Meet AdBlock Radio, an adblocker for live radio streams and podcasts. Its creator, Alexandre Storelli, told Motherboard he hopes to help companies "develop alternative business models for radio and podcast lovers that do not want ads."
“Ads exploit the weaknesses of many defenseless souls,” Storelli told Motherboard. “Ads dishonestly tempt people, steal their time and promise them a higher social status. Blocking them will be a relieving experience for many.”
Most audio ads exploit "auditory artifacts" to produce an ad that can’t be ignored or tuned out because it feels louder than it actually is—this has gotten so bad that there has actually been a “sonic arms race” where ads have been made increasingly louder over the years.
“Adblock Radio detects audio ads with machine-learning and Shazam-like techniques,” Storelli wrote about the project.
He said he’s been working on it for more than three years and that it uses techniques such as speech recognition, acoustic fingerprinting, and machine learning to detect known ad formats. It uses a crowdsourced database of ads and “acoustic fingerprinting,” which converts audio features into a series of numbers that can be combed by an algorithm. Storelli says this is the same technology used by Shazam to identify songs. He notes that the algorithm isn’t perfect, and that hip-hop music, for example, is often misidentified as an advertisement. It also has trouble with “native” advertisements, in which a podcast host reads an ad (this type of advertisement has become increasingly popular.)
By now, we are all aware of how intrusive ads can be, especially when they rely on the personal data they’ve been able to harvest from our online activity.
For now, we can’t escape the fact that many of our largest businesses and platforms rely on advertisements for revenue, capital, or profits—this sits at the root of the capitalist logic that guides our economy. That arrangement has a fundamental effect on everything from mass media to the structure of the internet itself. We can, however, try to change the quality and content of these ads and maybe end up realigning that economic arrangement along the way.
To that end, Storelli has made AdBlock Radio open-source and given detailed instructions on how to build on it, integrate it into user devices, and deploy it in a way that pressures radio stations (and podcasts) to self-regulate the quality of their ads.
James Williams, co-founder of the Time Well Spent movement, once made the case that "[the ultimate benefit of adblockers is] better informational environments that are fundamentally designed to be on our side, to respect our increasingly scarce attention, and to help us navigate under the stars of our own goals and values." Storelli goes a little further, quoting Jean-Marc Jancovici, a French energy expert, to argue "Climate change being one of the consequences of the modern mass consumption lifestyle, wishing a firm action against this process implies, for a part, to question the perpetual increase of the material consumption otherwise encouraged by ads."
It's not likely that ad blocking will avert a climate apocalypse. Ad blocking, however, may serve as a good salvo in the war against consumerism.
Samantha Cole contributed reporting.