What's the point of AdBlock Plus if Google, Microsoft and Amazon can pay to bypass it?

What's the point in AdBlock Plus if Google, Microsoft and Amazon can pay to bypass it?

Ads are pretty much universally hated; in the list of lovable things in the world, ads rank pretty far down. On TV, in movie theaters, in magazines and online, ads are forced upon us and are impossible to avoid. Except that's not true online. Ad-blocking software can be used to filter out the stuff you don’t want to see, making for a happier web browsing experience.

However, it turns out that installing an ad-blocking tool like, ooh... I dunno... AdBlock Plus... is not enough to prevent the appearance of unwanted advertisements. Some time ago we learned about the whitelist operated by AdBlock Plus and now the Financial Times reports that big companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have paid to be included on the list so their ads are no longer blocked.

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Back in 2013, we learned that advertisers could apply to be included on the whitelist. Just 9.5 percent of those who applied were actually added to the list, and Adblock Plus' Ben Williams explained that "over 90 percent get whitelisted for free". But what about the remainder?

While the Financial Times does not reveal the dollar amounts that are involved, the newspaper was able to confirm that Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Taboola (which the FT says "sometimes serves racy content") have all cut deals with AdBlock Plus so their ads are no longer blocked. Users of the browser plugin can opt out of seeing ads on the whitelist, but Eyeo (the company responsible for AdBlock Plus) is obviously keen for as many users as possible see them.

Much like the idea of net neutrality, there's something of a feeling of inequality about this. While it is claimed that the majority of whitelisted companies have not paid for the privilege, there must be some reason why the big names have coughed up the cash. Could it be that their ads are given greater priority? Are those with the fattest wallets able to punch larger holes in the ad blocking barriers?

Writing for the Financial Times, Robert Cookson says:

The deals, which are confidential but whose existence has been confirmed by the Financial Times, demonstrate that some of the biggest participants in the $120bn online advertising market see the rise of ad-blocking as a material threat to their revenues.

Advertising is key to the survival of many web sites, but when users take conscious steps to control the content they are forced to view using a tool designed for this very purpose, it is only right that there be a greater degree of transparency. Does money talk? Can AdBlock Plus be trusted to respect the wishes of its users?

While there is money to be made by websites through ads, it seems that AdBlock Plus is also able to make a tidy income. Cookson reveals:

One digital media company, which asked not to be named, said Eyeo had asked for a fee equivalent to 30 per cent of the additional ad revenues that it would make from being unblocked.

Is it acceptable to be able to pay to bypass restrictions? Does it matter if users are told one way or the other?

Update

A quick update for everyone who keeps pointing out that whitelisted ads can be disabled -- I know. You can opt out. But that's not the point. The point is that, by default, a tool designed to block ads does not block ads because some companies have paid to be whitelisted (yeah, and some have been included for free too, I know). When you install an ad-blocker, seeing whitelisted ads should be opt-in otherwise the software is deceptive.

Anyway, for the sake of completeness, here is how to opt out of 'non-intrusive advertising'

  • On Firefox: click the Adblock Plus icon and choose Filter Preferences from the menu. Uncheck "Allow non-intrusive advertising" and you are done.
  • On Chrome: right-click the Adblock Plus icon in the address bar on the right, then choose Options and uncheck "Allow non-intrusive advertising."
  • On Opera: click the Opera menu button in the left corner at the top (on OS X: click Window at the top), choose Extensions, find Adblock Plus there, click on Options and uncheck "Allow non-intrusive advertising."
  • On Internet Explorer: click the Adblock Plus icon in the status bar on the right, then choose Options and uncheck "Allow non-intrusive advertising."
  • On Safari: click the Adblock Plus icon in the address bar on the left, choose Options, and uncheck "Allow non-intrusive advertising"
  • On Android: click the Adblock Plus icon in the notification bar at the top, then uncheck "Acceptable Ads / Allow some non-intrusive advertising."

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

42 Responses to What's the point of AdBlock Plus if Google, Microsoft and Amazon can pay to bypass it?

  1. Bob Grant says:

    As long as they don't remove the ability to opt out, I have no issues with them letting certain non-harmful ad sites to be put on their whitelist. Money is irrelevant as long as the sites remain harmless.

  2. Richard Saunders says:

    I don't really see how this is a problem. The whitelist has to conform to certain standards of not being annoying, paid or not. If that pays for the hosting costs required to provide the addon for free, then fine. It isn't as if you can't opt out of the whitelist anyways.

