back to article Dry those eyes, ad blockers are unlikely to kill the internet

There's worry out there that the spread of ad blockers will kill off the internet. Or at least, the idea that people are paid to create stuff for it but that people aren't charged to look at it. You know, like, umm, El Reg. This has all come up as Apple has allowed the technology in iOS9, and people started to offer the …

Half the advertising is wasted? Try 99% as a conservative estimate.

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Re: 99%

The figure was 90% when I first heard the story about 40 years ago and back then nearly everyone was watching the same few TV channels and reading the same few major papers.

I'm sure the only question now is how many nines.

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Umm

Equally uninformed I see a flaw in that argument.

I don't/can't just block the ads that are shitty, intrusive,disgusting etc.

I block 'em all.

I have to.

Or else the web pages I want to look at will be obscured by flashing banners telling me about dodgy gaming sites and brightly coloured objects sliding across the screen, and so on.

I have no problem with sites carrying ads.

I might even give them a sceptical glance.

But the ads do not, on the whole, give useful information. They throw, at best, illusory marketing gush like the beer ad mentioned in the article. And mostly hard sell cr*p of no value whatsoever.

I have a major problem with an internet that barely exists, because it's been buried by a deluge of unwanted rubbish.

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Re: Umm

I think that's semantics. If provision of information about a product is not advertising, what is it?

Case in point. My mum's ancient TV has expired. I'll be buying a new one for her and installing it next week-end. I spent last night searching for information on the sort of TVs that my mum wants, and now have a list of three likely-looking models.

Tonight I'll be downloading the userguides. (Mum is ninety-plus and is confused by digital TV, let alone anything "smart".) If the spec sheet was crap you've already lost the sale. If the userguide is crap, you will do.

No need to disable my ad-blocker. I got the impression Google had worked out what I was looking for and was returning helpfully biassed search results, but maybe I'm crediting it with too much AI and I'm just good at Googling.

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Boffin

Re: New TV

Is she a sky-box/virgin-box user or TV-via-freeview? If freeview (like myself), she'll be using the TV's native Electronic Program Guide and therein lie dragons. My Samsung has about the worst EPG I've ever seen. Cutting to the chase: try out the remote in the shop (and ask them to turn off "shop-mode" colour settings while you are about it).

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Re: New TV

Freeview. Thanks for the warning about the Samsung native EPG (assuming it's not just your one model). One particular Samsung is top of the list at present, along with Panasonic and LG. Yes, was intending to try out the remotes in a shop before taking mum shopping (if she wants to go shopping at all). Userguides might tell me enough, though.

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Re: New TV

If you go for the latest Panasonics, they have Freeview Play integrated, so backwards EPG for access to the catch up services and so on.

I've not seen the EPG in those myself, but I think it's similar to the Play EPG in the Humax box, which I did see

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Re: Umm

As far as I am concerned, a web browser without full ad-blocking is just an electronic advertising billboard that I pay to look at.

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Coat

Re: New TV

she'll be using the TV's native Electronic Program Guide

At ninety-plus she's probably still using the Radio Times, and marking what she wants to watch with an X, just like mine... :)

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Re: New TV

Yep, then going to sleep and missing it and having me download it onto a USB stick for her to forget 'can you do that blue plug thing again dear?' :)

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So, people who don't even get served ads by blocking the very possibility are those upon which the ads would have been wasted anyway.

Halle-fucking-lujah!

Altho'... the more intrusive page blocking ads are also driving away people who might be interested in your ads, and the growing awareness that malware can come from those ads is also driving away potential customers who don't hate advertising. Time to clean up your house!

My personal take on advertisers?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy describes the Marketing Department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as:

"A bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes."

Curiously, an edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica which conveniently fell through a rift in the time-space continuum from 1000 years in the future describes the Marketing Department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as:

"A bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."

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Anonymous Coward

But here's the rub. People can get jaded pretty quickly. To paraphrase the late Terry Pratchett, things become "normal" and we start to ignore them. That's what happened with unobtrusive web ads. People started ignoring them more and more, no matter the content, so returns on them went down to the point they had to push back. And this is not a new phenomenon nor restricted to electronic media. Advertisers are fully aware that sometimes the only way to get attention (and to them, any attention is positive attention) is to shock and awe. Would you believe I read this in a book that went as far back as World War II? E.E. "Doc" Smith touched on it several times all the way back in First Lensman.

