Google, Amazon, Microsoft pay to get ads past Adblock Plus

Google, Amazon, Microsoft pay to get ads past Adblock Plus

Image of Stop sign courtesy of ShutterstockAd-buying big boys Google, Amazon, Microsoft and the content marketing platform Taboola have quietly ponied up the money to keep their ads from being blocked on Adblock Plus, the world’s most popular software for blocking online advertising.

The deals were confirmed by the Financial Times.

Eyeo, the German company behind Adblock Plus, says its plugin has been downloaded more than 300 million times worldwide and has more than 50 million monthly active users.

It’s got a similar name to another popular advert blocker, “AdBlock”. Both plugins work by standing in as if they were firewalls between web browsers and known ad servers.

(AdBlock allows users to unblock advertisements, but claims it’s not paid by advertisers to do so.)

Both rely on databases of blocked ad servers, curated by a large and active open source community, automatically blocking ads of nearly all ad formats on all websites.

More and more people are turning to adblockers to keep distractions out of their browsing.

According to a report from PageFair – a service that measures how much ad blocking costs websites – and Adobe, by the second quarter of 2014, there were approximately 144 million monthly active adblocker users globally, 69% greater than for the previous year.

Not all ads are equally annoying: the study found that the majority of adblocker users are willing to view non-intrusive ad formats.

In fact, if ads could manage to keep themselves from cartwheels, barking or blocking the content users are trying to view, instead choosing to quietly and unobtrusively advertise with text or image ads, 67% of adblock users said they’d be OK with it, PageFair found.

From the report:

The majority of adblock users reject only distracting (animations, sounds) or intrusive (popover, interstitial, non-skippable video) ads. Adblock users can be respected by serving them non-intrusive ad formats.

Out of the box, Adblock Plus comes with an “Acceptable Ads” exception list.

After all, in the internet’s predominant market model of free content, websites have to make money somehow, Eyeo acknowledges:

We don't think that all ads are bad, and we are fully aware that website owners need them to survive.

Adblock Plus has criteria to identify unobtrusive and therefore acceptable ads that don’t need to be blocked. Advertisers willing to comply with the criteria can apply to have their ads added to the exception list, which will unblock them for most users.

Users who don’t want to see ads at all, even acceptable ones, can always opt out completely.

Adblock Plus would probably rather you didn’t, though. After all, keeping a service such as an adblocker up isn’t just a hobby; it’s a full-time job, and it needs to be funded somehow.

The way the plugin company makes money is by charging websites to get onto its Acceptable Ads list.

Eyeo reportedly charges such sites a fee that’s equivalent to 30% of the ad revenues that the business would make from getting off the blocked list.

But there are companies that are worried about adblocking’s potential to undercut their business model and aren’t too happy about being forced to pay to get around adblocking.

Some German companies are trying to get damages out of Eyeo, while two groups of French publishers are reportedly considering whether they’ll do the same.

As the Internet Policy Review reports, the main complaint of the Germany publishers isn’t adblocking.

After all, it’s tough to drag users into court over installing free software.

Rather, it’s Eyeo’s business model, based as it is on helping blocked companies “regain penetration” through redesigning their ads to meet the “acceptable” criteria.

While those cases wind through the courts, Adblock Plus users can expect to see more ads from Microsoft, Amazon and other companies, now that they’ve paid Eyeo to appear on its white list.

Google has actually been paying Adblock Plus to show its ads since 2013: a move that PageFair has estimated saved Google some $887 million in 2012 – money it would have lost from blocked ads.

This strikes me as a pretty good deal: Adblock Plus users can still opt out of seeing even the nonobtrusive ads on the service’s white list, and a useful service gets the funding it needs to keep blocking ads.

What do you think?

Image of stop sign courtesy of Shutterstock.