Defining "Broken": User Experiences and Remediation Tactics When Ad-Blocking or Tracking-Protection Tools Break a Website’s User Experience


Alexandra Nisenoff, University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University; Arthur Borem, Madison Pickering, Grant Nakanishi, Maya Thumpasery, and Blase Ur, University of Chicago


To counteract the ads and third-party tracking ubiquitous on the web, users turn to blocking tools—ad-blocking and tracking-protection browser extensions and built-in features. Unfortunately, blocking tools can cause non-ad, non-tracking elements of a website to degrade or fail, a phenomenon termed breakage. Examples include missing images, non-functional buttons, and pages failing to load. While the literature frequently discusses breakage, prior work has not systematically mapped and disambiguated the spectrum of user experiences subsumed under breakage, nor sought to understand how users experience, prioritize, and attempt to fix breakage. We fill these gaps. First, through qualitative analysis of 18,932 extension-store reviews and GitHub issue reports for ten popular blocking tools, we developed novel taxonomies of 38 specific types of breakage and 15 associated mitigation strategies. To understand subjective experiences of breakage, we then conducted a 95-participant survey. Nearly all participants had experienced various types of breakage, and they employed an array of strategies of variable effectiveness in response to specific types of breakage in specific contexts. Unfortunately, participants rarely notified anyone who could fix the root causes. We discuss how our taxonomies and results can improve the comprehensiveness and prioritization of ongoing attempts to automatically detect and fix breakage.

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@inproceedings {287216,
author = {Alexandra Nisenoff and Arthur Borem and Madison Pickering and Grant Nakanishi and Maya Thumpasery and Blase Ur},
title = {Defining "Broken": User Experiences and Remediation Tactics When {Ad-Blocking} or {Tracking-Protection} Tools Break a {Website{\textquoteright}s} User Experience},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {3619--3636},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug