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November 29, 2016 11:00 am - 12:00 pm EST

Title: The Future of Ad Blocking: Analytical Framework and New Techniques

Speaker: Arvind Narayanan, Princeton University

Location: West Village G, 1st Floor, Room #106, Boston, Massachusetts 02115


We present a systematic study of ad blocking — and the associated “arms race” — as a security problem. We model ad blocking as a state space with four states and six state transitions, which correspond to techniques that can be deployed by either publishers or ad blockers. We argue that this is a complete model of the system. We propose five new ad blocking techniques, including ones that borrow ideas from rootkits to prevent detection by anti-adblocking scripts. Several of these are based on the insight that ads must be recognizable by humans to comply with laws and industry self-regulation. We have built prototype implementations of three of these techniques, successfully blocking ads and evading detection.

We present a systematic evaluation of these five techniques, in addition to two existing ones, along a variety of axes encompassing security, practicality, and legality. We characterize the order of growth of the development effort required to create/maintain ad blockers as a function of the growth of the web. Based on our state-space model, our new techniques, and this systematization, we offer insights into the likely “end game” of the arms race. Contrary to widespread assumption, we argue that users / ad blockers hold the upper hand, although factors such as legality and limitations of browser APIs complicate the picture.

About the Speaker 

Arvind Narayanan is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Princeton. He leads the Princeton Web Transparency and Accountability Project to uncover how companies collect and use our personal information. Narayanan also leads a research team investigating the security, anonymity, and stability of cryptocurrencies as well as novel applications of blockchains. He co-created a Massive Open Online Course as well as a textbook on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency technologies. His doctoral research showed the fundamental limits of de-identification, for which he received the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Award.

Narayanan is an affiliated faculty member at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton and an affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. You can follow him on Twitter at @random_walker.


November 29, 2016
11:00 am - 12:00 pm
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West Village G
450 Parker St.
Boston, MA 02115 United States