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First Lensman

Indeed he did - and also pointed out that the first point of contact between two civilisations was that both ignored the advertisments...

"Eat Teegmee's Food!"

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"But given that advertising does change sales numbers, that cannot actually be true."

What metrics do advertisers have to gauge the effect of advertising?

Say you advertise to 100 people and one of them comes along and buys whatever it is you're flogging. What do you know about the other 99?

You may assume that they're not in the market for the product, that you found the one who was and therefore you were completely successful.

This, however, assumes a lot. There might have been 10 people in the market for the product who'd have found their way to you but your ad pissed off the other 9 so that they've gone elsewhere.

You may be a little less happy with this outcome but it could be worse, 5 of those 9 might have been regular customers who are now somebody else's customers instead.

Does the advertising industry do any research on this? I suspect not - it might frighten off their clients. I remain convinced that the only products and people to whom the advertising industry successfully advertises are themselves to the clients.

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Joke

What metrics do advertisers have to gauge the effect of advertising?

Obligatory Dilbert comment (plus as a bonus it's a bigger Sunday strip):

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Oddly enough...

It was the Dilbert web site that prompted me to start adblocking in the first place. Once I discovered that the interminable wait for the pages to load was entirely down to the advertising, I never looked back.

This is the problem with online advertising as currently constructed. The value is not neutral, not even close. It is unremittingly negative. And is likely to become a problem even to us blockers, because the alternatives which might tempt revenue-challenged site owners include the likes of undeclared product placement and advertorial.

-A.

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"What metrics do advertisers have to gauge the effect of advertising?"

Plenty, actually. Those cookies that track you from site to site allow advertisers to know, for each particular ad, how many people clicked on it, and from those, how many people purchased anything. Very often as an initial limited campaign there are multiple versions of the same basic ad being randomly served to determine which version gets the best click-through and conversion rates, to then use that version in a full-blown campaign. I'm guessing that by now ad-slingers would also have some good benchmarks as to click-through and conversion rates. In other words, they will have a VERY good idea as to how well one particular ad or campaign is working *compared to their benchmarks* (ie relatively)

As to how do they know the ads are working in the absolute sense, I guess that the more tech-savvy clients have a good understanding of their normal sales patterns and compare that to the sales during and immediately after a particular campaign, adjusting for random variations, seasonal differences etc etc

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"Those cookies that track you from site to site allow advertisers to know..."

What those tracking cookies also allow advertisers to know is what your interests are. The same advertising agency will place ads on multiple sites. Google, of course, has its tentacles into just about every site on the internet, but others turn up on a very regular basis, as a glance at NoScript's Options list will tell you whenever you visit a site.

Every time you visit a site with an ad by that ad agency, its builds a list tied to a unique ID linked to you. They might not know your name and address, but they know every site you visited that has their stuff embedded in it - in effect, what they have is at least a partial duplicate of your browser history. In fact more than your browser history because if you're browsing in privacy mode your browser isn't storing your history but those ad trackers certainly are. Furthermore, those trackers not only store what pages you visit and when, but how long you spend on each one and some of them even track where your mouse goes and what parts of the page you scroll to. With Google Analytics being nearly universally deployed that means Google have your complete browser history whether you're using Chrome, or in privacy mode, or not.

Ad agencies use this information to "tailor" ads to what they think you're most likely to click on. So if you've been browsing sites that review and/or sell things like RealDolls, sex toys, fetish gadgets and so on, you can expect ads for those things to start appearing even on sites that have nothing to do with them. Depending on your computer-sharing situation, this can lead to some really awkward questions.

Not only that, but insurance companies also pay ad companies for this data. When they correlate it with other identifying information they most certainly can find out who you are. And if you've been browsing health sites looking for ways to stop smoking or asking questions about why you keep waking up at 3AM with a screaming gutsache, you'll suddenly find you're paying rather more for your premiums than most people.

It is this sort of thing that concerns me the most with online ads. I don't want to be tracked and profiled and have a map of my likes and dislikes methodically built up by people I've never met and don't know. I find the very idea of being pried on and a dossier being worked up about me for the purpose of being milked and exploited in this fashion intolerably odious.

