A new study suggests that users of online ad blockers might be getting less value out of their browsing habits than they used to.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, analysed more than 200,000 searches made by 1.3 million people over the course of the year and found that they were using less and less of the web.
It found that searches for “free web browsing software” and “internet privacy tools” were down about 10 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.
The research was published in the journal Science.
It was conducted on the basis of the results of an experiment, where participants were asked to use the internet for 30 minutes.
The researchers then asked them to use a computer to find out how much time they spent using each of the keywords that appeared in the search terms.
In the experiment, the researchers used two search terms, “free online video conferencer software” or “free computer webcam software”, and asked them the same question again.
“We saw a similar trend in the results,” said Dr Nick Beardsley, who led the research team.
“What we did not see was a clear decline in the time spent with free online video chat software, for example.”
“Instead, we saw that users were using fewer keywords and fewer free computer software keywords.”‘
Not as useful’The researchers found that people were using the search keywords “free internet software” (from 18 per cent to 15 per cent of searches), “free webcam software” from 20 per cent down to 10 per year, and “free camera software” which had fallen from 14 per cent up to 11 per year.
“The trend towards using fewer free online software keywords was more pronounced when users were on a free internet plan and using the term free online computer webcam as their keyword search term,” said Beardsly.
“For example, if a user searched for ‘free webcam video confederator software’ and was looking for a free camera software, they were more likely to use ‘free computer software’ as their search term.”
It was unclear whether the trend was due to the removal of ad blockers or the increased use of browser extensions, or whether the search results were skewed towards using the more popular search terms because they were less likely to appear in results.
It’s not the first time researchers have found that users are using fewer search terms than they would like.
In 2015, Google began removing some ads from the Google search results due to its advertising partners and was accused of trying to push more ad-targeted searches to the search engine.
However, the study did not address whether there were any other factors which were contributing to this decline.
“Our results suggest that while some users are opting to ‘just use the browser’, other users are also searching for more keywords and are not using them as often,” Beardsky said.
“This could be due to changes in the way the browser is designed, or may be due, in part, to the rise of ad-blockers, or simply the changing user landscape.”
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