How Adblock Plus Decided To Become Another Sleazy Ad Company
If you've been an internet user for any amount of time, odds are you grew tired of online advertisements the same day you signed your provider contract. From innocuous ads featuring a still image of Flo from Progressive to full videos which are set to autoplay at volumes you didn't know your speakers were capable of reaching, and now your eardrums are toast, this $15 billion industry has effectively worn out its welcome.
Just the words "internet ads" are enough to make you cringe, as visions of pop-ups and flashing banners cause you to go into epileptic fits. And if that's not enough, your Facebook and Gmail are full of targeted advertising, which knows exactly what you've been typing into search engines and smugly displays those searches on every web page you visit. To sum it up, online ads are creepy. It's like marketing departments are squishing their faces up against your window to see what's going on in your home so they can custom-build all the commercials you'll see on TV with eerily accurate precision.
With all this privacy invasion going on, users can be forgiven for wanting to put a stop to irritating ads. That's why programs like AdBlock Plus are so popular. They allow you to surf the web without forcing you deal with winning a free iPad for being the millionth visitor. Or at least, AdBlock Plus used to do that.
If you're not interested in the technobabble of how the internet works, you may not have heard about how AdBlock Plus, a company whose mission statement to block ads is right there in the name, is now selling ads which are integrated into their platform. The way AdBlock Plus works -- whether as a mobile app, a browser extension, or the full-fledged program -- is to detect the ads that try to load on a website and take them completely out of the equation. This allows for a peaceful web experience wherein you don't have to worry about sleazy advertisers tracking your movements, profiting off of your browsing habits, or possibly injecting viruses onto your computer. This is how AdBlock Plus has operated since starting up in 2006. For five years, AdBlock Plus took a kind of "black and white" approach to ads: "If you don't want to see ads, install our program and we'll take care of it for you." And much to the disappointment of advertising companies everywhere, AdBlock Plus was really good at its job.
This brings about an interesting situation for both advertisers and users. Obviously, websites fully deserve to monetize their content, and selling ads on pages is the best way to do that. When you block those ads, you're blocking revenue. On the other hand, nobody should have to sacrifice their privacy and their computer's safety in exchange for browsing a website. The powers that be at AdBlock Plus believed they found a happy medium by selling what they are calling "Acceptable Ads." Now, instead of totally blocking ads, ABP has found certain ads which they deem acceptable, and display those on your page instead, replacing the ads that were originally there. This has garnered some foreseeable outrage from the long-standing user base.
Internet comment sections are as understanding and compassionate as ever.
Even if you don't agree with the backlash, you have to agree that a company called AdBlock Plus should be blocking ads, plain and simple. Otherwise, they should change their name.
The folks at AdBlock Plus make a compelling argument for the switch, citing how their Acceptable Ads platform really is providing a public service now that advertisers can no longer shove intrusive ads down your throat. ABP and their independent review board now get to decide what constitutes a whitelistable ad, with criteria which excludes flashing animations, pop-ups, and pre-roll video. Plus, if you don't like any of the things they're offering, you'll always have the option to switch off acceptable ads completely. While it sounds like they have everything figured out, there are several issues with this arrangement that they do not directly address, hence the surge of users jumping ship for another ad blocker alternative.
Pictured: your typical AdBlock Plus user, circa 2016
First on the gripe list is AdBlock Plus as a whole. A lot of people want to know why they should get to hold the keys to the advertising kingdom. Instead of competing with AdBlock Plus, large advertisers are now required to pay up to 30 percent for the privilege of including their acceptable ads within the platform. But if that is the case, the question will eventually have to be asked: "Doesn't that make ABP an advertising company? The very thing it was meant to destroy?" And not only that, but now that AdBlock Plus is officially in the pocket of the advertising companies, which is the case no matter which way you look at it, how is that not a conflict of interest? Sure, they can argue over and over again that nothing will change and that their ads will always be of the acceptable variety, but ABP is now also known as the company that turned its back on its main purpose in order to make money off of it. If they did a 180 on the whole "blocking ads" thing, who is to say that their criteria for what is acceptable won't change down the road if the price is right?
"Actual retail price for totally selling out IS ..."
Another issue that needs to be addressed are the whitelisted ads themselves and the illusion of choice. This video explains how you customize the ads that you want on your website from the pre-approved list using a typical drag-n-drop interface. While it looks nice on video, you're still not actually in control of your ads, all things considered. Picking out ads that someone else already chose for you is like a website that allows you to choose your own user avatar, but you have to choose between the avatars they provide. So you're forced to use a soccer ball or a unicorn instead of a picture of your face or a Mumford and Sons album cover or whatever you happen to be into.
Maybe your face on all the Mumford and Sons bodies? Who's to say?
Online advertising has a grand history of letting shitty, awful ads slip through the cracks. If you're not designing or even picking the ads yourself, you're going to get fucked somewhere down the line; that's just how it has been since the beginning of the internet. And whitelisting certain criteria will only work for so long. Back during the Web 1.0 days, all you needed was a banner ad that linked to your site to draw people to your website. But as time went on, straight text/image ads stopped being effective, forcing advertisers to become more and more creative in how they get their points across. That's why you see so many undesirable advertisements popping up on every page that is worth visiting. AdBlock Plus's Twitter account is already being hounded by users who are seeing the wrong kinds of ads ooze their way through.
But one of the bigger issues, which will get eclipsed by the absurd amount of user backlash, is how this affects advertisers, and by extension you. One thing that is easy to overlook is that AdBlock Plus's acceptable ads platform operates by replacing ad space already paid for by another company. It's bad enough for advertisers that people will habitually block their content, but now someone else will be making bank off of it. Regardless of how you feel about advertising companies, that is a totally fucked-up thing to do. And if the ad companies don't like it, they only really have two choices: Sign up for the Acceptable Ads platform or go fuck themselves. A rep for ABP has even said "compromise is better than war," which is easy to say when it's a war you've been winning for 10 fucking years. A lot of companies see the threat this poses, and are not taking it lying down. Several German publishers tried to sue AdBlock Plus for their software, but all but one of the cases were lost after AdBlock Plus was deemed 100-percent legal. Instead, the court basically told advertisers they need to be more innovative in their approach, which is another way of saying, "Find sneakier ways to be sneaky about your ad, you fuckin' sneaks."
"By autoplaying the video as soon as the site loads, we can streamline the assfucking almost instantly."
No matter where you fall on the spectrum as a content advertiser or a content reader, the common belief seems to be that we'll never fully escape advertisements. In an ideal world, you would use a program, AdBlock Plus or otherwise, to shut out undesirable sites while whitelisting the sites you enjoy and want to support. This should force advertising agencies to adjust their methods accordingly and find something that works for everyone. But when our sworn protectors are instead making metaphorical deals with the devil, they're just finding new ways to make the web even worse than it already is.
Erik Germ has a Twitter, if you're into that sort of thing.
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