And before anyone gives me that worn-out bullshit about "nobody cares about your likes and dislikes and shit," YES THEY FUCKING DO. They don't care on a personal level, no, but they still collect the information and use analytics software to draw conclusions about it. Some of those conclusions will be erroneous, but may potentially lead to problems for me down the track, say when I want to travel or buy insurance or apply for credit, for instance.

That is my primary reason for using adblockers.

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"Plenty, actually. Those cookies that track you from site to site [...]"

Which takes us straight back to the article, because those cookies *don't* track the sort of people who install ad-blockers.

"As to how do they know the ads are working in the absolute sense, I guess that the more tech-savvy clients have a good understanding of their normal sales patterns and compare that to the sales during and immediately after a particular campaign, adjusting for random variations, seasonal differences etc etc"

Good luck adjusting for all that. If we assume that one of the motivations for launching a new campaign is a dip in sales, then reversion to the mean will give you a rise after the campaign. Similarly, a new product launch will have associated ads but ... you've got a new product, dammit! Of course you'll see renewed interest.

So my guess is that *none* of the evidence of the effectiveness of advertising would pass peer review if submitted to a decent scientific journal.

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Re: Oddly enough...

The only thing wrong with Dilbert is no mouseover, whereas this https://xkcd.com/870/ tells you all you need to know about online advertising and has a mouseover.

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Randolph Hearst

In a publishing war Hearst discovered that increasing circulation brought better advertising revenues and he could afford to print an 8 cent newspaper for 1 cent, thus gaining even more advertising. Newspaper ads are almost unseen by regular readers.

All this was well known half a century before WW2. I don't know what effect Adblockers will have but I wish to find out. As far as I can see it could either mean all journalism will take the form of experts taking the time to explain things properly or retired experts writing their memoirs. We quidpropanes being the beneficiaries.

What could possibly go wrong with that unless HMG and The Americans get hold of the Assange and Snowden types. Could they catch them all?

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" Those cookies that track you from site to site allow advertisers to know, for each particular ad, how many people clicked on it, and from those, how many people purchased anything."

You're missing the point (apart from the fact that I'll never even see the ad).

The point is that such metrics only tell them how many positive responses they get. They don't know the effect on all those who didn't click - whether they just ignore the add or take note and decide NEVER TO BUY ANYTHING WHATSOEVER FROM THOSE WEASELS THIS SIDE OF THE HEAT DEATH OF THE UNIVERSE.

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Anonymous Coward

Ummm 2

Well some of the adblockers offer the possibility to allow "non intrusive adverts" on the pages you browse so that you don't get inundated by blaring bling but still allow the web site to get some money from ads.

The problem is of course to agree what "non intrusive" adverts are.....

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Re: Ummm 2

The problem is of course to agree what "non intrusive" adverts are.....

Obviously, they are the ones that pay the author of the ad-blocker the "I'm not intrusive" fee.

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Re: Ummm 2

Well presumably they (the adblocker dev) will define non-intrusive. I'd start with does not expand/hide other content. Does not auto play sound , does not auto play video on mobiles. Does not have 3rd party tracking cookies etc etc

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Re: Ummm 2

The adblocker s/w itself doesn't define what is and isn't intrusive, its the people who develop the rules and those rules include "allow the ones who pay us to allow them to be seen".

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Re: Ummm 2

I'd give you three out of four there. I think dropping a 3rd party tracking cookie is pretty non-intrusive in the sense that 90% of the population probably don't realise that it ever happens.

But the other three? Absolutely, and I'd be shocked to find anyone who reckoned that auto-playing audio was not intrusive. Makes me want to punch the advertiser in the face every time it happens and my usual response is to hit the back button in the browser and make a mental note not to visit the site hosting the ad.

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Goole i becoming unusable

VIrtually every question I ak it has a shaped answer that should suit me except it has not ben designed to suit me but their adverts. The sites I get sent to take hell of a lot of combing through/past so that I no longer use Google directly but the alternatives have all been exploited by happyknownothings working in the G-cement mixer grinding everything down to zero-G usefulness.

All the result of doing no evil's marketing strategy and anyway how do you suppose they are cute enough to rob the original site with sub-ads?

I wish it was a fantasy. Or rather I wish someone would enter the fantacy wearing women's stocking either over their underpants or over their heads and do the decent thing.

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If adverts weren't so irritating I'd not block them

While I realise that adverts are often designed to attract attention, I find any movement on a page unsettling and sometimes a little nauseating. A bit like with the infamous <blink> tag of yore.

