Everyone hates online ads. They pop up over the article you’re reading or delay your progress through the photo slideshow you’re browsing. They automatically play and blare obnoxious audio. If you’re on your smartphone or your tablet, they cover up your screen, or expand over the text you’re reading and offer no clear way to get them to disappear again (or offer an X that promises to shut the ad, but instead refuses to close the ad, or just opens endless tabs of whatever website is being advertised).
As Sydney Ember reports for The New York Times, online advertisers and the consumers on whom their ads are foisted “have tried to outmaneuver each other since the early days of the web.” Advertisers are continually trying to get people to spend more time with their ads, while users are constantly trying to see fewer ads and spend less time viewing them. “But the cat-and-mouse game has reached a critical point,” Ember reports, “especially as devices have gotten smaller: Ads have become so annoying, consumers and industry executives say, that they could sink the Internet if they were not also helping support it.”
On many mobile devices, ads are unbearably pervasive and intrusive, and significantly degrade the user experience. Read on for some of the worst things about online ads — though don’t blame us if seeing all of those annoyances in one place convinces you that it’s finally time to install an ad blocker.
1. Ads that take up your entire screen
Advertisers and ad networks are getting increasingly aggressive with ads, particularly as more users are viewing websites on the relatively small screens of their smartphones. Many smartphone owners can’t get through a day without stumbling into an ad that takes up their entire screen, instead of just appearing as a banner ad at the top of the screen. These ads are designed to cover up the content you were trying to read or watch, but for most users are more likely to send them toward the back button than clicking on whatever it is that’s being advertised so desperately.
2. Ads that expand over the content you’re trying to read
Banner ads that start large and become significantly larger are one of the new kinds of ads that make even desktop versions of your favorite websites difficult to navigate. The ad may initially take up a significant portion of the page, but you think you’ll be in the clear once you scroll past it. But as you scroll, the ad expands, screaming for your attention and not only obscuring the content that you actually clicked on the page to see, but oftentimes pushing it further down the page.
3. Video ads that play automatically (and loudly)
One of the most annoying kinds of ads is the video ad, particularly the breed that plays automatically when a page loads. If you open a number of tabs from a Google search, for instance, as many people do when they aren’t sure which page will have the answers they need, it can get difficult to identify the page that’s making all the noise, and sometimes once you’ve identified the page, to figure out where the ad is and how to stop it.
4. Sponsored posts that aren’t obviously sponsored
Sponsored posts work great for everyone when they’re clearly marked. They don’t pop up annoying ads over the content you actually wanted to read, and sometimes they offer interesting insights (or at least an intriguing headline) that gets you to click on them even though you know that they’re paid for by an advertiser. Where sponsored posts become annoying is when they aren’t clearly delineated as such, and you only find out what you’re really reading when you spot that telltale marketing speak.
5. X buttons that don’t work when you try to close an ad
Particularly on mobile devices, you’re probably relieved when a pop-up ad has a small X in the corner, which you’ll be able to press to close the ad and read the article you were expecting. But things quickly go awry when the X is so tiny that it doesn’t register your tap. (Ember reports that sometimes that’s intentional, which makes it even more infuriating.) Things get even worse when you try repeatedly to tap the X and, instead, the ad sends you to the website, app download link, or product advertised. And worst of all? When you repeatedly get sent to an external website and, on your return to the article you actually wanted to read, the ad is still there, taunting you with the nonfunctional X button.
6. Ads that clearly illustrate that trackers have been watching you
Every once in a while, you see an ad that’s pretty useful. It gives you a quick way to navigate to something that’s interesting to you, and your click does a little bit to support a site that you like. But other times, you see an ad that’s a little too tailored to your interests. In fact, this ad is showing you an image of the exact item you viewed on a retailer’s website earlier in the day or week. While just about everyone knows that websites are tracking you and what you do online, these ads make that fact a little too clear for comfort.
7. Ads that drain your battery life and make a dent in your data plan
One of the main reasons that users choose to install ad blockers on their smartphones is that the ads that have become ubiquitous across the mobile web can be a significant drain on battery life and use up a large amount of your data allotment. Many ads load extremely slowly, causing entire web pages to take dozens of seconds to appear as they load an abundance of ads and trackers.