom finds a link to exactly the kind of recipe book she always wanted, and Junior finds everything except porn... and it's all because of the clever keyword matching, you see. Somehow I'm supposed to believe that they matched _exactly_ the right keywords on that page, and not, say, some unrelated common word on the 10'th paragraph.

And I'm not as much trying to say that it's really an "ideal" place, but really just "that's not the real world as I know it."

And if you think that such an "ideal world" of perfectly useful matches exists only in Phorm's (or other ad-peddler's) PR, well, we're actually going to agree very quickly there.

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Stop

Waaah, Waaah

You're not playing nice....

Well, you're not playing nice, either...

I'm throwing my toys out of the pram....

Well, I'm throwing my toys out, too...

I'm throwing you under the bus....

Well, I'm throwing you under the train...

erm...I think we're both gonna die...

maybe we can actually play nice together...

ok....DOH!

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title

"To capitalize on this, he made NoScript update itself fairly frequently, and the update page on his website displays some Google ads."

Sorry but that just seems a bit spammy to me and it kind of ruins any argument about having to pay hosting costs - I download the extension from the mozilla site and only visit the NoScript site because i'm forced to.

More generally - by all means stop me accessing your site with an ad blocker on but you'd better have the best, most accurate, most exclusive, most compelling content there is if you want me to turn it off and stick around, and lets be honest, the chances are you don't (by a ridiculously huge margin), especially as the worst offenders are normally shitty blogs where you hit the site not knowing what it is and immediately go for the the back button.

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Unhappy

Plenty introverts around here

Hey Ted: I and, I am sure, many of my fellow introvert software developers who regularly read The Reg take offense at your generalizations. Stick to the point, without getting offensive please. Or I may have to ... blog about you, or something.

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@Dave

"but for informational sites, (like this one),"

And here I thought this was an entertainment site, like all the other red-tops.

"sponsorship of some kind is the only viable model as things stand."

It's only viable as long as the readers allow it. Marketing doesn't seem to grok that.

"I agree, we all hate obtrusive adverts, and everyone's opinion will vary, but blocking all adverts is not a sustainable policy in the long term."

It's perfectly sustainable by the only person who matters ... the reader. This is MY computer, not google's. I decide what is displayed, or not displayed, not google.

Consider that google could make it impossible to use their site when running ad blockers & script blockers ... but they don't. Ask yourself "why?".

Also consider that my 70+yo techno-phobe Mom discovered and installed Adblock Plus, Flashblock & NoScript all by herself, without any prompting by me, because as she put it "that stuff gets in the way when I'm looking for something". If my mom can do it, I suspect that there is a growing wave of people intentionally blocking advertising.

Does it make sites like ElReg unsustainable (assuming all or most revenue is from advertising)? In my mind, yes. That's why I sold off my own "portal" just before the dot-bomb crash (that and the fact that I was offered more than enough cash to retire on!). I suspect that at some point in the future, sites like ElReg will have to move to a subscription model and/or sell more merchandise in order to survive.

Even with a subscription+advertising model, it'll probably not be sustainable. Don't believe me? Look at AOL for a prime example. They had tens of millions of captive eyeballs PAYING (monthly!) to look at non-blockable advertising. Where are they now? They went to an advert-only driven model, and promptly started floundering. In a nutshell, people learn to ignore online ads out of reflex. AOL would have been better off being advert-free and a subscription model service.

Even google, with it's near monopoly on searches, is probably not sustainable (never mind their paper value at the moment). At some point, probably within 5 years, I'm betting that a hardware company will buy them out for their proprietary clustering technology, at which point the name google will fade into obscurity (although it might stay around as a verb for a few years).

Remember, the Web by it's very nature is ephemeral at best.

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Poor Ted

Sounds like some software engineer has been boinking your girlfriend. I know there are introverted stereotypical nerds in the IT industry but most of us have our own house or two, hot girlfriends or wives and like spending time with our friends. Perhaps if you got out more and met some of them you would know better.