So I block ads even if, as Tim notes, some are probably interesting to me as a potential customer.

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Re: If adverts weren't so irritating I'd not block them

It would indeed be interesting to know the percentage of people who actually find advertising demotes rather than promotes the product that they are trying to push. As in makes people actively hostile towards it, and towards its purchase.

There does seem to be a trend that way these days, in that they think getting it into ones brain is enough, regardless of whether it's a positive or negative association. Not just on the web, but think of adverts like (for example) all the new lottery ones with Piers Morgan, Katie Price and Laurence Llewellyn Bowen (or however you spell it). Specifically designed to associate the brand with people who the public ridicule and dislike (generally speaking) as a means of advertising.

Maybe it's clever (after all it seems to have got the Lottery into my memory), but I do wonder if certain brands would have better sales if they just did nothing in terms of advertising.

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Re: If adverts weren't so irritating I'd not block them

Well, didn't someone once say, "There's no such thing as bad publicity?" That even disgust gets people to talk about the subject which helps spread things by word of mouth?

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Re: If adverts weren't so irritating I'd not block them

"There's no such thing as bad publicity?"

That only applies to a very special class, people who make their living based on being known - like pop-starts, actors or politicians - for who there really is nothing worse than being forgotten. Anybody else making their living with something else that the ads only promote actually stands to lose quite a lot by sufficiently negative publicity.

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If advertisers want to reach me...

They are going to have to abandon the old model.

What I want are transparent reviewers. YouTubers if it comes to it ... but not the people who sell out for a particular brand.

Trust is, in my opinion, the currency on the internet.

I'd like to see a transparent fund with a regulated fee.

Each Tuber will have specific audiences that they speak to. I prefer some of the more straightforward reviewers that don't have fancy shmancy stuff, get down to the figures and do it in a compact manner. Some Tubers have a lot of editing, fancy titles and stuff (hey can keep it IMHO, but they'll have their own audience)

So, these tubers set a rate of £x as entry to their channel. For that, a merchant gets to have their stuff reviewed. It's therefore a level playing field with everyone paying the same transparent rate. And as the reviewer is basically free from too much bias, the manufacturer had better make sure that their products are up to snuff ... 'cause the Tuber serves their audience, because if the audience detects a shill, they'll vacate faster than a room full of Microsoft techs when Tim Cook shows up on stage.

(Jacln Glenn took a nearly 16% drop in her patreon after the plagiarism scandal hit - http://graphtreon.com/creator/Jaclyn )

If a manufacturer continues to get lousy reviews and gets in a huff ... let 'em leave, 'cause their goods ain't no good.

They need to move to a new model, 'cause the old one don't work no more.

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Re: If advertisers want to reach me...

But what would that fee bee? Unless it's incredibly small, you automatically bias these types of reviews towards the big companies with a large marketing budget, because small ones may have an innovative product, but they won't have the money to ensure widespread coverage.

If it's too small, however, you're not going to get people doing a really thorough job as a reviewer, if that's their day job. You're only going to get people who can afford to do it for pocket money while they have a 'real' job that pays, or those who will rush through as many reviews as they can to make enough to pay the mortgage.

Not to mention, I think a lot of people would be pretty distrustful of a situation in which the manufacturers were directly paying the reviewers. That's exactly the sort of thing that does open up people to accusations of bias, and it would take a big mindshift to change people's views.

Five years ago, I did a series of blog posts about How reviews work and I don't think much has changed (except, of course, the rate for the job still hasn't kept up with inflation).

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Re: If advertisers want to reach me...

IGN on mobile has an ad that takes up the whole page. When you try to close it, it offers you choices about what to do, and why you're trying to close the ad. One of these choices is "ad covers whole page". If you press it, it doesn't do anything. Neither do any of the others. You're stuck with the ad and no content.

Luckily I'm on WM10 preview so I can just press "reading mode" but otherwise, the ad has literally made the page absolutely worthless.

This is the kind of shit that goes on.

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Re: If advertisers want to reach me...

I've seen plenty of that sort of rubbish; or a close button that doesn't actually close, and instead opens a new tab on the advertiser's web site, so I can never actually read the content. Or those pages where you've started reading and scrolled down, and suddenly an ad covers up what you're reading. Or the ones that mysteriously bounce you to an app's page in the Play store.

