Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chron.com Blocking AdBlock Plus Extension for Firefox? Yep.

Update:

Chron.com TechBlog editor Dwight Silverman verified that the story pages at chron.com have recently been redesigned.  It is very likely that these page-code changes are what rendered the story pages un-viewable in Adblock Plus.

Wladimar posted a comment that he was not seeing any issues in his Adblock Plus build.

On that information I went to Rick752’s website for ABP and manually downloaded the latest
filter subscriptions for Adblock Plus and installed them. Then I removed the custom "allow chron.com" I had applied to test the new set. That “fix” worked fine and chron.com’s story pages are now loading normally again.

I also hope the tone of the post didn’t leave readers under the impression that I felt that chron.com was intentionally blocking ABP users from seeing their story pages. While that is certainly technically possible for webmasters to do, most do not and it is not my intention to suggest that chon.com was doing so.  In any event, I depend on chon.com and were I to have to view all their ads, it would be a small price for the great content they provide for free.

The particular reason I even bothered to post this micro-adventure what that I felt that if I was having issues…certainly others would be as well, and this might be helpful to them as they try to search the web for a solution.

Finally, Adblock Plus should (by default) look to download new and updated subscription lists.  It looks like for some reason my Firefox/ABP combo hasn’t been doing that.  That will need to be a post for another day.  So for now, I will be adding periodic manual updates to my list of Firefox maintenance activities.

--Cheers!  Claus V.

I have a routine I follow when I sit down at my computer browser.  It’s almost as bad as a superstition-loving baseball player.

I fire up my nightly-release of Firefox (Gran Paradiso), check for new nightly updates along with any Add-ons that may have been updated and apply them, then restart the browser.

I then fire up NewsFox and get it pulling down any updated posts from the 80-110 RSS feeds or so.

While that is going on, I open another tab and check chron.com, TechBlog, and cnn.com.  I comb each one carefully for any stories or posts that might be useful news as I go about my day. Then I turn to sorting through the NewsFox RSS feeds.

Only just this past week I began running into issues at chron.com.

The Symptom

I could load the main page of chron.com with no issues. I could also load and view all the chron.com blog pages with no issues.

However, any news-story that I selected a link for resulted in a completely blank page.

Nada.

No 404 error displayed, the URL was fine and the Firefox browser status bar reported the page-load was done.

Since I use Firefox nightlies I figured something was “broke” in the code causing this strange behavior.  I was seeing it on all my systems with Firefox nightlies (Vista/XP Home/XP Pro).

I figured it would be fixed soon enough, but it wasn’t.

So last night in frustration of needing to see a story that was really important, I opened up my Opera browser and went to chron.com and then the story-link.

Guess what?

It loaded just fine.

Hmmmm.

Troubleshooting and Fix

So this morning I got to work looking at the issue.

I should have loaded up a packet capture tool and gone full-tilt but I was still sleepy.

I opened up Firefox to chron.com and began thinking through the issue.

Something was causing the article pages not to load.  Usually that is a cookie issue.  So I first confirmed that I didn’t have any cookie blocking going on. (I usually accept all cookies, then cull out the “nuisance” crumbs on a weekly basis.)

Next up was the NoScript extension, often known to cause some page loading issues.  However, when I checked, NoScript had retained my settings to allow all scripts on chron.com.

So I then turned my attention to Adblock Plus.  Unlike NoScript, this one usually doesn’t demand hardly any user interaction.  Install it, load a “subscription” file and forget it.

So for kicks I disabled it.

Guess what?

All the article pages at chron.com now loaded.

So I re-enabled it, confirmed that the pages were not loading again, then right-clicked the icon for it in my status bar and selected the option to “Disable on www.chron.com” and the red “ABP” icon changed to green.

All my chron.com pages are loading normally again.

Fixed.

No beef with me.  I really like and depend on chron.com so it's an acceptable trade-off in my book to disable AdBlock Plus for chron.com.

Just wish it would have been easier to figure out.  I wonder how many other users are getting frustrated with their system/browser/chron.com webmaster because article pages suddenly are no longer loading for them....

Poking a Sleeping Dragon with a Stick….

All this reminds me of the big "to-do" that made the web-rounds last fall in regards to Firefox users and their penchant for Add-ons that block ads and other banner-media.

User of the programs (like me) generally say that we use such tools to block annoying banners, improve download speeds for content we do want, preserve or lower bandwidth consumption, and to protect our systems from hostile JavaScript code as we surf the web.

Web-masters generally complain that this results in a loss of revenue due to removal of click-through ads, un-lawful modification of their web-page design and presentation, and runs the risk of leading to the collapse of their free-content-for-ad-sponsorship business model.

At the moment, it is probably a small (but growing) number of more sophisticated web-users are using ad-blocking extensions such as this.  However, these solutions are slowly creeping into the mainstream and more "non-technical" mom-and-pop users are taking notice and using them as well.

Factor in the latest upcoming round of fourth-generation web-browsers that promise more secure web-browsing functions -- such as the Opera 9.5 browser, Internet Explorer 8 Beta, and Firefox web browser 3.0 --all now provide anti-phishing/anti-threat site protection to varying degrees.  Many more improvements are due in the next IE 8 beta release version.  These may also impact the ad/script-based web-o-sphere.

I believe we haven't yet seen the real battle yet on this web-front.

So What I'm Saying Is...

Firefox users should continue to make their web-browsing sessions as safe and enjoyable as possible.

That means (to me) still installing the following extensions, at the minimum.

For even more Firefox web-browsing security, take a look at this list with some of the above and a few extras:

8 Firefox extensions towards safer browsing - tssci security

  • CS Lite - cookie handler

  • FoxyProxy - proxy handler (I prefer and use PhProxy instead.)

  • LocalRodeo - DNS support watcher

  • RefControl - control "referring" information sent to websites

  • SafeCache - sandbox web-browsing cache cross-tracking

  • SafeHistory - sandbox web-browsing history cross-tracking

  • Firekeeper - IDPS and XSS protection (not FF 3.0 compatible--too bad!)

--Claus

3 comments:

Wladimir Palant said...

It works fine for me with the EasyList subscription - so you should report that issue to the author of the filter subscription you are using (open Tools / Adblock Plus to check). If you are using Filterset.G - see http://adblockplus.org/en/faq_project#filterset.g

Dwight Silverman said...

Claus:

Nice post.

After talking with our system folks, I have learned that this actually is an issue with the way AdBlocker works, not something we've done intentionally.

We did recently change the design of our story pages. We have nothing on the page that blocks the extension. However, AdBlocker works by using a database of sites and ad types and their behavior. When we changed our site, it no longer matches with the behavior outlined in AdBlocker's filters. As a result, it sees our entire story page as an ad to be blocked.

At some point, AdBlocker will update its database and the problem will resolve itself. Savvier users may be able to manually tweak the filters. In the interim, disabling AdBlocker for our site will indeed allow you to see the content.

Claus Valca said...

@ Dwight - Thank you for the extra background. Since it happened pretty suddenly I suspected it was a page design issue and not something that chron.com was doing intentionally. Hope it didn't come across too strongly in the post.

@ Wladimir - I went back this morning to Rick752's website and got the latest Filter Subscriptions for Adblock Plus and installed them. Then I removed the custom "allow chron.com" I had applied to test the new set.

Worked fine and chron.com is now loading normally again.

Thank you for taking the time to cross-check against your configuration.

I suspect that although I have it set to download and install the latest ABP subscriptions, that wasn't occurring.

I'll have to keep an eye on that issue and check the subscription files from time to time.