Ethics of blocking ads debated

By Dyenamic Solitions - Last updated: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Is it ethical to block adverts online- or are the ads intrusive?
Ethics of blocking ads debatedAccording to one count, 84% of the top 100 websites in the world rely on advertising to generate revenue, utilising the now long-established trade-off: use our website for free, but you need to look at some ads while you do it.

On traditional mediums such as TV and radio, advertising has over time developed into a form of entertainment itself.

But online, evidence suggests we’re far less forgiving. Adblock Plus, the most popular adblocking program on the market, has been downloaded 250 million times, and has around 60 million active users.

Adblock Plus sees its “mission” as being to encourage advertisers, and the websites that carry their material, to rethink how those ads work – minimising discomfort for internet users.

Yet an increasing number of people are questioning whether Adblock Plus’s software is unfairly using its powerful position not just to encourage better ads, but also to build a quite considerable revenue stream of its own.

It’s no understatement to say that most online publishers or advertisers have little time for Adblock Plus – and recently that annoyance has stepped up a notch. Descriptions like “extortion”, “protection racket” and “like the mafia” are all terms being voiced to describe the operation.

Where initially Adblock Plus would block all advertising, it now operates using a whitelist – a collection of, so far, around 150 sites and services whose ads are allowed through the filter.

To get on this whitelist, the advertising has to meet several fairly strict criteria: no animations, don’t get in the way of reading text, and don’t take up more than a third of a page’s width, plus various other things.

Sensible parameters on the face of it, but here’s the rub: for “big” companies that want to be on the whitelist, Adblock Plus demands they pay a fee.

If that fee isn’t paid, advertising is blocked, even if it fits the “acceptable” criteria.  Pay up, in other words, or Adblock Plus will knock-out some of your revenue.

The principles of “acceptable” advertising, as defined by Adblock Plus and its volunteer community:

Around 10% of the companies on the whitelist pay for the privilege and they list Google, Amazon, Yahoo and Reddit as some of the company’s “strategic partners”.

They would not not be drawn on how much they charge, nor do they give up any details on which companies had refused to play ball.

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), a UK-based trade association for online and mobile advertisers, released a report earlier this year that hypothesised what it thought an advertising-free internet might look like.

The report argued that if some of the web’s most popular services – excluding shopping – did not carry advertising, users would each need to pay around £44 a month, on top of existing fees, to make up the revenue needed to keep those sites alive.

While the trade association has an obvious motivation behind stressing the importance of advertising, the report does at least highlight how integral that revenue stream is.

Although often descending into a bitter war of words, both sides of the adblocking debate at least agree on one core issue: they want the advertising to be relevant.

The more relevant it is to the consumer the more attractive it is to the advertiser, and it’s more valuable to the web publisher. But targeted advertising requires sophisticated techniques to track users and their browsing habits – a highly-contentious issue, to put it mildly.

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