– Adblock Plus (finally) finalising plans to sell ads to get round its own system

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Well this is just peachy, but also entirely precitable to anyone who has had involvement with Eyeo / Adblock Plus over recent years.

Their ‘acceptable ads’ initiative, which they always found quite hard to explain, is now simple to understand. Yup. It’s a revenue stream after all. Duh.

The adblockers’ success was and is largely our own fault. Without dwelling, a brief recap :

  • too many poorly-crafted and -targeted (so much for the pinpoint accuracy the tech vendors promised) and persistent ads (please don’t even get me started on retargeting!) overly intruding into people’s (private) online and mobile space
  • often bloated files inconveniencing their viewing, in the latter case using up their precious battery resources and costing them money by using up their data allowances

What on earth did we think our audiences were going to do? Lie down and let us tickle their tummies? Or so, so easily install an adblocker such as Adblock Plus?

Apart from the brief but fascinating minor setback last September where the creator of the Peace adblocker inexplicably withdrew it from download only hours after it went up on the App Store, UK penetration of adblockers now stands at over 25% according to the IAB. It’s still rising though the rate of growth has mercifully slowed.

Despite my consistent and vigorous advice while at ISBA – manfully continued to this day by my colleague David Ellison and successor Mark Finney – most advertisers and their ‘agents’ have stood by in denial of these plain and simple facts, thereby worrying the splinter of adblocking ever deeper into their own flesh.

(The ‘agents’ stance is easily explained, if it also reveals a dirty truth. Why would they cause trouble by questioning something that offered them the opportunity to restore margins – they call them ‘extraction rates’ now, by the way – back to halcyon levels and well beyond? Albeit invisibly).

Thank goodness, then, for those brave publishers who declined to serve content, including ads, to those they detected using adblockers, in turn causing at least some viewers to reconsider and relent.

While all this wasn’t going on, Eyeo/Adblock presented iteratively to leading industry groupings and held summits where they paraded journalists and privacy campaigners before us shabby commercial ad folk, lending consumer credibility to their ’cause’.

One such event was more or less hijacked by an outspoken fellow who dubbed himself The Cookie Monster and boasted apparently extensive UK & EU lobbying credentials, supported by a self-righteous bunch of mainly freelance journalists whose presence at the gathering was not clearly explained.

And so we finally come to the reveal – an effectively unqualified Eyeo / Adblock Plus both judge and jury, and now selling ads that get round their own blocks. There were plenty of suspicions that they were operating a protection racket model before which are now roundly confirmed. “Pay us money so we don’t send the boys round”.

Sorry to pose a question that may be rather sharp even by my usual standards, but what the f*** did you expect?

Better late than never, but what can still be done?

There’s a flicker of hope emerging from the EU – of which we are still a part of sorts – which is questioning whether adblocking is compliant with net neutrality rules. But this is pretty esoteric stuff and will play slowly through legal and other channels, if at all.

Rather, industry must act now, rallying and using its considerable comms might and lobbying influence to expose these racketeers and embarrass their apologists. Failure to do so will be yet another manifestation of the apathy that has led us to this pass. Some other big players seem finally to agree with me.