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If you block ads, then websites may block you, warned advertising exec

Apr 06, 20145 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Adblock Plus wants you to sign its acceptable ads manifesto, but general counsel for a large advertising bureau called it a ransom before warning if you continue to block ads then websites may block you from accessing their content.

While it’s mostly tech-savvy surfers who install Adblock Plus browser plug-in, an advertising bureau suggested that websites will fight ad-blocking by blocking the content with an error message or a paywall if you use an ad blocker.

“Advertising is the economic engine that drives the Internet and gives us free websites and great content,” but as click-through rates decline, ads get more annoying in order to grab surfers’ attention. Eyeo, the creators of Adblock Plus, wrote:

We don’t want obtrusive pop-ups, or obnoxious blinking ads, or 30-second pre-roll video ads running amok on our computers and mobile phones. We wouldn’t tolerate that in the physical world; why should we accept them just because it’s digital? Imagine a billboard jumping in front of your car while on the freeway, or a newspaper ad suddenly opening up and covering all the words you are reading. Why should online ads get special treatment? Moreover, the noisier that online ads get, the more people install adblockers to stop them. It’s an unwinnable, downward spiral.

Starting with Adblock Plus 2.0, not all advertising was blocked; in fact, if an ad meets the criteria for being “acceptable,” then it shows up by default. Surfers can disable that feature, usually by unchecking “allow non-intrusive advertising,” or under filter lists options like below, but the thought process is to leave it enabled to reward websites that rely on “non-intrusive” ads for revenue.

Adblock Plus option easy list, easy privacy

By not blocking acceptable ads, Eyeo believes it will show there is a market for them and encourage advertisers to create more.  As part of that cycle, the company wants people and organizations to sign its “Acceptable Ads Manifesto;” the five principal tenets are:

  • Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
  • Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
  • Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
  • Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
  • Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.

So far, only five companies have signed the manifesto; they are Adblock Plus, Reddit, Customer Commons, PageFair and The Anti-Advertising Agency.

It’s easy to see the dilemma; while we want great content for free, most websites providing that content can’t do it for free and must make money somehow. That brings us to an interesting, yet infuriating, CNET interview in which Mike Zaneis, general counsel for Interactive Advertising Bureau, described a “counterattack” plan to start “blocking the blockers.”

Although Zaneis makes the threat of ad-blockers sound dire, some sites experience “less than 5%” of users blocking ads. Yet he more-or-less said ad blockers are the devil and will be the reason why more websites will wall-off their content behind a paywall or choose to block content from surfers who block ads. In the block the ad-blockers scenario, instead accessing the content, there could be an error message saying you can’t see it because you have enabled an ad-blocker.

IAB’s “counterattack” plan has far-reaching potential since IAB is not some little group; it “is comprised of more than 600 leading media and technology companies that are responsible for selling 86% of online advertising in the United States.”

Although it seems like the acceptable ads manifesto could be the best compromise as non-annoying ads would not be blocked, Zaneis called the manifesto “a ransom note. These people are no better than Internet pirates facilitating the theft of content. To do it under the guise of ‘these ads aren’t acceptable’ is a complete facade. It’s a sham. They block all ads by default.”

Adblock Plus does not block all ads, but Zaneis maintains it does unless a “ransom” is paid to the for-profit company behind free plug-in. “The hypocrisy is outrageous,” he added. 

Since paywalls are generally not very well received, and most sites are unlikely to migrate behind one, Zaneis said, “The next logical solution is that people won’t give away content and services to folks who aren’t part of the value chain [those using ad blockers].”

The whole interview is worth a read, whether you agree with blocking ads or not, but Zaneis claims people don’t mind ads and having their lives data-mined. “People understand being marketing to. My grandparents were marketed to their entire lives. The oldest form of advertising in this country is the Sears catalog. People are OK with that.”

Perhaps people were OK with a physical catalog, but it didn’t track your every step; a hard-copy magazine didn’t data-mine what interested you, or create a profile that is sold to advertisers.

Zaneis said, “The Internet is the greatest revolution of our time, and it’s supported by ad revenue. So there’s a consumer revolt against it? The exact opposite has happened. It’s a wild success.”

Yes online ads are a money-making success that are so intrusive the majority of people still don’t understand the basics of how ads invade their privacy, nevertheless understand more complicated cross-device ad tracking in which your online behavior is tracked as one profile across multiple devices.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.