Web publishers are responding to the increasing use of ad blockers by either getting their site whitelisted with the blocking services or by nagging or banning ad block users. Axel Springer has even filed a handful of lawsuits against ad block developers in Germany (and lost every time).
And now they're trying to bring down the regulatory hammer. Politico tipped me to the news that the Newspaper Association of America has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
The complaint calls on the FTC to investigate Eyeo's practice of using paid whitelisting that misleads the consumer into believing the "acceptable" advertisement is based on quality, when in fact advertisements are passed along to consumers if advertisers pay a fee. The complaint brings attention to other ad blocking technologies that replace existing advertising with the ad blockers' own advertising, which misleads consumers into believing that publishers have consented to the substitution. It also requests investigation of subscription services that claim to offset publisher harm, a deceptive assertion given the complete lack of evidence that nominal subscription prices will recover millions of dollars in lost advertising revenue. Finally, the complaint calls attention to ad blockers that permit users to evade metered subscription services and paywalls, which are engaging in an unfair method of competition.
Basically the NAA is complaining about everything from Google Contributor to Brave's ad substituting web browser to ad-block developer Eyeo's policy of taking money from ad networks to let ads through its filter.
The NAA is taking the kitchen sink approach the the problem with the expectation that one or more of the talking points will stick.
I wish them luck with that, but frankly I don't see the point.
None of the issues raised in the filing directly address the real problem, which is the increasing use of ad blocking plugins. Nor does it address the cause, which is the increasing frustration with annoying adverts.
Perhaps the better approach for this problem would be for the NAA to start a campaign to encourage "good conduct" among its members. Fewer annoying ads means less pressure to use ad blockers.
This FTC complaint, on the other hand, is less an effective response than it is an example of shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.
image by Delphine Savat