The arms race between ad-dependent publishers and ad blocking has a new front: The Telegraph. Earlier this month this publisher started blocking access to the site to some users of ad-blocking software.
The first hint of the new policy was a tweet dated 13 January (and an AdBlock Plus support thread from a week later), but it has gone largely under the radar until I visited the site today and was blocked from reading the article:
I was not shown this pop-up when I visited the site on Android or iOS, only when visiting from Chrome on Windows.
After disabling Ad Block Plus, I was shown a page with a relatively low number of adverts (mostly Google and Amazon, surprisingly, with one large OutBrain sponsored link ad unit on the page). It was a far nicer experience than Forbes, which is engaging in a similar war on ad block users while also promising an "ad-light" experience (but actually delivering malware).
The Telegraph's less obnoxious ads could explain why the response on Twitter has been milder than the hostile response Forbes and Yahoo got when they
@Telegraph sorry i won't block my ad blocker!
— Emmanouil (@ManosOnView) January 15, 2016
the telegraph have a super obscene ad-block popup that blocks the article, which I was only gonna hate-read so I guess I've come out on top
— spacedave (@spavedave) January 13, 2016
The launch of iOS 9 with its integrated content-blocking features last year brought ad-blocking to the forefront, and publishers have been responding with various degrees of subterfuge, social engineering, and hostility. Some, like Forbes, Yahoo, and Telegraph, are fighting users by blocking anyone caught running ad block software.
Others like BookRiot are crafting ad units that get around ad block software, or are partnering with ad tech companies that promise to outwit the ad block software.
And then there are the web publishers who have either taken no action, or have adopted the mild approach of a nag screen pop-up which asks that users stop blocking ads.
The soft approach has not proven to be very successful, and that's a shame because Forbes' hostile approach appears to be working. A few weeks back Forbes reported that about 40% of the visitors who were asked to turn off their ad blockers did so.
If other publishers have similar luck then the war between users and publishers will expand as more publishers choose to fight rather than fix the problems caused by ads like malvertising and visitors getting hit with hidden CPU and bandwidth costs.
Edit: And that fight will simply lead to another round of escalation in the arms race between ad block developers and web publishers. As readers have pointed out in the comments, are already a couple scripts that bypass the ad block blocks used by Forbes, Telegraph, and other sites.
In other words, the web publishers have lost this round, and will have to go back to the keyboard and come up with a way to block the anti-block blockers. It is no more or less an arms race, which is way I am glad I chose to sit out this war and use soft propaganda instead of getting into a fight.
image by Javier Gutierrez Acedo