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Smart people sometimes temporarily turn stupid

People use the tools that they are good at using, to smight their enemies. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that a programmer would use programming to get back at an enemy (or whatever).

What would one rather have them do, dual it out in the streets using guns or knives?

Wait.... that NoScript dude is supposedly into martial arts... hmm... and he's Italian too... <cue popular stereotypes about the Mafia etc> ... hmm...

Anyway, the only reason (sort of) that the story is/was news, is because innocent bystanders (users) ended up getting involved in the fray.

FWIW, I accept the NoScript author's well-worded and apparently sincere apology (<http://hackademix.net/2009/05/04/dear-adblock-plus-and-noscript-users-dear-mozilla-community/>).

I can totally understand how he apparently developed sort of a "tunnel vision" where he (at first) didn't fully understand the possible implications of his earlier actions. Seems to me that he basically got reeled in, provoked, by the AdBlock developer. IMO, at the end of the day the NoScript author has shown greater character in all of this, despite his earlier poor judgment in certain things.

That's not to say that I now trust NoScript - I don't completely trust *any* software (not even Firefox itself, odd how Firefox sometimes tries to connect to the BBC for no reason), even though I've been using NoScript for a long time and I will continue to use NoScript as long as no further misdeeds are discovered. (The important word there being, I suppose, "discovered".) Among other reasons: NoScript has no viable competition, and the alternatives (or lack of) aren't very appealing.

Sometimes the smartest, most highly-trustworthy people, can suddenly and temporarily "turn stupid" and make the most idiotic mistakes in judgment, or 'judgement' for you British types :) ...I know, I've been there, done that, although not with regards to programming. When that happens, it's almost always a one-time occurrence and they quickly get a clue and they don't repeat such stupidity. Not to mention the fact that everyone's now carefully watching the person's every move, at least for the next few months/years until memories fade.

I intend to donate some more $$ to NoScript when I get around to it, if NoScript continues to function correctly and if the author continues to behave himself. I have no problem with paying for software that I find useful, *AS LONG AS* it's done at my discretion and when/where I choose, not sneakily or whatever. As to ads on the NoScript site, if more people would be thoughtful enough to make even small $ donations for "free" software that they use, such authors wouldn't be tempted to use ads in the first place... seems like.

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Joke

Software nerd here

... and I never, ever, EVER stood up to the jocks. So there goes THAT stereotype.

I do stand up to my wife when... Oh wait, how did I get a wife? I'm a software engineer! And two kids, OMG!

Ultimate firmware nerd ===> http://gallery.nonken.net/TSB/CoolGrid_MeshPanel_005

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Every non-techie loves it....

Every time I've shown Adblock in action to a non-techie user, they've said "Wow,that's brilliant,can you put that on my machine" or words to that effect. Adblock also has the advantage of giving them a clear reason the use Firefox rather than IE (especially as some poor people cannot afford to buy a new PC & are still running W2k & IE6!) resulting in a consequent drop in malware.

If you don't make your living in a way that's connected to online ads then why should you give a toss?

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@Hans Mustermann

Well said!

I agree that the current state of online advertising leaves a lot to be desired but I believe that's due to the immaturity of the industry. As it grows older (and more profitable and effective) I firmly believe that online advertising will work itself out, or die completely.

For example if there was a roadside billboard advertising an unfinished oak furniture store that was in reality an adult novelty store it would cause all kinds of trouble for the store. That's exactly what's happening online right now, but the amount of people who actually purchase (not just shop) on the Internet, in the U.S. at least, is so small that no one is really interested in trying to fix the problem, yet.

The quickest way to solve the online advertising problem is to raise advertisement pricing to levels that only serious merchants can afford (like in real world advertising). Intense lobbying by Google and Co. can prevent this for a while, but not forever.

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Dead Vulture

if you are willing

to vet and certify clean and safe, every ad that google wants to serve me via your site, I would consider turning ad-blocker off (along with of course them being non annoying).

Till then you can either block me or suck it up.

