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Aggressiveness of Modern Web Advertising

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Somewhat related to Terrible Software As A Service Pricing Models, the pervasiveness and aggressiveness of “modern” (yes, those quotes are required) web advertising is a very depressing devolution indeed. I know it’s nothing new, but I wanted to present a particular case that is perhaps as disgusting as it is funny.

Flemish television channel Play4—part of a giant media holding; that’s usually your first red flag—offers “free” (yup, those quotes again) videos on their site These range from actual full-length and aired shows to aftermaths and interviews that didn’t make the cut on TV. Of course we require an account with real fake data to be able to watch those movies, no big deal so far.

Until my wife complained about the never-ending spinner on every video. It doesn’t work. She tried other browsers because she knows both uBlock Origin and Firefox' Enhanced Protection can be a bit strict sometimes, but still no avail. When looking into the matter, I discovered our Pi-Hole installation blocks multiple domains while attempting to watch the movie:

  • The usual suspects and;
  •—wait, what?
  •; of course.

uBlock counts 14 different domains when connecting to that website. Fourteen. Dear “modern” web developers: what the hell are you doing?? Relying on a content delivery network on another domain is one thing, but fourteen? Let’s see here; excluding the too many subdomains:

  1. (CDN)
  2. (??)
  3. (??)
  4. (??)
  6. (CDN)
  7. (ads)
  8. (ads)
  9. (ads)
  10. (ads)
  11. (ads)
  12. (part ads, part in-house sared CDN)
  13.—a big LOL here.
  14. (??)


Grow passionate communities. Customer engagement and loyalty made easy for brands who want to build meaningful relationships.

Okay, that got my stomach upset again, I’m sorry, could you hear that?

What’s Yet another digital marketing tracking service, thus not unlike the aforementioned nauseating inclusion.

If we throw out all garbage, my browser should only retrieve data from:

  1. (CDN)
  3. (CDN)

That’s three, not fourteen, thank you very much. If you’re so inclined as to share in-house assets through, at least set up a reverse proxy on your own subdomain.

Anyway, the problem wasn’t fixed: my blood pressure went up, but the videos still didn’t load. Opening up the Network tab in Firefox' debug console only made things worse, revealing a cesspool of intertwined Ajax calls going haywire—thanks to modern JS-based web frameworks, conventional <HTML/> is traded in for a JS-based mess called “the dynamic web”. Inspecting the HTML5 video embed let to nowhere because it was presumably to be dynamically injected into the DOM.

But that part was never reached by the JS interpreter; either because the devs failed to correctly address 404s (since we aggressively block the aggressive ads). Or, perhaps, who knows, purposely not loading content because we block their trackers and ads? That would make this even more depressing.

Now, youtube-dl fixes this in a whiff: filter for m3u8 calls, copy that link and you’re all set. Except that, that didn’t work here: it’s a bit more involving, there’s (of course) an Ajax call that carries the link in the JSON response body.

I have no idea why we’re preferring dynamic loads and throwing away perfectly solid HTML-ing. Lately, news site has been completely redesigned. Besides the ugly whitespaces and Hip Huge Fonts, its speed was reduced by at least three seconds per load! You’re now greeted with a “Loading…” spinner, and everything’s fetched and injected via JS. That’s called progress. When it comes to domains and blocked ads, VRT sadly doesn’t far that much better than their commercial Play4 counterpart.

I miss websites that are just there when you load them, that work with JS disabled, that are 512 kB or less, that are easily machine-parsable. I know the blogosphere pays attention to these values, but let’s be honest: personal blogs are like 5% of one’s daily surfing destinations.

All other sites seem to be devolving towards an aggressive mess of JS-ified marketing tricks. Meanwhile, I’m just glad tools like uBlock, Firefox, and Pi-Hole exist.

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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