  3. nilst2011 says:

    You can edit what You want to be blocked - or not.

    There are more blockers around.

  4. snuffdaddy says:

    You can still add them to you blocklist, which correctly gets a higher priority to the whitelist.

  5. benjitek says:

    An example of someone trying to meet their blog posting quota. All you have to do is turn the setting off, doesn't involve trying to make a wordy, unnecessary blog posting appear to be something relevant...

    • Mark Wilson says:

      From the article:

      "Users of the browser plugin can opt out of seeing ads on the whitelist"

      • hackel says:

        lol, it's funny how you keep trying to defend yourself using this same, short quote. We all know it's there. The point is, you have blown the "problem" entirely out of proportion. This option isn't "hidden" or only for "geeky" users. Anyone who can't immediately see it upon opening the ABP options should get those ads.

      • Mark Wilson says:

        "We all know it's there"
        You are not everyone -- you, like many of the people reading this site, fall into the 'techy' category. Everyone does not know that the opt-out option exists. Whitelisted ads show up by default -- for a lot of people using ABP, they're likely to just assume that the apperance of an ad on a page is indicative of ABP not working correctly rather than thinking that advertiser paid for visibility.

        The reason I 'try' to defend myself using the same quote over and over is down to the simple fact that a lot of people seem to have missed or ignored the fact that I mentioned it. Hey ho.

      • Don Zeigler says:

        Anyone "techy" enough to know how to install browser extensions will know they need to set options for extensions.

  6. charlieaardvark says:

    Thought everyone had moved to µBlock

    • Hecc-MA says:

      And it does_____________ that others don't?

    • hackel says:

      I heartily recommend the combination of µBlock + µMatrix for Chrome, but as a Firefox user, I've been sticking with ABP + RequestPolicy. I just discovered µBlock has a version for Firefox, though, so I will have to check that out!

  7. Bill Reilly says:

    My website relies on ads to pay for it, otherwise I couldn’t afford to keep it going… If too many people start using ad blocking software then I’ll lose all my advertisers and I’ll have to close it down.

    The alternative is to start charging people money to access my website.

    There are many websites in the same boat… websites that all of you use every day.

    Are you people who use ad blocking software willing to pay a subscription for every website that you use?

    • psycros says:

      I'd pay for collection of sites that interested me, if it meant very few ads and no spyware. Hopefully it would also increase the quality of the sites and make the owners more responsive to user feedback.

    • Tracy Robinson says:

      Do storefronts charge entry fees so the customers cover the businesses monthly rent?

      • Bill Reilly says:

        No, but they sell things that give them income that pays the rent... What about websites that don't sell anything?

    • Neoprimal says:

      There's a difference between tasteful, smaller ads and completely obnoxious ones. I go out of my way to whitelist sites where the ads are at the sides, top, bottom, between articles...basically out of the way but where I can see and click if I want to. On the other hand, there are websites where the ads are huge and will open up and block content unless you click the x or do something else to click through. Then you have ones that will just start playing some form of sound. These types of ads upset me, and I will do everything in my power to make sure they don't come up on the website displaying them.

      So, if you're depending on ads for your site, as long as the ads aren't obnoxious, you could always put a placeholder saying "I use ads to pay for the site, please don't block them. I promise you that they are in good taste".

  8. Calandra says:

    If you don't want ads, then don't go to the site. Ad blocking software should be required to tell the website that ads are blocked.

    • Tracy Robinson says:

      By that logic you mean "don't use the internet" because ads flood every page of every site, period. I immediately leave websites that have superfluous ads because the significantly increased load times and auto playing crap ruins my browsing experience. If I wanted to buy crap I'd look up things to purchase. Businesses lose my interest by forcing that crap on me. I take every opportunity to report the spam in a passive effort to get the websites the ads linked to greylisted. Hate ads.

    • Hecc-MA says:

      And don't watch TV, don't listen to radio, well you know what? don't even go outside, it's full of ads everywhere... moron!!!

  9. psycros says:

    Its less about ads and more about being tracked by advertisers and online networks. Those ads serve up web bugs, tracking cookies and worse. I don't know if ABP does much to limit the spying but it should be a top priority. I don't mind the occasional ad - I really don't. What I will not stand for is having spyware infecting my PC. There's no difference between a "super cookie" and a keylogger. If you only run a single anti-spyware addon it should probably be Ghostery. It blocks most ads but more importantly it blocks the corporate malware.

