Do Ad Blockers Have A Good Point? Are Digital Ads Just Too Untrustworthy?

Two things struck me about the latest update to Google's Bad Ad Report for 2016, beyond the massive numbers of rogue ads involved.

The first is that digital marketing insiders have a love-hate relationship with the American tech giant. On the one hand, its overreaching power over the medium can feel stifling and uncompetitive. On the other, it's a much-needed good cop when it comes to tackling malpractice online.

Aside from the report that clearly shows the latter side of Google, it also underscored to me what many people supporting ad blockers bring up time and time again. It's not just about getting a free ride for ad-supported content -- it's a demonstration against a system that allows so many poor user experiences to go unchallenged.

And the figures from Google detailing what it blocked during 2016 would back up that this is a huge issue, and one that is gathering momentum. Google is reporting today that it took down 1.7 billion ads last year -- more than double the amount blocked in 2015. 

It's really interesting to look at where the main violations were. The so-called "click to trick" category stands out here. It's where you typically get an ad that looks like a system error, which encourages someone to click to remedy a fault or find out more about a computer issue, unwittingly downloading malware as they do so. A massive 112m such ads were blocked by Google last year, which is up a staggering six times on 2015 levels.

Next up we have 68 million ads blocked for misleading health claims -- five times up on the year before -- and 17m illegal gambling violations were spotted and dealt with. Interestingly, those annoying "self click" ads on mobile that you inadvertently tap as you scroll up and down are also rising in number. Just a few thousand were reported in 2015, but last year that number was up to 23,000 -- apparently a massive increase and a signal of where bad ad firms will be headed in a mobile-first world.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that Google is going beyond just blocking ads to take action. It had a concerted effort to disable "tabloid cloakers" who use ads for misleading sites, such as massive weight-loss programmes, which pretend to be a news headline. It suspended the advertising accounts for more than 1,300 such "cloakers" and took action against 8,000 sites.

So there has been a lot of action, but it certainly makes you ponder whether ad-blocking users have a point. Have things become so bad that the entire advertising infrastructure can't be trusted? One thing is for sure -- despite what you may think of Google, it is at least championing a safer user experience to a point where those who consider advertising too risky to accept are currently in the minority. So the tech giant is probably just about winning this war, which it calls a game of "cat and mouse" with rogue advertisers.

You might say, then, that ad blockers do have a point, but they are not completely vindicated -- particularly when so many bad ads are being taken out of the ecosystem. They still deserve, then, in my opinion, to be barred from the content they refuse to support so they can only bankrupt publishers that are stupid enough to keep on serving up content for free even if someone is blocking their ads. 

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