You can get browser extensions to stop advertisers from tracking you, but until now there hasn't been one that can prevent you from getting suckered by hucksters on news sites.
Thanks to the Internet, journalism's core funding models of subscriptions and advertising are not what they used to be. Trying to find new ways to make money, publications--including PCWorld and its sister sites--are trying out other sources of revenue such as sponsored posts, also known as "native advertising."
These are articles written and published along with regular news articles, but are either written by or for an advertiser. Sponsored posts are only a few years old and publications are still grappling with how to mark what is sponsored content and what is not.
To help online news junkies see the difference between sponsored posts and regular articles, Google Product Engineer Ian Webster created a sponsored post-sniffing browser extension in his spare time.
The result is AdDetector, a simple extension available in the Chrome Web Store or Mozilla's add-ons gallery for Firefox. Once it's installed, AdDetector scans web pages you visit to ferret out ads. When it does find a sponsored article, the extensions displays a large red banner at the top of the page. If the extension can determine the sponsor's name it will display that, too.
Webster recently told The Wall Street Journal that comedian John Oliver helped inspire the extension. The British satirist recently took native advertising to task during one of his epic rants on the HBO show Last Week Tonight.
Webster's aim isn't necessarily to keep you away from that fun BuzzFeed article about 14 modern keepsakes to give to your future children. Instead, he's trying to inject more transparency about which articles are sponsored and which are not.
AdDetector's red banner can be very useful since some websites try to play down an article's sponsorship by putting a notice off to the side of main copy, blending the sponsorship notice with the general design of article, or marking it as sponsored at a relatively small font size. That may hide sponsorship notices from human eyes, but not a computer program scanning for hints of native ads.
Well, most of the time.
Venturing out onto the web with AdDetector installed, the extension easily identified sponsored content from BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, and others. Interestingly, however, it failed to alert me when I visited a sponsored post here on PCWorld as well as a video on The Atlantic's site.
Although AdDetector does have to run on most pages you visit to do its job, Webster says your browsing data is never used, stored, or transmitted. The code for the extension is also up on GitHub for anyone that wants to take a look.
Speaking of having a look, here's the scathing John Oliver rant that spurred the creation of AdDetector.