Ad-blocking software company Adblock Plus claims that its software has already been downloaded over 300 million times across the world, and WARC wrote a story last year showing five percent of all internet users used the technology (in the US, 41 percent of 18-29 year olds claimed to use adblock software). This means that millions of ads served throughout the world on desktops and laptops do not reach their desired targets. Now the German company has announced that it is currently trialling an update of its ad-blocking software that enables Android users to block ads on their smartphones. So what’s the industry doing about it?
The extension of this software onto mobile devices, one area where it has been harder to dodge ads, comes at a time when the IAB is tracking significant growth in mobile advertising spend.
“It is a concern for both digital advertisers and publishers alike and will be harmful to the growth of mobile revenue,” says Sarah Kavanagh, the acting chair of the IAB NZ Mobile Council. “IAB NZ follows the same stance as the IAB UK and US in that this is going to cause an issue for the industry with much of the free internet, both online and mobile, reliant on advertising to sustain business.”
Internationally, some journalists have questioned the morality of users activating ad-blocking software when they know that many publishers are dependent on advertising for revenue.
And while the levels of online piracy illustrate that morality often doesn’t have much say in what people do on the internet, several publishers in Germany took the matter to court, where ad-blocking software was determined legal.
In a statement published on its website, Adblock Plus gave the following account of the legal proceedings:
It may surprise readers of this blog to know that some advertiser groups believe blocking ads is illegal. They are upset that adblockers impede their multi-billion dollar business (or in this case, euros) of shoveling ads at you whether or not you like it or asked for it. In fact, a group of publishers in Hamburg, Germany was so upset that they actually took Adblock Plus to court.
Today, after a four-month trial, reasonable heads prevailed as the regional court in Hamburg ruled in our favor by declaring that ad blocking is, in fact, perfectly legal. I know, it’s restating the obvious. But it cost us lots of blood, sweat and tears nonetheless.
The Hamburg court decision is an important one because it sets a precedent that may help us avoid additional lawsuits and expenses defending what we feel is an obvious consumer right: giving people the ability to control their own screens by letting them block annoying ads and protect their privacy.
In New Zealand, the matter has not yet been taken to court but as the issue continues to grow in prominence, local publishers could eventually seek legal clarity from the courts. The law has never been able to keep up with technology, and, as illustrated by the Global Mode case, digital technology is introducing some legal grey areas that will eventually have to be resolved—and ad blocking technology certainly falls into this category.
Kavanagh suggests that in the interim publishers should be vigilant and limit viewers from watching content if ad-blockers are installed.
“The reality for the consumer is that publishers will start to define what content they can access based on whether they have AdBlock installed. The industry needs to recognize the role advertising plays in funding web services and content, be that online or, increasingly, mobile.”
Among local publishers, MediaWorks is one of the few that have already started to incorporate such measures.
In order to watch any MediaWorks videos embedded in news articles or hosted within on-demand hubs, users must first deactivate any ad-blocking software before proceeding.
“We started looking into this two years ago, and have progressively been rolling out notices across our websites since then,” Graeme Underwood, the general manager of interactive sales for MediaWorks Interactive, previously told StopPress. “We’ve been successful in stopping a number of the most popular ad blockers. [But], as with everything in this area, technology is always advancing. The availability of new streaming technologies is likely to make ad blockers (as they currently are) obsolete and potentially unusable within the next three to five years.”
Interestingly, Underwood says that since “most popular ad blockers appear to be working similarly,” MediaWorks has successfully been able to employ a blanket approach to stop users who have the software activated. He did however play down the significance of the threat of ad-blocking software, saying that “both global and regional statistics suggest fewer than ten percent of impressions are ad blocked”.
Adblock Plus does however provide a ‘whitelist’ feature that enables publishers to serve their ads onto the websites even when its ad-blocking software is activated in a browser—and this is something that Kavanagh takes exception to.
“AdBlock acting as a gate-keeper for the industry, while simulataneously making money from big publishers paying to have their ads white-listed is a contradiction in turn, and means that quality control is being determined by a for-profit company, rather than a not-for-profit trade body with industry best practice at it’s core.”