Adblocking and Counter-Blocking: A Slice of the Arms Race

TitleAdblocking and Counter-Blocking: A Slice of the Arms Race
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsNithyanand, R., Khattak S., Javed M., Vallina-Rodriguez N., Falahrastegar M., Powles J. E., De Cristofaro E., Haddadi H., & Murdoch S. J.
Published inProceedings of the 6th USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI '16)

Adblocking tools like Adblock Plus continue to rise in popularity, potentially threatening the dynamics of advertising revenue streams. In response, a number of publishers have ramped up efforts to develop and deploy mechanisms for detecting and/or counter-blocking adblockers (which we refer to as anti-adblockers), effectively escalating the online advertising arms race. In this paper, we develop a scalable approach for identifying third-party services shared across multiple websites and use it to provide a first characterization of anti-adblocking across the Alexa Top-5K websites. We map websites that perform anti-adblocking as well as the entities that provide anti-adblocking scripts. We study the modus operandi of these scripts and their impact on popular adblockers. We find that at least 6.7% of websites in the Alexa Top-5K use anti-adblocking scripts, acquired from 12 distinct entities – some of which have a direct interest in nourishing the online advertising industry.


The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback on preparation of the final version of this paper. Rishab Nithyanand was supported by a Open Technology Fund Emerging Technology Senior Fellowship. Sheharbano Khattak and Steven J. Murdoch were supported by The Royal Society [grant number UF110392]; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council [grant number EP/L003406/1]. Emiliano De Cristofaro was supported by a Xerox University Affairs Committee award and EU grant H2020-MSCA-RISE “ENCASE”.

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