Plenty of consumers use software like Adblock or Ghostery to screen out ads when they surf the internet. The tools can spare users the annoyance of intrusive ads but, when used on an institutional level, could also reduce network and data costs significantly.
This is the theory put forth in a new research paper published by the New Media Lab at Simon Fraser University. The study’s methodology involved rigging up two sets of computers – one set equipped with Adblock Plus, and one without – and then asking student volunteers to surf a variety of mainstream websites, including YouTube, the New York Times, CNN and BuzzFeed.
The study found that the students using the computers using the Adblock tool saw far fewer ads and consumed 25 percent less data than the comparison group. While it’s no surprise they saw fewer ads, the drop in data consumption is notable. As the authors point out, the system-wide implementation of ad-blocking on university and other institutional networks could lower costs on three fronts:
Reduced network data demand means that an internal network running Adblock Plus would have lower infrastructure costs … This would also mean lower maintenance and staffing costs as well.
Reduced network data demand would also translate into lower commodity network costs as less data overall would be downloaded from external network sources
Reduced network data demand may indicate lower energy costs.
It’s unclear if the prospect of lighter data loads will spur IT managers to implement adblock tools but, if they do, it will be a further headache for publishers and the online ad industry, which already see consumer use of adblockers surging. The sale of online ads, of course, helps keep the lights on at many websites, and enterprise-wide efforts to strip ads out could prove a significant blow.
I’ve explained before that I’m uneasy with the business model of ad blockers and, especially, Adblock Plus (which is the focus of the SFU study, and which paid $8,500 to provide servers and other equipment for the researchers. ) That’s because Adblock Plus, while talking up the virtue of an ad-free environment, actually runs a pay-to-play business in which it charges deep-pocketed companies like Google and Amazon to ensure their ads get through. This practice appears both hypocritical and has the potential to make ad-blocking companies an unwelcome new toll-collecting middle-man on the internet.
But despite these misgivings, the study’s implications regarding ads and data use – and the potential cost savings for enterprise – may be hard to ignore.