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Boffin

Well, *this* adjudicator says...

...that the overriding Nerd Law principle here should be whether the programs were doing what the creators alleged they were intended to do. AdBlock Plus: the point is to block ads, and so disabling the ones on the NoScript site was well within its purpose. NoScript: the point is to control JavaScript, and changing your ad filters is definitely not part of that. NoScript is in the wrong here.

And I say this as someone who uses NoScript, and finds it blocks enough ads (after cleaning out the default whitelist) to not bother with AdBlock.

The court further finds that the term "Nerd Law" is useful and plans to use it in the future.

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Boffin

Easy solution to problem

If you want to over ride the default behaviour of NoScript where it visits Giorgio Maone's website do the following: set "noscript.firstRunRedirection" to "false" in about:config. Alternately add user_pref("noscript.firstRunRedirection", false);

to your user.js file.

From the NoScript FAQ:

Q: I don't like NoScript redirecting the browser on its welcome page every time I upgrade it. Is there any way to prevent this?

A: Yes, there is. The first time you install NoScript and every time you update it to a newer major version, Firefox opens an additional tab containing the NoScript welcome page, where you can read the release notes...

If you're a power user, you can disable this feature by opening about:config (just like it was a normal web address) and toggling off the noscript.firstRunRedirection preference.

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Duel/dual

Should have been "duel", not "dual", in my earlier post. My bad ;)

</ot>

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My computer

My scripts. Your host server, your detecting my adblock and blocking me.

Open honest warfare is the natural state of the web.

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Unhappy

No profanity?

What I really like about most of Ted's articles is that they're littered with profanity. Sadly, this one wasn't.

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@IGnatius T Foobar

Yeah, the lack of profanity in this week's article by Ted fucking annoyed the shit out me too. Makes me wonder if the wanker's been replaced by some dickhead imposter.

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Ian

To be fair I side with Adblock too

If people download a plugin to block ads they clearly want ads blocked, they don't want them blocked "only if it isn't so and so's site", they want ads blocked, period.

If the NoScript guy's site is setup so it doesn't work unless ads can get through then he's at fault - it's not hard to make a page that works without ads and unless Adblock blocked the entire website, which I doubt is the case then it's clearly NoScript guy's fault - presumably this is why Mozilla found in Adblock's favour?

I know it's easy to say talk it out and this is probably my preferred method, but what if NoScript guy just refuses to let people access his site unless he displays the ads? Should Adblock bend over and offer a plugin that only blocks ads on sites where the owner isn't a stubborn dick or should they make their program do what it's supposed to do and block ads and if the site in question fails without ads it's the owners problem?

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Flame

Pettyness allowed by the stupid monolithic design of Firefox.

Extensions should not be allowed to change other extensions, period, it is Mozilla's stupid extension framework which allowed this.

IMHO NoScript seems to often require ridiculously frequent reinstalls (daily! updates), this was either lazy design (or 'greed' for ad revenue), when IMHO it should use live updates (without requiring a restart), like AdBlock Plus. I use both extensions, but the current need to reinstall most extensions seems really stupid; part of this is due to the poor implementation of JavaScript, in Firefox, and the stupid way that extensions 'live' in Firefox. WTF, I know that JavaScript can support scoping, so why not global versioning of extension instances too!

Firefox is a de-facto application host, a kind of mini OS, it is about damned time it had the basic task management tools, and task isolation, to go with it.

Roll on a version of Firefox which will allow tracking of _which_ pages, scripts, extensions, and plugins, are resource hogs in Firefox, and provides some way to pause, kill, or restart rogue instances, which make Firefox stall or use up excessive CPU percentage!

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what Infernoz (@12:36) said

I've helplessly watched FF crash and burn on webpages in which something (probably an advert script or two) was looping, recursing, or otherwise chasing its tail, or had to mercy kill it with force quit. Something that will allow a shutdown now of rogue pages without having to force quit the entire instance (and all the other open tabs/ windows) would be nice.

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