A Longitudinal Analysis of Online Ad-Blocking Blacklists

Saad Sajid Hashmi, Muhammad Ikram, Mohamed Ali Kaafar

Websites employ third-party ads and tracking services leveraging cookies and JavaScript code, to deliver ads and track users' behavior, causing privacy concerns. To limit online tracking and block advertisements, several ad-blocking (black) lists have been curated consisting of URLs and domains of well-known ads and tracking services. Using Internet Archive's Wayback Machine in this paper, we collect a retrospective view of the Web to analyze the evolution of ads and tracking services and evaluate the effectiveness of ad-blocking blacklists. We propose metrics to capture the efficacy of ad-blocking blacklists to investigate whether these blacklists have been reactive or proactive in tackling the online ad and tracking services. We introduce a stability metric to measure the temporal changes in ads and tracking domains blocked by ad-blocking blacklists, and a diversity metric to measure the ratio of new ads and tracking domains detected. We observe that ads and tracking domains in websites change over time, and among the ad-blocking blacklists that we investigated, our analysis reveals that some blacklists were more informed with the existence of ads and tracking domains, but their rate of change was slower than other blacklists. Our analysis also shows that Alexa top 5K websites in the US, Canada, and the UK have the most number of ads and tracking domains per website, and have the highest proactive scores. This suggests that ad-blocking blacklists are updated by prioritizing ads and tracking domains reported in the popular websites from these countries.

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