A new skirmish has broken out in the ad-blocking wars, this time with Yahoo and its ubiquitous Yahoo Mail offering.
On Thursday, November 19, Yahoo started blocking some US users' email views in different browsers -- Chrome, Firefox, and Safari -- if AdBlock Plus, one of the most popular ad blockers, was enabled.
There's no way to say for sure if this is the first time users' email has been held hostage because of a site's ad-blocking policy, but another example doesn't come to mind quickly.
This action by Yahoo was first reported in a thread on Adblock Plus's message board.
It appears that Yahoo thinks access to its dwindling base of users' email will be more important than having to see ads. In 2013, Yahoo had about 96 million email users in the US. However, by August of this year that number was about 71 million, according to comScore numbers quoted by the Wall Street Journal.
In turn, the move has been met with derision on social media.
One Twitter message that can be printed went like this:
It should be noted that Herasimchuk is Yahoo's former senior director of product design and was involved in redesigning Yahoo Mail, which makes the irony palpable.
Most other tweets invoked profane suggestions as to what Yahoo could do with its mail service, as well as multiple threats to find another email service.
At Yahoo, we are continually developing and testing new product experiences. This is a test we're running for a small number of Yahoo Mail users in the U.S.
Yahoo representatives did not return InformationWeek's multiple requests for comment.
While dedicated mail clients like Apple Mail or Thunderbird do not seem to be affected, it is unclear at this point the exact "small number" of Yahoo mail users being blocked.
The blockade message can be invoked regardless of whether the ad blocker is enabled by appending "reason=ADBLK_TRAP" to the end of a mail message's URL.
Alternatively, changing the Viewing Mail choice in Settings from Full Featured to Basic can also defeat the mailbox block, according to users on the AdBlock Plus message board.
Not all of the Yahoo hosting activities are affected by this move. The "att.yahoo.com" mail service is unaffected, for example.
Yahoo is not alone in trying to come to grips with the rise of ad blocking. The Washington Post is experimenting with several approaches to create an anti-ad blocker. It's not clear yet whether it's working, or how readers at large feel about the approach.
The Washington Post is not the only publication trying to find a way around the blocking. City AM, a London financial newspaper, has been blocking the text of stories on Firefox browsers with ad blocking enabled since October.
Ad-blocking software can do more than just prevent an ad from showing on a page. It can prevent tracking scripts that are embedded in the ad. Malware has also been served up in some ads, as happened to Yahoo. This is where the rubber meets the road: Protecting users on one hand, and allowing users to employ the technology they want on the other.
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