4 Powerhouses Shaping the Ad-Blocking Landscape
That’s the amount that companies will spend on digital ads in 2016.
This year is the first time that companies will spend more money on digital advertising than on television. With such a large investment at stake in a volatile advertising landscape, advertisers are particularly mindful of where they are spending their money. But the growing use of ad blockers is starting to threaten that investment.
If you want to understand the current ad-blocking climate, you have be aware that in addition to the growing tension between ad blockers and advertisers, the government and device manufacturers also give input. Four powerhouse organizations and companies play key roles in the conversation.
# 1. Adblock Plus – Adblock Plus is the most widely used ad blocker. The free, open-source platform is user-friendly and can be operational in minutes. According to the organization’s website, it’s been downloaded 300 million times and is the most popular browser extension on the web. They have also made attempts to be sensitive to the needs of publishers.
According to one of their cofounders,“ad blockers should not rid the internet of all advertising. Without moderation, they have the potential to become a destructive force for the Internet ecosystem. It is worth restating that advertising is an essential funder of the Internet, without which a lot of content would not be viable.”
To address this issue, Adblock Plus has created a “whitelist” of websites who meet certain criteria and won’t be blocked by default. However, because Adblock Plus charges a fee to the largest 10 percent of the advertisers eligible to join its whitelist, advertisers and publishers have criticized this practice, comparing it to extortion. The legality and ethics of using whitelists as a revenue stream continue to be hotly debated.
# 2. PageFair – PageFair creates software to help businesses circumvent ad blockers, but it is also one of the most widely known and trusted sources of information on ad blocking (cited by The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Economist). While they play a major role in shaping the conversation on the ethics of ad blocking, be aware that they make their revenue from companies alarmed by ad blocking software – so take their alarmist attitude with a grain of salt.
# 3. Apple – During Sept. 2015, in a move bemoaned by online publishers, Apple released IOS 9, which gave both iPhone and iPad users the ability to use ad-blocking extensions. It’s likely that Apple made the decision to get an edge over Google (which receives more than 90 percent of its revenue from contextual and search-related advertising). But the strategy seemed somewhat contradictory – considering the fact that Apple also approved an application that can block ads on its own news app. The app’s founders have commented on the current state of online advertising:
“Today, it’s muddled and compromised. It’s an implicit agreement, and neither side benefits and both sides are left wanting more. More privacy and control on one side. More data and better data on the other. By providing a simple switch we are creating choice.”
Apple’s decision signals that the debate may be tipping in favor of enhancing the user experience. But at what cost?
# 4. The Federal Trade Commission – One of the FTC’s goals is to ensure “that long-standing consumer protection principles apply in the digital marketplace.” Ad blockers, online publishers and advertisers alike have watched them anxiously to see whether they would weigh in on the conversation. The Newspaper Association of America, which represents around 2,000 newspapers, recently filed a request for investigation with the FTC, with the hope that it would crack down on paid whitelisting.
In the case of Adblock Plus’s whitelisting, the FTC has not yet indicated whether or not it will open an investigation. However, the decision will be a pivotal one. Adblock Plus relies heavily on the revenue that its whitelist generates.
The FTC has also played a large role in shaping the rules governing native advertising. Native advertisements are sponsored content displayed and formatted so that they appear similar to the unsponsored content shown around them – such as Ads on Facebook or Twitter.
Such ads are highly effective and tend to irritate website visitors far less than traditional digital ads. The FTC does permit native advertising, but has warned that the more closely an ad resembles the content around it in appearance and subject matter, the more prominently platforms should mark it as sponsored.
Overall, as you listen in on the loud, and often contentious, dialogue concerning ad blocking, maintaining an awareness of the goals and biases of these powerhouses will help you discern what the true facts really are.