The ASUS Zenfone Series Will Block Ads by Default
Beginning in January 2016 (I imagine there’s some kind of contract with an advertiser keeping them from doing this right away that is coming to an end in 2015), ASUS will be–by default–having their Chromium-based web browser, ASUS Browser, block ads on websites. At the Dark Android Project, I’ve been recommending ASUS’ Android devices for some time. The 2013 Google Nexus 7 (yes, that is ASUS-built), the ASUS ZenPad S 8.0, the soon to ship ASUS Zenfone ZOOM (with that giant freakin’ camera), and of course what I consider to be the best smartphone on the market for the buck (which I use as my daily driver): the ASUS Zenfone 2.
All of these devices (except for the Nexus 7) come with the ASUS Browser out-of-the-box, and like most of the ASUS-created apps that come with ASUS devices, it’s pretty good. While many see device manufacturer pre-loaded apps to be annoying (think everything Samsung puts on their devices), I actually tried out most of ASUS offerings and was very pleased with them. Their mail client is great (though I recommend K-9 Mail in conjunction with OpenKeychain). I still use their text messaging app (which had MMS turned off by default due to Stagefright…bravo). ASUS also has a built-in blue-light filter into ZenUI (which isn’t half bad either). The ASUS Music app can access cloud services which is really handy for massive music collections, and the system-wide ASUS SmartSound EQ handles that sound well. And the Zen Camera app is one of the best camera apps I’ve ever used. Suffice it to say, while pre-loaded apps are often bloat, ASUS actually delivers some very powerful software. And that is getting even more bolstered now by the ASUS Browser building in an adblocker and turning it on by default.
And I’ve used the ASUS Browser without adblocking already and it does a pretty good job. It has a lot of great privacy features already, and it is fast (not surprising since it’s built off of the open sourced parts of Android’s Chrome). As I understand it, ASUS will be using AdBlock Plus for its adblocking, which I have a minor gripe with since A.) uBlock Origin is far superior, and B.) AdBlock Plus can be “bought off” (as in, if a company pays ABP, they will put you on a “whitelist” as an acceptable advertiser). Regardless, it’s a fine browser and it gets the job done, and putting in adblocking software by default is a great move, since it’s pretty clear that Google will never build adblocking software into Chrome as advertisements are Google’s bread and butter.
Which raises an interesting point, and it’s a point that Apple likes to make about itself (even though I don’t think it’s entirely accurate for them to say). Hardware developers make their money off of the sale of hardware, not off of selling you off to advertisers (a la Google and others). This is why ASUS can get away with building in adblocking software, and I think it’s a great thing. I find the “building devices” business model to be far superior to the “building ad-supported shit” business model that it seems most of the tech industry operates from. But let’s not fall into the trap that the “building devices” model has clean hands. Lenovo is also in the “building devices” business model, but they double-dip. They make PC’s and also sell you off to advertisers. I don’t have any hint that ASUS is doing this, but do keep that in mind. Always be careful who you trust in these matters.
As far as why adblocking is so important, that’s fairly simple. It speeds up the sites you visit, lessens your data plan usage (which for some is very limited) and secures your system from potentially malicious ads. Ads today are as bad as the “pop-up ads” of the World Wide Web’s yesteryear, and hopefully with the adoption of modern adblocking by companies like ASUS, modern Web advertising will meet the same fate that pop-ups did years ago. Websites and services that are ad-funded need to come up with better ways to advertise and get funding. It is not immoral for consumers to block ads, and it is not the consumer’s job to figure out how to solve or not take action against this genuine problem. That is for the business to do.
Of course, I still recommend Firefox for Android (or Firefox-based browsers like IceCat, the AdBlock Plus Browser, and Orfox) over any other browser on Android. The fact that you can install uBlock Origin on Firefox, and that it has its own security certificates separate from the Android operating system makes for a far more secure and fast browser. But if you happen to purchasing an ASUS device in the near future, that built-in ASUS Browser isn’t a bad option to use.