With an estimated 5% of the internet population using one, ad blockers are either a necessary security measure, a threat to the ledger book, or a symptom of a greater problem (it depends on who you ask).
News broke over the weekend that French web publishers were making legal threats against Eyeo, a tech company that developed AdBlock Plus (one of many ad-blocking plugins). I was all set to report on it on that legal threat, but as I read more about it new angles kept appearing as new and tangentially related stories were published.
And so this evening I sat down to write a links post which, when I was through, rounded up eight different stories. For the sake of simplicity, here are the 8 articles. Some are a little old but are still worth reading.
- The Rise of AdBlock Reveals A Serious Problem in the Advertising Ecosystem (Monday Note)
- Malware-Infested Ads Now a Threat When Reading Online (The Digital Reader)
- How publishers combat ad blockers (Digiday)
- 5 Factors of Viewability (Think with Google)
- Advertisers Pay Billions for Bogus Web Traffic (WSJ)
- Welcome to the Internet of Thingies: 61.5% of Web Traffic Is Not Human (The Atlantic)
- The Bot Hunters (The Content Strategist, by Contently)
- Online Ad Fraudsters Are Stealing $6 Billion From Brands (Adweek)
Oh, and while we're on the topic, if you have a comment or complaint about the ads on this blog I would like to hear them. I'd like to improve your browsing experience on this site (without costing myself money, hopefully).
To start, there's The Monday Note with the basic background details on the legal threats and a nuanced discussion of why users love ad-blockers:
On grounds that it represents a major economic threat to their business, two groups of French publishers are considering a lawsuit against AdBlockPlus creator Eyeo GmbH. (Les Echos, broke the news in this story, in French).
Plaintiffs are said to be the GESTE and the French Internet Advertising Bureau. The first is known for its aggressive stance against Google via its contribution to the Open Internet Project. (To be clear, GESTE said they were at a “legal consulting stage”, no formal complaint has been filed yet.) By his actions, the second plaintiff, the French branch of the Internet Advertising Bureau is in fact acknowledging its failure to tame the excesses of the digital advertising market.
I use AdBlock Plus on a daily basis. I’m not especially proud of this, nor do I support anti-advertising activism, I use the ad-blocker for practical, not ideological, reasons. On too many sites, the invasion of pop-up windows and heavily animated ad “creations” has became an annoyance. A visual and a technical one. When a page loads, the HTML code “calls” all sorts of modules, sometimes 10 or 15. Each sends a request to an ad server and sometimes, for the richest content, the ad elements trigger the activation of a third-party plug-in like Adobe’s Shockwave which will work hard to render the animated ads. Most of the time, these ads are poorly optimized because creative agencies don’t waste their precious time on such trivial task as providing clean, efficient code to their clients.
That is pretty much the same reason I use Adblock Plus. As a blogger I rely on ads to make a living, but as a user I use an ad blocker to protect myself from malware and to avoid an aggravating browsing experience engendered by sites like The Washington Post.
And I'm not the only one; Digiday reports that 4.9% of web browsers have an ad blocking plugin in stalled:
European publishers are going on the offensive to combat the use of ad-blocking software, but they might find they have their work cut out for them.
There are 144 million monthly active users of the major ad-blocking plug-ins globally,according to PageFair, a company which sells anti-ad-blocking services to publishers. That number accounts for 4.9 percent of the Internet population. The report, compiled with the help of Adobe, uses analytics from the Easylist blocklist of up-to-date content filters to determine growth in usage. All major ad blockers use this as a source for new kinds of ads and tracking methods to block.
In absolute terms that is a tiny minority, but that number is also growing constantly and will very likely never decrease for the simple reason that once a user install the plugin it is easier to leave it running than to remove it. (That, and the performance boost from blocking ads is addictive.)
So it's easy to see why the French publishers are acting proactively in threatening Eyeo now, before the problem gets worse.
But if you ask me, they would be better off in following the suggestion made by The Monday Note and push for ads which didn't annoy so many visitors or tax a user's computer's resources.
They might also listen to Google and make the ads more visible while also less offensive.
Google just released a survey report and infographic which looks at ads handled by DoubleClick, one of Google's ad platforms, and measured how many of the ads were actually seen. Over half of the ads served were never on the screen (56%, to be exact). Google's report is aimed ad advertisers, but in light of the ad blocking news it's relevant and timely.
While they're at it, those publishers might want to step up bot fighting effort. The WSJ reported on Monday that 11% of all ads shown online were shown not to real users but to bots:
The industry has been battling the scourge of fake traffic from “bots,” computer programs that disguise themselves as real users to defraud advertisers. But until the comprehensive new study, there was little authoritative data available on the extent of such fraud.
White Ops, which tracked online ad purchases by 36 major U.S. brands between August and September, found that 11% of online display ads were prompted to appear by bots. The problem is worse in online video: The study found that 23% of video ads purchased were wasted on fraudulent traffic.
Given that The Atlantic reported last December that humans only accounted for 38.5% of the total web traffic, White Ops's estimate of 11% is surprisingly low.
According to Contently, fighting fraudbots is a growth industry, with $11 billion in ad buys lost to fraud last year:
If you’re buying or selling ads online, there’s a good chance you’re being robbed little by little without even knowing it.
In the dark corners of the Internet, bot fraud—in this case, the use of malware to generate non-human web traffic—has become such a problem for advertisers that Solve Media estimates bots will waste $11.6 billion in ad spend in 2014, according to a study published last January. Those buying ads are scammed out of spend by cyber criminals controlling fake traffic, and those selling legitimate ad space are forced to deal with a market plagued by artificially low rates.
Adweek reported last October that this has become the new scam of choice for gangsters:
online ad fraud issue is far worse than you think. It involves organized crime, Russian millionaires, ex-bank robbers and one-sixth of the computers in the U.S. Oh, and forget those estimates of a few million at stake. Rather $6 billion is being stolen from advertisers—$6 billion.
Those are just some of the explosive charges being leveled by White Ops, a Web security firm born of experts from the bank fraud and Internet securities industry—i.e., the best of the best hacker fighters in the country.
In conclusion, well, I don't think very many people are going to make it this far so let me say this:
I like cheese.
But in all seriousness, folks, this topic is so broad that it deserves far more posts and time than I am able to devote to it. It can't be summed up in a pithy conclusion, and it's not going to come to a stopping point any time soon.
images by Wrote,