Adblock Plus Causes Outrage (again) by Selling Ads

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

September 14, 2016

Adblock Plus (ABP) is the world’s most popular ad-blocking software, with a claimed over 50 million users. It is therefore unsurprising that many online publishers are up in arms against Eyeo GmbH, the company behind the browser.

Adblock Plus is widely regarded as a major threat to the ability of many online companies to profit from the content they produce. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), for example, banned ABP from its Annual Leadership Meeting, refunding the money that Adblock Plus paid. Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB, stated that,

We cancelled the registration and reversed their credit card billing. Why? For the simple reason that they are 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.


Similarly, UK culture secretary John Whittingdale clearly had Adblock Plus in mind when he slammed adblocking companies as a ““modern-day protection racket”. He was particularly scathing about adblockers who “offering to whitelist providers in return for payment”.

According to a report by PageFair, software such as ADP cost publishers almost $22 billion in 2015 alone.

Adblock Plus and whitelisting

Adblock Plus has always argued that it is not against online advertising per se..It is, however, opposed the kind of intrusive advertising that all web users will be all too familiar with. In 2012 it started to whitelist websites that met its “acceptable ads” criteria.

A full explanation of what constitutes an “acceptable ad” is available here. But it basically boils down to that an ad should be transparent about being an ad, should be static and not obscure a site’s content, and that it should be appropriate to the site on which it is displayed.

This could be seen as a highly commendable move aimed at improving ordinary web users’ experience on the internet. The way in which Adblock Plus chose to monetize itself, however, caused a great deal of controversy.

Adblock Plus charges companies over a certain size a fee to be whitelisted (in addition to having to conform to the ‘acceptable ads’ criteria). This includes lucrative deals with companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon. Also included is the much reviled ad-server Taboola, for which ADP charges up to an astonishing 30 percent of advertising revenue.

New platform, fresh outrage

As already noted, Adblock Plus has been whitelisting companies for profit since 2012. Yesterday, however, ADP cased fresh outrage by announcing that will it sell ads directly using a new add platform,

Starting today we’re launching the beta version of a fully functional ad-tech platform that will make whitelisting faster and easier. To do it, we teamed up with publisher platform-provider ComboTag to build what will be known as the Acceptable Ads Platform, an interactive platform that lets publishers and bloggers choose from a marketplace of pre-whitelisted ads that they can drag and drop onto their sites. The AAP will cut the whitelisting process from weeks to seconds, and all publishers have to do is implement a single line of code.”


The reaction from the mainstream press has been predictably outraged. As the Guardian put it,

In a move as brazen as bookstore destroyer Amazon opening physical bookshops, one of the world’s biggest companies that allows web users to block advertisements from appearing on the sites they visit will start selling ads itself.”

But is this fair?

As far as online publishers are concerned, ads are their primary source of revenue. They are the reason that websites can offer readers the free-to-view content they so desire.

This sounds reasonable enough, but as anyone who remembers the “bad old days” will remember, ads were ruining the internet. Ads that obscure the screen and jump where when you try to close them with your mouse, anyone?

It is in large part thanks the success of Adblock Plus and its acceptable ads initiative that things have got better.  A userbase of over 50 million not only shows a high level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, but makes a very persuasive argument to advertisers that they should behave themselves.

But I don’t want to see any ads!

Online companies should really be grateful that ADP does allow though ads that meet its acceptable ads criteria. It is possible to disable ads completely using the add-on’s Options menu, but over 90 percent of users do not bother to do this.

These day’s however, the free and open source (FOSS) browser add-on uBlock Origin is much more highly regarded among privacy advocates. It is also quite effective as an anti-tracking tool, although I recommend using uBlock Origin in combination with the EFF’s Privacy Badger add-on for maximum protection.

uBlock Origin

Alternatively, you can use uMatrix instead of both. But his does require a fair bit of tinkering to work properly with your regularly visited websites.

It is also probably worth noting that Adblock Plus is entirely different to Adblock.

Exclusive Offer
Get NordVPN for only