You can’t toss a dead cat into e-space without touching a smart TV – that’s how it is in 2022. Whether it’s a Roku TV, a set of LG, Samsung, Vizio or from another TV running a different operating system, chances are it is connecting to the internet. There’s also an even greater chance that the platform the TV is running on deals with advertising.
It’s just the way of the world. And for that reason, you need an ad blocker on your home network – period.
It’s kinda funny to see people all hugging an advertisement for Sleep Number beds appearing on a Roku TV made by Sharp, which made the rounds on the /r/cordcutters subreddit during a recent NFL playoff game. Roku tells TechToSee that whatever caused the ad to appear — whether it’s an operating system-level thing or a device-specific thing — has “been resolved”.
Ads on Ads on Ads
Forget for now that an NFL broadcast is itself full of in-stadium, on-field, on-screen and out-of-the-mouth commercials. Yet we watch. And ignore for now the fact that Roku is now an advertising company that also sells hardware and licenses its operating system to other manufacturers. Still, we’re buying the $25 sticks in droves and the cheap TVs in droves. Advertising is the price you pay when you don’t pay the price at register.
You have options. You can choose to buy a product that does not inject advertising in addition to content. It’s more expensive, of course, and it can make you feel like you’re being punished. (You’re not.) Or that you have to be an elitist to wash your hands of all those dirty ads. (That may be a little more true.)
There is another way, the one that really should be taught in schools.
Chances are if you’re reading this you’re familiar with ad blockers. (We’ll also ignore for now that the website you’re currently reading is ad-supported.) They’re pretty easy to implement at the browser level with an extension.
Network-level blocking is where it’s at
If you really want to block ads, you want to do it at the network level. It’s not such a simple undertaking, but it doesn’t require a degree in computer science either. The basic traits are: you will have a device somewhere on your network, and all traffic requests will pass through there. If something pings on the “block list”, this traffic does not pass. This means things like ads won’t appear or maybe tracking data won’t be leaked.
Because it’s at the network level, it covers any device connected to your network: phones, tablets, TVs, whatever.
It is also a somewhat blunt instrument. There are times when things just don’t work out. (In addition to ads not loading, which is more of a feature in this case than a bug.) This is not a set-and-forget attempt. There are times when you’ll either have to disable the ad blocker for something to load or work properly, or you’ll have to dive in and tweak blocklists and/or whitelist servers.
Your experience will be different from someone else’s. At home I usually have on average about 13% of all server requests blocked. Maybe it’s high, maybe it’s low. It all depends on how many devices you have going through the ad blocker and what those devices are.
I’m also not surprised that nearly 25% of blocked requests come from a single server from a certain manufacturer. This does not mean that all such requests are advertisements or spam or are otherwise harmful. In fact, all we know is that the device requests data from the scribe.log.roku.com server, and that’s it. We don’t know what the data is (and I don’t care). It’s just that whoever runs the blocklists I use felt that this server was worth blocking.
Roku is chosen here because it’s a big target, and it’s the one that comes up for me, but it’s not the only one. Amazon Fire TV does. Google TV (and Android TV) does. Phones do. Tablets do. Anything that connects to the internet is almost certainly connecting to an ad server somewhere or some sort of analytics server. None of these things are inherently bad.
But if you want to make sure you won’t get any ads on top of your ad-laden football game, a network-level ad blocker is a good place to start.