A new low in obnoxious Internet advertising

March 23rd, 2017

Yesterday I was reading Dispatches from the Culture Wars, one of my favorite blogs, when I encountered a strange error. The page appeared to load fine initially, but after only a second or two was replaced with a “page cannot load” error message:


The site had obviously already loaded (and its title was still displayed in the browser tab), so what exactly was the source of the connectivity problem? My suspicions were heightened by the error message itself, which (a) didn’t look like any Chrome error message I’d seen before, and (b) conspicuously focused on ad blockers as a potential source of the problem.

For context, Patheos (“the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality,” according to their about page), the site which hosts Dispatches, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to obnoxious Internet advertisements, so I’ve always used an ad blocker when browsing it. In fact, Patheos is the main reason I bothered to install an ad blocker in the first place. It’s similarly the main reason I switched from Chrome to Firefox as my mobile browser, as the Android version of Chrome does not support extensions like ad blockers.

So I did a little digging and confirmed what I suspected—that error message is fake. Patheos is using JavaScript to replace the entire web page with an <iframe> containing the message, hosted on an external domain. I presume it includes a check for the use of an ad blocker, though the code is obfuscated and I didn’t look closely enough to determine how that works. I simply disabled JavaScript for patheos.com in my browser and all was well again. The main downside is that Patheos uses Disqus for its comment system, and Disqus relies on JavaScript. So I won’t be able to see comments on any posts. Some might argue that’s a good thing.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that advertising pays the bills, and that bloggers like Dispatches’ Ed Brayton rely on ad revenue to keep the lights on. In fact, I paid for an ad-free subscription to Freethought Blogs back when Dispatches was hosted there. But I have no patience for intrusive ads, and those on Patheos are among the most intrusive I’ve ever encountered from a “legit” site. They hijack your browser, take up bandwidth, automatically play video & audio, and generally make browsing the site an unpleasant experience. This fake “page cannot load” message represents a new low, flat-out lying to users in an attempt to manipulate them into disabling ad blockers altogether, and yet is completely in line with the contempt Patheos already shows to its users.

It’s sad how integral advertising has become to everyday internet browsing, and how many otherwise useful sites become virtually unusable due to obnoxious advertisements.


peter says…
April 8th, 2017

experienced the same since beginning of april 2017. I guess throw patheos into the garbage bin.

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