Facebook Goes to War with Ad-blocker Software

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

August 16, 2016

Last Tuesday Facebook announced in interviews with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that it will henceforth start implementing changes to way it serves up ads in order to evade of ad-blocker software.

Rather than admit that it wants to force people to look at ads even when they clearly don’t want to, Facebook presented the move as taking the moral high ground,

“This isn’t motivated by inventory; it’s not an opportunity for Facebook from that perspective. We’re doing it more for the principle of the thing. We want to help lead the discussion on this.

A matter principle or not, if the initiative succeeds then Facebook’s revenue will see a sizeable increase. A recent study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) found that 26% of users surveyed block ads on (desktop) computers. And 15% do so on smart phones. This means that around 200 million people worldwide are using ad-blocker software.

Interestingly, ad-blocker users tend to be men 18-34 years old, and 40% of those surveyed thought they were using ad-blocker software even when  they weren’t (thinking that their anti-virus software did this job)!

Facebook is hardly poor!

Not that Facebook is financially suffering anyway. According to its 2016 second quarter report, Facebook’s revenue jumped 63% to $6.24 billion from the second quarter of 2015. In large part this is because its mobile app, on which ads cannot be blocked, generates 84% of its ad revenue.

At the heart of the issue, though, is a philosophical battle. As Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform, noted,

Facebook is ad-supported. Ad Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack ons are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on.

In a gesture clearly aimed at placating ad-hating users, however, Facebook has simultaneously announced that it will give users greater control over the ads they see,

We’ve all experienced a lot of bad ads: ads that obscure the content we’re trying to read, ads that slow down load times or ads that try to sell us things we have no interest in buying. Bad ads are disruptive and a waste of our time.

Today, we’re announcing some changes to help with this problem. First, we’re expanding the tools we give people to control their advertising experience. Second, we’re providing an update on our approach to ad blocking on Facebook.”

Popular ad blocker Adblock Plus has been at the forefront of the pushback against this, and within a couple of days announced that it has updated its filters to work around Facebook’s “dark path”. As even it admitted at the time, however,

This is still a cat-and-mouse game. Facebook might “re-circumvent” at any time.”

So it’s game on!

It is, of course, very much in the interests of Adblock Plus combat this development. It is a commercial company whose reason for existence (and hence its monetizing model) is 100% dependent on its ability to block ads.

Ad-blocker alternatives

Personally, I use a combination of Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin instead of Adblock Plus. These are both are highly effective open source non-profit alternatives. Facebook’s changes have made no impact whatsoever on my ad-free Facebook page.

A quick test shows that when I disable uBlock Origin, I see Facebook ads. This add-on therefore appears to be unaffected by Facebook’s changes (in other words, uBlock Origin continues to block ads on Facebook.)

As befits the fact that Privacy Badger is billed primarily as an anti-tracking rather than an ad-blocker add-on, Facebook ads are visible with just Privacy Badger enabled. But this was probably the case beforehand anyway, and it remains a fantastic anti-tracking add-on.


It is time to crack out the popcorn and enjoy the show. Companies such as Facebook have a huge incentive to win this war, but my gut instinct is that the ad-block cat is out of the bag. Until companies stop invading our privacy and tracking everything we do on the web in order to sell us stuff, then more and more people will look for ways evade this behavior. So go ad-blockers!

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

5 responses to “Facebook Goes to War with Ad-blocker Software

  1. For all whom may doubt the negative implications and results of these kinds of exploitation’s, I encourage all whom are following this discussion, to check out the articles below, in which some of the worst data breaches in history have literally exposed100’s of millions of citizen’s private data to the online world…,news-19083.html

  2. In response to the author’s comment, “…Until companies stop invading our privacy and tracking everything we do in the web in order to sell us stuff, then more and more people will look for ways evade this behavior. So go ad-blockers!,”

    I completely agree with your words of wisdom. It really is quite despicable that corporations are allowed to exploit us in this way. The only reasons they’ve been able to get away with it for so long is because they hide behind the already obscure nature of the internet itself——-a digital world of which, the corporations themselves, helped to obscure!

    These same corporate thugs also hide behind language in their Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Agreements, which they themselves have designed to legally protect their exploitation of your own personally identifiable information. And in exchange for what?!——-Merely a product or service for consumers. Their lawyers write these vague, yet carefully-crafted policies, to purposefully make it almost next to impossible for you (the user) to legally defend your rights to your privacy and the protection of your own identity——–which, in turn, makes it even easier for them to coax you into handing over to these corporations ownership rights to your very own identities——-Talk about Big-Brother——-This is beyond draconian!——-It is absolute tyranny!

    These companies should be made to pay for all the pain and suffering and heartache they’ve caused so many millions of users by the way in which their policies and practices endanger us and our privacy every single day!——-Shame on them for even trying to defend this disgusting behavior of theirs!——-Shame on them!

    They have no right black-mailing us of our rights to privacy simply so they can provide a service to us and make insane amounts of money on whom we are, where we go and what we do! This is extortion at it’s worst and they get away with it because, (as many more brave souls have been coming clean about in more recent months), this system is rigged and it is out of control!

    Abraham Lincoln was right when he warned American citizen’s almost a century ago——-that the corporations were a threat and that they were going to deprive the citizen’s of this country of their liberties and their resources. Like a page right out of the history books——-these ‘Corporate Creeps’ are getting away with murder!

    It’s time we start holding their feet to the fire for once and holding them accountable for the many atrocities they’ve been committing against the law-abiding citizen’s of this once-great nation. America really is in dire straights right now and it is absolutely the fault of this oligarchical monstrosity, aka ‘Corporate America.’

    In the words of Bruce Schneier himself:

    “Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies — whoever they happen to be at the time.”

    “Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.”

    “We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.”

    “A future in which privacy would face constant assault was so alien to the framers of the Constitution that it never occurred to them to call out privacy as an explicit right. Privacy was inherent to the nobility of their being and their cause. Of course being watched in your own home was unreasonable. Watching at all was an act so unseemly as to be inconceivable among gentlemen in their day. You watched convicted criminals, not free citizens. You ruled your own home. It’s intrinsic to the concept of liberty.”

    “For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.”

    “This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from us. This is life in former East Germany, or life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. And it’s our future as we allow an ever-intrusive eye into our personal, private lives.”

    “Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.”
    References/Excerpted from following article:

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      1. You’re welcome and I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my discontent over this very important issue of pivotal importance.

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