The current chaotic state of online ads is one of the factors driving consumers to install ad blockers, Interactive Advertising Bureau President and CEO Randall Rothenberg suggested today.
"Multitudes of could-be formats and wannabe standards crowd screens, interrupt consumers’ activities while impeding the delivery of desired content, create supply chain vulnerabilities, generate privacy concerns, and drive fears about data security," Rothenberg said today at the IAB's annual leadership meeting.
"Ad-blocking has been a consumer plebiscite," he added. "The software offered consumers a vote -- and they have voted no on chaos, opacity, and slowness."
Despite this acknowledgment, Rothenberg had some sharp words for several ad-blocking companies, including AdBlock-Plus, the startup Brave -- launched last week by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich -- and the Israeli company Shine.
AdBlock-Plus is run by an "unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes," who are engaged in "stealing from publishers, subverting freedom of the press, operating a business model predicated on censorship of content, and ultimately forcing consumers to pay more money for less -- and less diverse -- information," Rothenberg said.
Eich's business model for Brave "not only strips advertisements from publishers’ pages -- it replaces them with his own for-profit ads," the IAB leader said.
He added: "This is the true face of ad blocking. It is the rich and self-righteous, who want to tell everyone else what they can and cannot read and watch and hear -- self-proclaimed libertarians whose liberty involves denying freedom to everyone else."
He also said that some ad-blocking companies' business models "are undoubtedly illegal," although that assertion does not appear to have been tested in any U.S. courts. In Germany, courts sided with Adblock Plus when the company was sued by publisher Axel Springer.
Rothenberg specifically accused Shine of using a model that might violate net neutrality principles. Shine -- which recently began working with the Jamaica-based network operator Digicel -- reportedly automatically blocks all ads on the Digicel network.
Any U.S. carrier that attempted to prevent companies from serving ads to its customers almost certainly would be in violation of the net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband carriers from blocking or degrading content. But those rules apply only to carriers, not to software developers.
For his part, Rothenberg is pushing the industry to adopt new "consumer-friendly rules of the road that regulate how we will operate our sites, our advertising, and our delivery."
He also praised publishers that detect ad blockers and prompt users to turn them off -- although it's not clear how many people do so. Rothenberg asserted that those publishers see "high percentages of consumers making mutually beneficial choices to maintain their access to desired content," but didn't offer specific numbers.
Meanwhile, at least one company had a well-publicized snafu with that approach. Earlier this month, Forbes asked visitors to turn off their ad blockers; those who did so were promptly served with pop-under malware.