Ad blocking: The bane and beauty of the technology

I booked a trip to Madrid this morning. By the afternoon, I’d been beset by Internet ads for the best hotel there, the top attractions and, even though I’ve  already booked it- the cheapest airfares.  Internet ads are ubiquitous and annoying. Yet, where would we be without them? Nowhere, that’s where and therein is the conundrum I’ll discuss in this article.

Advertising sustains pretty much all the content you enjoy on the web, not least this very website to some degree. And many useful technologies may never have come about without online advertising. But at the same time, ads and the vast, hidden, data-sucking machinery that they depend on to track and profile you are routinely the most terrible thing about the Internet.

Just as thoughtful internet users have discovered the beauty of VPNs and DNSs and have gravitated to them in droves, some savvy web-o-files are evading the drudgery and monotony of ads by relying on ad blockers. The software. which has been around for years, is simple and free allowing you to traverse the digital world without the disturbing images which get in the way of clearly presented content. Not only that, but your web browser will probably run faster, using less bandwidth in the bargain. After a delayed reaction, the public is flocking to ad blocking services in numbers that alarm some industry experts.

After all, the economic structure of a free Internet relies on ads for sustenance. That’s the unwritten rule, the quid pro quo. In order to enjoy the free content you’ve got to endure endless, intrusive ads. It’s what feeds the kitty. Therefore, ad blockers pose the potential to kill off the web as we know it. Not so fast, say others. There is a growing consensus among analysts that just as technology like VPNs have sprung up and are thriving in response to over-surveillance, the industry will adapt to the threat of ad blockers by producing ads that are simpler, less invasive and, most importantly more transparent about how they are handling our data.

The cost to the industry in terms of lost ad revenue is staggering, with estimates as high as $22 billion in lost revenue this year. More than 200 million people are blocking ads and that number, while alarming to industry insiders, is likely to be the tip of the iceberg for it represents a 41% increase YOY. And while it has been mostly used with desktop devices, ad blocking downloads will soon be a common feature on many mobile phones, too. If you guesstimate that only half of the 200 million people have mobile phones, which is made more appealing because it extends battery life and speeds up your viewing enjoyment, you can see the scope of the problem for ad makers. The add-free appeal on mobile’s has the potential to go viral.

They will adapt or die say some because the current course is untenable.

“It’s clear to us that the ads ecosystem is broken,” said Ben Williams, a spokesman for Eyeo, the German company that makes Adblock Plus the most popular ad-blocking software. “What we need is a sea change in the industry to get to a place where we have a good amount of better ads out there, ads that users accept.”

The ad industry is fighting back to retain revenues sometimes resorting to what may be construed as underhanded tactics. PageFair is one pioneer in this effort, selling technology that allows web publishers to determine if users are blocking ads then bombarding them with ads despite this by circumventing the blockers. They were tight-lipped about how this actually works- but it’s obviously a game of leap-frog- staying one step ahead of the competition.

Strangely, PageFair’s spammy scheme may result in better ads by making them more focused, less broad and bombastically annoying. One example is that they are lo-fi- they can’t be animated or cover up a page’s content. Joining PageFair in this effort are Ghostery and AdPlus. And herein lies the irony. Those firms, who develop technology to penetrate ad blockers, depend on consumers bent on blocking ads. But the potential result: better ads. Stay tuned for more on this evolving situation.


Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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