For the past couple weeks Facebook has been fighting a quiet little war with ad-block users and developers, and while the early battles ended in a draw which favors Facebook the war’s not over with yet.
AdBlock Plus developer Eyeo published a blog post this morning which explains how the status quo favors Facebook in the short run but not necessarily in the long run.
It all comes down to how ads are displayed online. Eyeo says that Facebook has won at the moment because it has removed all of the code which identifies the ads on its site as being different from other types of content.
These codes are what ad-blocking plugins look for when they are doing their job, but thanks to Facebook there’s no way for the plugins to see the ads they need to block.
That’s a win for Facebook (it gets to show adverts) but Eyeo points out that this may only be a win in the short run.
In the long run Facebook may run afoul of the FTC:
Clearly differentiating between paid-for and organic content is hugelyimportant, because journalism is supposed to be that “fourth estate” which informs us about what politicians and businesspeople are doing. An ad is something different, because its intention is not to inform, but to market. For the consumer, knowing the difference is crucial.
That’s why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) might be interested if Facebook has indeed removed the very last differentiator in their code between ad and not-ad. Furthermore, if this practice is taken further, it could be very deceptive for people who cannot see the screen as Facebook intended it. For instance, those who use assistive technology like screen readers, people with poor or no eyesight for example, might not be able to tell the difference between ads and organic content. And finally, could such a move by an absolute, indisputable internet titan like Facebook, if not deterred, influence and even sanction this behavior from others? Could this … gulp … be precedent-setting?
I don’t know how the FTC is going to react to the removal of non-visible code which identified ads, but Eyeo does have a point about FTC rules on advertising.
Ads are supposed to be clearly labeled so that a website’s visitors can tell the difference between content which is being shown because someone is paying for the privilege and content which is not.
Eyeo is suggesting that the same rules might apply to the code wrapped around the tags.
That’s a novel argument, but not out of the question.