Why criticizing ad blockers sucks

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

July 9, 2015

Free is everyone’s favorite price! After all, we all like something for nothing, even when can afford to pay for it. This is the reason behind the wild success of many of the internet’s most popular products, such as Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, and anything by Google. Free stuff… yay!

Except, of course, these services aren’t really free. Not only is the development of such slick user-friendly and highly functional products very expensive, but the cost of running them is immense – very costly server-banks need to purchased and run, technical and support staff trained and employed, legions of lawyers paid etc., etc. Trust us… running Google et al. is not cheap!

So how can these internet mega-giants afford to offer such cool services to half the planet, without us, the users, having to pay a penny towards them? We might hope that the answer (in a nutshell: advertising) is obvious to most BestVPN readers, but a new YouGov survey commissioned by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has found that less than half of UK adults know free content online is funded by ads.

Young people are more aware of this basic fact (59 percent of 18-34 year olds) than older people (only 36 percent of over 55s), but it remains a terrifyingly low number (these results came from a UK survey, but we are sure they are indicative of the wider situation.)

The report focuses on how more and more people are using to ad blocking software, finding that 15 percent of adults use ad blockers, with 52 percent of those wanting to block all ads completely.

The main conclusion the IAB draws from its findings is that this growth in the use of ad blockers (which is highly alarming to internet services that rely on adverting for their revenue) is a result of users’ ignorance over how the free services they love so much can afford to operate. As IAB chief executive, Guy Phillipson, argues,

When it comes to a free and an ad-free internet, a lot of consumers want to have their cake and eat it. However, those unaware that most online services are free – or cost very little – because sites make money from showing visitors ads, could be in for a shock if websites start charging for access because ad blocking reduces their revenue from advertising. The bottom line is that if the web didn’t have ads, most sites could only exist by charging subscriptions.

I dispute this conclusion, however, and instead contend that internet users who are technically savvy enough deploy ad blocking software are very aware of how websites and internet services generate income.

Many of them are also likely very  aware that these services have badly overstepped the mark when it comes to invading our privacy, using a range of sneaky, intrusive, and downright creepy methods to stalk us as we surf the web, harvesting vast and highly intimate troves of data about us that they use to serve up ever more ‘personalized’ (read intrusive, and occasionally embarrassing) ads .

Given that the world’s most popular ad blocking software, Adblock Plus, does not block content that conforms to its quite reasonable ‘Acceptable Ads’ criteria, it seems clear that advertisers and the IAB are barking up the wrong tree, and that if websites and advertisers want to reverse the trend for blocking their content, then they need to put their houses in order.

A great example of good advertising practice is DuckDuckGo. The popular privacy-orientated search engine funds its very successful operation using discrete ad banners that are based on users’ (anonymously entered) search terms – no tracking involved,

It’s a myth that you need to track people to make money in search. We make money just by keyword advertising. If you type in ‘car’ you get a car ad, it’s really that straight forward.

If more websites respected their users’ privacy and implemented less in-your-face advertising, then fewer people would be averse to seeing ads on the webpages they visit.

Of course, there will always be some who do not want see any ads at all, but as these people are very unlikely to purchase any product presented to them in this way, anyway, they are arguably doing the both the website and advertiser a favor by deploying an ad-blocker!

Given that ad-blockers also prevent cross-site tracking and protect their users from all kinds of malvertising, attempts to combat the rise in their use by either asking visitors to turn them off (or even refusing to work if detected!) are not only unprincipled (after all, if someone really doesn’t want to see ads then what right do websites have to force him or her to see them?), but highly irresponsible…

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.

3 responses to “Why criticizing ad blockers sucks

  1. (disclaimer – I’m a co-founder with Stands, a company that offers an adblock fair alternative).

    It seems that there is an arms race between advertisements tools – that are looking for more data and more opportunities to show ads, and the users which their web experience is being compromised.

    The saying “if it’s free, you are the product”, to my mind, points to the core of the issue – users are eyeballs and are not part of the ad transaction. is a new experiment that act as privacy tools by blocking all 3rd party advertising, however, it does allow some ads to go through control environment. The ad revenue for these ads that the user did agree to see are split between the publisher and a cause that the user choose.

    This solution allows publishers to get the same ad revenue that allows them to operate, without compromising the user privacy, while providing people with a perfect motivation to agree to see some ads – doing good.

    I would much appriciate any feedback

    1. Hi Gil,

      Stands certainly sounds like a good idea that addresses many of the issues associated with online advertising. I will take a more detailed look at your service in the near future, and write a review with my thoughts on it.

  2. I read a lot of science sites regularly, and mostly have AdBlocker set to accept adds from them. I recently got a message from one of them asking me to turn off my blocker. When I replied no they asked why. I told them that I did not use it on most of my favorite science sites, but that inserting an add into the text of an article was unacceptable. They were just more obnoxious than most, and I find the adds that I do see on the other sites where I do not use a blocker to be interesting. Astronomy sites often advertise telescopes, and there aren’t many things that I would rather look at an add for. If sites would stop being aggressive, and using those evil flashing things, more of us would be willing to look, at least on some of our favorite sites.

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