Commentary

Ad Blocking Is A Racket -- And Google Has Been Fuelling The Fire

Adblock Plus recently launched its own ad exchange -- something the company argues is a positive thing for consumers and publishers alike. It claims that this allows consumers to enjoy the Web while only being exposed to “acceptable” ads, while simultaneously allowing publishers to continue generating revenue from ad sales.

This is just the most recent battle in the larger ad-blocking war that has been raging on across the industry for years now. I, like many others, firmly believe that companies like Adblock Plus are essentially holding information delivery hostage to extort payment from the market at the expense of consumers. These companies are in no way consumer advocacy groups, but are in fact just the opposite -- for-profit businesses that are working to replace the open supply-and-demand chain with their own gates.

Adblock Plus spent years building up its user base by offering free software to block all ads the company deems “unacceptable,” and now it is using that audience to lure publishers away from the free market and into its walled garden. In turn, advertisers that want access to those publishers are feeling pressure to buy into Adblock Plus’ exchange as well.  

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When Adblock Plus announced its new ad-selling services, it said Google and AppNexus would drive advertisers to the demand side of the exchange, taking a cut of all the ads they helped sell through the platform. Just as quickly, both companies publicly severed ties from ComboTag, Adblock Plus’ ad tech partner that directs buyers to its exchange.

While it may seem like a good thing that Google and AppNexus have severed ties with Adblock Plus’s exchange, let’s not forget that Google -- along with Microsoft, Amazon and Taboola, among others -- has been quietly supporting the growth of Adblock Plus for years, as it is one of the largest media companies that pays for its ad supply to be whitelisted as “acceptable.”

When Adblock Plus introduced its “whitelist” service in 2011, it described the move as “finding common ground” with advertisers --something that seemed necessary since so much online content is paid for by advertising. It explained that it agreed with users in that not all ads are equally annoying, and went on to describe an “acceptable” ad as being non-animated, clearly labeled and non-interruptive.

Here’s the problem with that logic -- why should one company have the authority to decide what is and isn’t an acceptable ad, and then be able to use that authority to extort advertisers? Simply put, it shouldn’t.

There should absolutely be industry-wide regulation, but it should be left to neutral organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), not Adblock Plus. In fact, just weeks ago a group of leading international trade associations, like the IAB and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) -- along with other companies in the digital media space -- created The Coalition for Better Ads, which will work to create global standards for online advertising based on consumer insights and member expertise.

Ironically enough, Google -- the very company that has been paying Adblock Plus’s ransom for years -- is a member of the Coalition. While I sincerely hope that the  Web giant’s decision to join the Coalition and publicly sever ties with Adblock Plus’s ad exchange is an indicator that it will make every effort to starve the parasites that are ad blockers, its historical involvement in the racket leaves me skeptical. We’ll have to wait to see if Google continues to fuel the ad-blocking racket’s fire -- but in the meantime it’s critical that the rest of the industry stands united and refuses to participate.

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