  10. TheNefilim says:

    You have the option of using the whitelist or not so it's no big deal really. Sensational article is sensational...

    • sgrandin says:

      I think you mean sensationalist. Mark Wilson seems to be tending that way lately.

    • Mark Wilson says:

      From the article:

      "Users of the browser plugin can opt out of seeing ads on the whitelist"

      The question is... how many people are aware of it (outside of the realm of slightly geekier users)?

  11. Borhan Uddin says:

    We have Adblock edge, adguard etc.

  12. Thomas Ducusin says:

    Adblock Plus is awesome! It works great!

  13. btc909 says:

    Run AdBlock. Not Plus, Pro, etc.

  14. aires69uk says:

    Adblock Plus was never conceived to block all ads. In fact no ad blocker should be blocking all ads by default. Ad blocking should be selective by blocking those adverts you don'r want to see. Flashing adverts for example if you have epilepsy, or porn related adverts if you have kids. But at the point at which you start blocking all regardless, you run the risk of websites disappearing. A lot of websites rely on advertising revenue and that revenue is used to provide services or products. You should excercise discretion and some thought when using Adblock Plus ot Ghostery.

  15. Taomyn says:

    More trash journalism with little or no investigation by the author. This is a non-issue made very public by ABP for a long long time, with an option to opt-out built into the extension.

    Mark Wilson, please go attend a school of journalism and come back once you've learnt the trade.

    F.U.D. pure and simple.

    • aires69uk says:

      In fairness to Mark it's new content in The FT, and I would suspect this is additional news to that which was reported back in 2013.

      However I'll bet you haven't read The FT article just like I haven't, so when Mark says that he has, let's just give him the benefit of the doubt hey?

    • Mark Wilson says:

      As I point out in the article, in paragraph 4, "users of the browser plugin can opt out of seeing ads on the whitelist". I'm not sure that everyone would be aware of this because it's not exactly broadcast by ABP.

      And yes, it's not a completely new story, but the Financial Times learned more about the actual deals that take place. I think that's worthy of mention. If you don't think so, fair enough.

      • dingl_ says:

        Where in your article did you mention these companies MUST abide by ABP guidelines in order to have Ads whitelisted. IE) they must not be intrusive ads. even then when Ads are whitelisted the user can simply opt-out of the whitelist and go about their business blocking ads as usual using whichever Filter list they like ;d
        You don't mention this tidbit, the companies don't simply Hand cash over to ABP and suddenly ADS! no they abide by ABP rules in order for non intrusive ads to appear- ads reported and deemed insturive to the user and blocked once again

      • Mark Wilson says:

        It's mentioned in the previous ADP article I linked to (http://betanews.com/2013/10/08/adblock-plus-reveals-details-about-how-its-whitelists-work/):

        "an ad can only be deemed "acceptable" if it does not feature attention-grabbing images and is, ideally, static. The placement of advertisements is important, as is ensuring that ads are not confused with body text of articles. It almost goes without saying that acceptable ads must not be misleading, and must not track user data."

        With the link, I didn't feel the need to repeat myself.

  16. sounder says:

    I use Adguard now. It seems to do the trick without getting in the way.

  17. HeyRadar says:

    I don't mind ads as long as they are not RUDE and not MALWARE related. That's is why I use an "Ad Blocker".

    Seeing ads that look like Virus prompts is not right. And having Download buttons, that are really ads, next to files you're trying to download is not right.

    So as long as the ads are not doing these things i don't mind them being white listed. Paid or not.

  18. AlmightySatan says:

    It's nice using my jailbroken iOS devices with all ads blocked using various means. Ad-free YouTube makes it so much more pleasurable.

  19. john young says:

    Adblock Plus = NO Ad's on BN

    Next question?

  20. hackel says:

    Why is this even an issue? It's so trivial to disable the whitelist in ABP... I'd be happy to let them make a little cash if it meant more development time to increase its performance. Just because these companies pay them doesn't mean any of us have to allow their ads. ABP is GPL-licensed Free software, and they know that if they ever tried to force anything bad on us, it would be forked in a matter of minutes.

  21. Hecc-MA says:

    What's the point of being able to untick "Allow some non instrusive ads" if users are stupid enough to do it?

    Now they pay to be in a Whitelist, cool, don't use whitelists then!! block EVERYTHING.

  22. Spruce Cycle says:

    Beta News is basically malware posing as tabloid journalism.

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