So, while I am very much in favour of people like me being paid for the words that I write, I entirely understand why so many readers get frustrated with the experience of actually trying to read those words, and end up installing an ad blocker.

Digital publishing is more or less a teenage industry these days. And like far too many teenagers, it's self-harming.

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Re: If advertisers want to reach me...

I think you've just described "Which?". We already have that.

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Typically ad blocking used to be the domain of the more technically litterate user (after all you can't expect the average granny to mess about with hosts files etc).

Then the apps like adblock plus came along making ad blocking more accessable. As adpotoin grew more people then were seeing the vast difference between an internet infected with ads and a clean fast internet without them. People like this and ad blocking adoption grows because of this.

While its true I think a bulk of the more techie users who know how to block ads are those that ad's would be wasted upon, with this ever more accessable blocking methods that no longer really holds up.

Joe public if given the choice will say no ads please, yet if deprived of the option may still be exactly the type of person ad's would work on. This is exactly what the ad slingers are worried about. They know that most people if given the easy choice would block ad's, and they know that there is going to be a large portion of those people that would actually positively impact sales if they saw the ad's. They know as blocking becomes easier more and more joe public will take it up and they will loose ad impression's on people who would impact sales.

Tough luck to the ad slingers in my eyes.

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assumptions

"They know that most people if given the easy choice would block ad's,"

I doubt the know that, but being advertising people, they think a lot of stuff.

"and they know that there is going to be a large portion of those people that would actually positively impact sales if they saw the ad's."

They have no idea about that. In fact I'd go so far as to say that if they say that, they're lying.

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Surely ...

The Ad blocking would really hurt folk like Google. Most of it makes very little income for advertisers compared with costs. Especially for anyone not "global megacorp" or at least large national company.

Sites relying on Adverts would no doubt host the ads as part of their own content, and then you can't block them. From security and performance aspect, that is preferable.

I don't believe I've ever clicked on an ad and can't remember buying anything from an advert since I stopped buying magazines, other than on Amazon or eBay. Even then, I would have had a requirement and search the adverts. Now I look at ebay, Amazon, specific suppliers, I search using Golden Pages / Google etc if I can't find what I want.

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Re: Surely ...

The Ad blocking would really hurt folk like Google

Really? How do you find a product when you want to buy one? I'm pretty sure that if scattergun intrusive malware-vectoring browser-crashing web-advertizing dies out, it will benefit Google, not hurt them.

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Re: Surely ...

I'd be interested to know how much I'm worth to Google. i.e., how much would and individual need to pay each month for Google's services in order to offset the amount Google get paid advertising to us?

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Re: Surely ...

Maybe take Google's annual sales and divide by the population of the West? Ho hum ... hit quote.yahoo.com ...

Google market cap $448 Bn, price/sales ratio 6.37, so sales about $70 Bn. Population of the Western world must be about a billion. So $70 p.a.? Doesn't feel expensive. A dozen pints or four domain names or three months' broadband connection.

What do we reckon for a Bing subscription?!

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Re: Surely ...

"Sites relying on Adverts would no doubt host the ads as part of their own content, and then you can't block them. From security and performance aspect, that is preferable."

They'd also make damn sure they weren't blocking content.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Surely ...

Odds are, it's "Whatever it is, you can't afford it."

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Re: Surely ...

"Sites relying on Adverts would no doubt host the ads as part of their own content, and then you can't block them."

Yes you could still block ads hosted by a site if there was something consistent to latch onto, e.g. if they were always in a particular set of image urls then you could not retrieve anything matching that pattern. Though obviously you would only be doing that if the ads were intrusive (or were on a low data allowance and images were large).

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TRT
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There is software that blocks ads???!!!

If only there were some way to reach out and tell people that a product like this exists...

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Re: There is software that blocks ads???!!!

I take that [BEGIN SARCASM] & [END SARCASM] tags were implied

or omg heaven forbid, removed by El Reg's moderators :¬)

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Re: There is software that blocks ads???!!!

If only there were some way to reach out and tell people that a product like this exists...

Try advertizing. (The old-fashioned way, in a newspaper or magazine, where all ads are "good" ads due to the natural limitations of the medium).

Is this irony? Not sure.

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TRT
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Re: There is software that blocks ads???!!!

They tags would be there if I ever stopped being sarcastic.

The question is, was I being sarcastic in the last sentence?

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