Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web.
Software tools that can detect web advertisements and then block them from users’ view have become increasingly popular as consumers fret about things like data collection or the glut of advertising slowing down Web pages. The great philosopher Homer Simpson once memorably described alcohol as “the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” Internet advertising is a bit like that — the funder of and terrible nuisance baked into everything you do online.
Advertising sustains pretty much all the content you enjoy on the web, not least this very newspaper and its handsome, charming technology columnist; as I’ve argued before, many of the world’s most useful technologies may never have come about without online advertising. There are pre-roll video ads before movie trailers, “One weird trick” ads next to an article, or native ads in our social feeds form of sponsored content. And for publishers, ad blocking software stops more than just offending ads – it also blocks tracking cookies that offer first-party insights into website visitors.
One recent report suggested the issue would lead to $22bn in lost revenue this year as one out of three internet users now employed some software to block ads. But at the same time, ads and the vast, hidden, data-sucking machinery that they depend on to track and profile you are routinely the most terrible thing about the Internet. As ad-blocking spreads across the internet, publishers have tried different strategies to deal with the problem, everything from completely disallowing ad-blocking users from viewing content on their sites to paying anti-ad-blocking firms to block the blockers. But, now with the increased use of these softwares the free Internet may be threatened, as most of the websites providing free content depends on ads for their revenue. “For at least some players in the media industry this looks like a cross between a Class 5 hurricane and a neutron bomb headed straight for their balance sheets.” AdBlock Plus has also released an Android extension and the company is now working to develop the software for iOS also. With an ad blocker, your web browser will generally run faster, you’ll waste less bandwidth downloading ads, and you’ll suffer fewer annoyances when navigating the Internet.
And, ad blocking on mobile, expected to be the fastest-growing ad channel, is starting to become a “thing.” Currently Firefox and Chrome lead the mobile space with a 93% share of mobile ad blocking. Mr McClusky said it was important to be straightforward with Wired’s “very tech-savvy audience”. “It’s too early to tell if the appeals are working, and Wired is still testing how best to communicate with its readers about ad-blocking,” Mr McClusky said. The first hint that I was doing something wrong came when I visited a website and saw, where ordinarily an advertisement would have popped up, a plea that I consider either unblocking ads or making a contribution.
The new iOS 9 will also allow for ad blockers. “If ad blocking goes mainstream in digital video, huge amounts of advertising won’t be seen, and will therefore be ineffective. This would then push ad dollars back to TV, reversing a trend,” he said, adding, “Interestingly, the demographic group that uses ad blockers most frequently is one that’s highly coveted by advertisers: millennials and gen Z.” One aspect of ad blocking tech that might allow marketers to breathe more easily for now is that research by Genesis Media found while 24% of respondents used ad blocking tools on work and home computers, only 3% reported using the technology on smartphones. Ad blocking has been around for years, but adoption is now rising steeply, at a pace that some in the ad industry say could prove catastrophic for the economic structure underlying the web. That presented a challenge when it came to making the message more dynamic than just text. “Young audiences definitely forget how media sites work and support themselves,” Mr Pittlik said. “Though advertisers are equally to blame for a history of irrelevancy, intrusiveness, browser-crashing ads and malware.” In a blog post last year, PageFair said it ran 576 different appeals on 220 websites, but found that only 0.33% of ad-blockers that saw an appeal added sites to their approved site list. Some publishers and advertisers say ad blocking violates the implicit contract that girds the Internet — the idea that in return for free content, we all tolerate a constant barrage of ads.
We hope this report will continue to help publishers, advertisers, consumer groups and technology vendors come together to define principles that support a sustainably free and open web,” the post read. Foster pointed out that marketers can take steps to make online ads more pleasant for the people to whom they are being served, saying consumers turn to ad blockers “for legitimate and understandable reasons.
The idea is to balance the need of websites to generate revenue with the irritation of users forced to click their way past annoying ads to get where they are going. Currently only two percent of ad blocking-technology enabled browsers are on mobile devices, but the mobile revolution will likely result in a spike in ad blocking.
Nearly 200 million people worldwide regularly block ads, the report said, and the number is growing fast, increasing 41 percent globally in the last year. Some have even compared the tactic to blackmail. “Trying to actively filter ads from websites is stealing,” thundered a recent post at the tech site Tom’s Guide. “Every time you use one of these services, you’re enabling an extortion racket where ad-blocking companies charge content providers money to let their ads through the filter.” German publishers and broadcasters have recently lost lawsuits against Eyeo GmbH, distributor of Adblock Plus. Among users who don’t currently use ad blocking technology, the main issue that would drive them to seek it out was a perceived misuse of personal information.
The court rejected their contention that blocking their advertising messages unfairly deprived them of revenue. (The publishers may appeal.) How big are the potential losses? In a separate blog post, PageFair calculated that Google would be losing about $6.6 billion worldwide annually, except for the fact that it pays Adblock Plus a rumored $25 million for whitelist status, enabling the company to recover some $3.5 billion. A lot of people are going to get accustomed to having an ad-free mobile experience.” PageFair also sells technology that allows web publishers to determine if users are running blocking software — and then serves them ads anyway, going around the blockers. Blanchfield said is currently being tested with a number of large websites, circumvents ad blocking by using “low-level networking” technology that he declined to detail in order to stay ahead of ad companies.
The likelihood that Safari users will follow suit led the financial site Seeking Alpha to conclude: “Apple would benefit more by getting a revenue-sharing deal on Safari search engine ads.” In other words, rather than be paid by Google, Apple should behave like Google. One could argue that publishers have brought this mess upon themselves, with their emphasis on endless pop-ups, videos that self-animate, ads that dart on and off the screen, and the rest of the chaotic commercial menagerie of the typical site. Fortune’s Ingram takes that view: “In the end, readers likely won’t shed a tear as they turn on their ad-blocking software or click away to some other site that doesn’t treat them so shabbily. That means the ads won’t feature animations, they won’t block content, and they won’t load “trackers” that monitor and report back to some unknown server what you do on a web page.
These ads are also low-fi — they can’t be animated or cover up a page’s content. (Eyeo charges some large companies a fee to show these ads; Google, for instance, pays Eyeo to have its search ads show up for Adblock Plus users.) Then there’s Ghostery, which makes a plug-in that lets users find and block online tracking tools — the code in a page that sends data about your surfing habits to marketers. According to the company, the number of such trackers has exploded in recent years because marketing software used to analyze consumer behavior has become much easier to use. And although why advertising works at all is the subject of hot theoretical dispute, everyone agrees that the target can never absorb the message if the he or she never knows the ad is there. Salmon offers the example of “native advertising.” (In native advertising — which seems to be growing, at least on social media — the commercial content on a site is indistinguishable from the content the user is seeking.) Some observers have also looked to a future dominated by user-generated advertising, a category that, when successful, can generate plenty of buzz. As the PageFair report points out, the irony is that much of the rise of blocking software is accounted for not by Adblock Plus and its cousins, but by the easy-to-use ad-blocking settings in Google’s own Chrome browser.
Banner blindness is possibly explained by attention theory: Cognitive resources are limited, and when input is busy and complex, the brain will focus on what is deemed most important.