Academic researchers fire latest shots in ad-blocking arms race

(credit: Shek's Aperture)

Advertising pays much of the budget for most online publishers, making the growth of ad blockers an existential threat. As such, ad blocking has set off a software-based arms race, with publishers finding software solutions that keep ads appearing, or entreat people using ad blocking software to white-list them. Ad blockers readily respond with modified software that targets these specific responses, triggering the publishers to try again.

Some academics have recently stepped into the middle of this arms race, performing an analysis that allows them to identify the specific methods used by publishers to avoid having ads blocked. And the team has gone on to try a couple of different approaches, both of which modify a web page's contents to keep the anti-ad-blocking software from having an affect.

Outside of the economics of it all, there's an interesting computer science problem here. The code on the web page is attempting to identify software present on a user's browser. How do you recognize when that's happening, and how can you possibly intervene?

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