Ad-Supported Publisher Interviews Creators of Ad Blocker

Online advertising is still under attack. Or more accurately, online tracking is under attack from consumers and it is conflated with online advertising.

I’ve just been listening to Leo laPorte’s podcast “Triangulation,” whose guests for a recent show were the developers of Crystal for IOS and the platform manager for AdBlockPlus, two of the most popular ad blockers. Crystal is for mobile, AdBlockPlus for desktop (there’s also AdBlock, a separate company that produces a Chrome extension to block ads.).  All three of these software platforms are either free or very inexpensive. So how do the ad blocker developers keep the lights on?

In the case of AdBlockPlus, the top 10% of users pay to have their sites ad-free. For everyone else, the service is a free download.

On the podcast, they’re all explaining their policies of “acceptable ads,” through which less obtrusive ads (no page takeovers, popups, or auto play video) can sneak through their blockers. They’ve had to come up with the acceptable ads policy because users are unwilling to translate their anger with ads into actionable information for the blockers.

There are several reasons reasons people say they don’t want ads :

1)some don’t want ads at all

2)some don’t want obtrusive ads

3)others don’t want security problems

4)still others don’t mind ads, but don’t want trackers that snoop on their privacy

5)and the pragmatic ones are annoyed by slow page loads on mobile devices.

Ad-supported sites have taken several different tacks to respond to this. The first is to tell users they can’t get on the site if they run an ad blocker. Others escalate by running ads that defeat or end-run the blockers by disguising their ads as organic content. But the leading browser extensions load before the ads and have a way of defeating disguised ads as well.

The long and short of it: without clear guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable ad, it’s a thrust and parry game for publishers, advertisers, and consumers. It’s up to the consumers to help the industry provide those guidelines, but so far they haven’t helped. Each ad blocker comes with preferences, which can help the consumer tell the blocker what kinds of ads they are willing to see. However, 99% of consumers simply accept the default settings on the software, forcing the developers to develop things like whitelists and acceptable ads policies or risk the wrath of the entire advertising industry.

And perhaps one day consumers will suddenly realize that free content is valuable enough to pay for with 30 seconds of attention.