Are Ad Blockers Bad for Consumers?

Ever since advertising has existed, we have attempted to find ways to get around it. To many people, these displays are often annoyances that get in the way of an otherwise pleasurable experience, such as viewing a film or watching a television program. Now we have set top boxes that record TV streams while skipping the ads and pirated copies of films with the advertising removed.

The Internet has its share of ad blocking software with varying degrees of effectiveness. In March 2016 the New York Times came out with a pop-up visible to ad blocker users insinuating that their practice hurts the publication’s financial interests. The question that needs to be answered here is whether publishers are truly hurt by ad blockers and – by extension – whether the users themselves suffer.

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Publishers, advertisers, and the unions that advocate for them are slightly divided on their opinions regarding ad blocker usage and how to deal with it, but most of them almost unanimously consider this software a challenge they have to face in a way that doesn’t annoy their visitors. Online publications such as Forbes and the New York Times have adopted a method which allows them to detect ad blockers and inform these visitors of their impact. According to this report by PageFair, around $21.8 billion was lost due to this phenomenon in 2015. We can expect this figure to rise due to a continuous increase in ad blocker usage.

The argument for how Adblock hurts both publishers and their visitors is that by limiting their revenue stream, they are also limiting the funds they can use to pay their staff, resulting in a drop in the quality of their content. While this is a strong argument, proponents of software that blocks advertising have their own side to the story.

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We must not forget the reason software like Adblock began to appear. In the late 90s dubious advertisers began to appear with their strident “You are the 999,999th visitor” style that utterly annoyed the vast majority of people who visited the sites they appeared on. Within this context, ad blocking software was very much welcome and still serves that role today. To be sure that no one is annoyed ever again, the software began blocking every ad it could possibly detect.

The keyword here is “detect.” Since ad blockers have a scripted method for detecting ads, they, too, can be detected by the websites that encounter them. The Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group for advertisers, is cited here advocating the DEAL (Detect, Explain, Ask, and Lift or Limit) methodology for websites. This basically means that websites will detect your ad blocking software, explain its impact, ask you politely to turn it off, and eventually limit your use of the site (e.g. blocking the ability to comment or view more than a few pages) unless an exception is created. There are, of course, ways to circumvent ad blockers entirely.

Ad blocking generally works by scanning the target website for any common advertising scripts. Google’s AdSense, Doubleclick, and other advertisers use embedded scripting to communicate with publisher sites which can easily be challenged by a simple piece of code that scans for the presence of these scripts on a website you’re visiting. A simple way around this (if you’re a publisher) is to establish your own advertising circulation with hypertext pre-processing scripts (PHP). The output would be in plain HTML since your site would use its own internal code to render advertisements. Another way around this is to use contextual links by affiliates. Whatever you do, though, try not to annoy people. They don’t take very kindly to that.

Has ad blocking taken things too far? Are publishers reacting immaturely to ad blockers? Tell us your thoughts in a comment!

10 comments

  1. Alot of people use adblockers as a security measure also and also to reduced their bandwidth usage. I do not think most people would mind some safe and useful ads on a website, but the advertisers do not screen all ads and some ads do make sites take longer to load. A few plain ads on side are not bad.

  2. “around $21.8 billion was lost due to this phenomenon in 2015.”
    Are they sure it wasn’t $218 Billion or $2180 Billion? AFAIC, these are made up numbers designed to impress the uninformed by their size. It’s like RIAA claiming that peer-to-peer sharing was costing them tens of thousands of dollars per song shared. If those numbers were to be believed, there would have been many, many record companies going out of business.

    How can the content publishers assume that if users did not use adblockers, they would even notice the ads, let alone click on them? That’s like assuming that if there were no TV, every viewer would go to the stadium to watch a sporting event. We all know thatsuch an assumption is ludicrous. I, for one, have taught myself to ignore any ads that may get past my adblocker. When I watch TV, as soon as the commercial is over, I can’t tell you what product it was hawking. To me, commercials are just interruptions in the continuity of a program.

    Each business operates according to a business plan. It is not my, or any consumer’s, responsibility to make sure that businesses that rely on a failed business plan of eyeballs and clicks flourishes or survives. In a capitalist system, it is adapt or die. It’s about time content publishers started adapting, instead of whining.

    • “around $21.8 billion was lost due to this phenomenon in 2015” sounds to me like PageFair’s estimate of how much money was NOT lost by the consumers to the companies that advertised. I agree that the number itself is VERY suspect.

  3. I use adblockers, since most computer infections of malware, viruses, spyware etc had come on my machines through adverts. The whole concept of using third party advertising companies are the problem here. I get angree when websites start throwing notifications to turn off my adblocker, because it means I open my computer to risk of infections and spying. Websites that block me for having an adblocker, I usually boycotte and never visit them ever again with a tweet about it.
    Advertising is internet litter and garbage. There are other ways of doing things these days, because ads are exploited by internet criminals that infect your computer with malware , trojans, viruses etc etc..
    My first ransomeware infection(the one that encrypts your files) I had ever had was through website adverts, and ever since then I had been using adblockers , and never encountered ransomeware ever.

  4. How about this way to defeat ad-blockers? A website posts an interesting story and adds what are disguised as links to other stories, marked – “You may also like” – but which are revealed to be advertisements for websites, products or services only *after* you click on them. Of course, that’s not the most honest trick to get readers to click on advertising links, and leaves readers feeling conned, but hey, it beats ad-blockers Doesn’t it?

    • “You may also like” is already used all over the place. Every time I see one, it looks like an ad, so I don’t click on it.

      • Right, Greg, that’s true. On sites like Amazon that sell products you’d expect the “You might also like” links to point to items or services available for sale. When the website deals in articles like this one though, “You might also like” implies links to other stories you might like, not products.

        It’s great (even necessary) to have advertising links on sites like this, and that’s fine if ads are identified as such (even the ubiquitous “Google Ads” and “Ad Choices” identify themselves as advertisements). It’s only a nuisance, but I have better things to do with my time than to click links to what appear to be interesting stories, not identified as ads, only to find they’re actually links to advertisements for things about which I could not care less.

  5. Try Epic Privacy Browser. This browser strips ads, cookies and trackers from your viewing content. The catch is that stripping all that content slows down the browser a bit. I for one am happy to wait a second or two longer, as I would spend that trying to close or avoid the ads anyway. Epic uses the chrome engine but is not connected to google. The download is free. You will find it here:- https://www.epicbrowser.com/

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