The Evil of Multimedia Advertisements or Why I Don't Have an Android Phone Anymore

I don't have an Android smartphone anymore. Well, actually I do, but it's damaged beyond any ability to use. This is the tale of how it happened, of how a single advertisement on the Web led to the destruction of a personal computer.

Once upon a time, about ten years ago, I signed up for news by email from one of the local TV stations, KOAT TV 7, Albuquerque's ABC network station.  This is useful to me mainly because I wanted to (and then had to) give up TV.  I live in a village nestled between some mountains, and no signals of watchable strength from any broadcast towers can reach my den, and I don't have or want satellite TV.  This means the Internet is the only way I can keep up with current events, and email news bulletins are the most convenient daily updates.

Tangentially, I used to get my news via email from InfoBeat. It was a wonderful service: They sent whole stories in email, not just teasers, they sent mail in plain text, and their ads were totally unintrusive. However, they sold out to Sony, which promptly gutted everything useful about it and slowly transformed it into a completely useless trivial amusement site without so much as a shadow of its former self.

Fast forward to this year.  I found an Android Kit Kat phone, an LG Optimus Fuel, for sale at Walley World for $35 or so, by Straight Talk with card-PIN prepaid plans at $45 per 30 days of unlimited usage.  (Qualified, of course, but I never ran up against a limit.) Now, the only use I have for a smartphone is as a pocket-sized tablet PC that happens to be able to access the Internet from almost anywhere, and that's the only thing I used it for.

Yesterday, I bought a card and added it to my smartphone plan.

However, I couldn't find a Web browser for it that allowed me to selectively disable JavaScript or block annoying ads, both of which combine to form the most serious Internet-borne threats all computers face today.  I found a browser that lets me read pages plainly and simply, TextOnly Browser, but it's a browser link option in every Android program I ran except one: K-9 Mail.

And K-9 is what I checked my mail with this morning.

This morning's news mail update included a link to a local news story about a change in the law in which shoplifters who steal less than $500 would be cited instead of arrested on the Web.  I had no idea it was a video story from their TV broadcast, and it had a multiparagraph text story attached.

I waited until the page finished loading, then I scrolled down in the only way a touchscreen tablet will allow: pressing and sliding up with my thumb as if I was dragging a card on a table.  I had to do that several times to scroll past the masthead, the headline, the reporter, and a full-screen blackness which I thought was reserved for a giant ad.  I couldn't scroll past that ad without pressing my thumb on it.  I didn't know it at the time (or for several hours afterward), but that somehow triggered the video to start buffering and playing.

While reading the third paragraph of text, in the peace, serenity, and silence of a quiet morning preparing to start my workday, a television commercial advertisement pierced my entire world from the palm of my hand and shattered it into a thousand pieces, with an effectiveness matched only by a man-of-war's call to general quarters and an apartment building's fire alarm.

Worse, it was an ad for a Ford dealership. Ford, whose cars are of such high quality that I was barely able to give mine away, let alone try to sell it, after pouring thousands of dollars in near-daily repairs into it.

With only half of my sanity pieced back together when the ad was five seconds in, I scrambled to find a way to stop it.  I madly scrolled back up, tapped, pressed, and squeezed on what I thought was a pause button, tried squeezing the power/lock button on the side, and tried clawing at the seam where the phone and battery cover met.  Nothing worked.  In my panic, there was only one thing left to do.  With the force of a pitch and the madness of a flail, I hurled the phone at the floor.

Smashing the phone against the floor worked, but at a terrible price.

Although each component remained largely and safely intact, the phone exploded on impact into its three main components: body, battery, and cover.

I reassembled the phone and tried to turn it on.  The speaker and home button LED revealed that the phone still worked, and a notification sound revealed that the phone could still access the Internet, but the screen was black.  I shut it down and restarted several times, and a few times it started up with the screen half dark, half a splash of psychedelic colors, while most times it started up with the screen completely dark.  So technically my phone still works, but effectively it's been destroyed.

This is not the first computer I destroyed.  I wish I could truthfully say it was the first I destroyed intentionally, but it isn't, it's the second.  The first was also an Android smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy Centura, though the problem I had with that one was of death by a thousand paper cuts, not a single world-shaking event.

As I write, I don't know what I'm going to do for a simple, tiny tablet computer because I can't put up with the things marketeers foist on us, intrusive, invasive crap that apparently most people just put up with.

I have spent the last ten years spoiled by a blissful desktop and laptop computer experience that, since becoming a PC repair and Internet help desk technician, I learned was an entire world beyond the typical computer experience.

I was burned by Web site owners betraying my trust and the safety of my computer by plastering their sites with ads from networks that don't screen their ad campaigns for malicious ads.  I had bosses burned by endless armies of ads undermining their faith in their own computers because they were disguised as Windows error messages complete with framing.  I was burned by ad networks serving me program source code I couldn't trust or vet, consuming my computer's precious resources instead of a server's plentiful resources, helping itself to anything and everything my Web browser naively thought any trusted application should access, and for no purpose but to separate me from my money or the good quality of my name in exchange for a trinket as useless as a modern Cracker Jack prize, or to scare me into installing the very malicious software it promises to protect me against.

I can't understand how anyone could accept that as the status quo; it's like a person picnicking in the middle of a burning field accepting that the air should be filled with thick, toxic smoke instead of running to safety.

Like most people who learn ads can be blocked, I installed ABP.  Like many people who discover a crowdsourced Web site reputation service exists, I installed Web of Trust.  And like many who want total and meaningful decision-making authority over what software programs do and don't run on their own computers, I installed NoScript so I can choose with per-domain granularity which JavaScript scripts run on my computer, shutting out script-powered and plugin-powered advertisements completely.  This combination has spoiled me by shielding me from nearly all of the malware plague rampant on the modern Internet.

This combination is the absolute minimum amount of Internet protection I will accept on a desktop or laptop computer, but I have been unable to find anything that can give me a comparably safe Internet experience on Android devices, the only pocket computers I can afford thanks to prepaid data plans.

The breakdown or absence of this minimum of protection is intolerable on my own computers, and as now two Android devices can attest, I will do whatever it takes to remove any manner of ad-borne threat.

I should note that my problem is not with all advertisements, or I wouldn't be able to read a single magazine or newspaper. My problem is with ads that insist on total conquest.  Conquering my page or site experience at the expense of the content I went there for.  Conquering my browsing experience by sheer numbers alone, blotting out the page as completely as a hurricane blots out the sun.  Conquering my trust by attempting to exploit my fears or attempting to insult my intelligence with promises of free checks that themselves hock expensive and useless fixes.  Conquering my computer itself with the installation of malicious software that is at best socially engineered and at worst totally uncommanded by anyone but the perpetrator.  Print ads can't engage in conquest like Web ads do, like mobile ads do.  Print ads capture my attention then let it go; Web ads try to rob my entire experience.  And I resist that conquest as forcefully as necessary, which is why two Android phones are the only ones of literally dozens of computers I have ever owned that I have intentionally destroyed.

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