AdBlock Plus defends ad blocking, applauds Peace, and backs Crystal for iOS

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That a company behind an ad-blocking tool should defend ad-blocking should hardly come as a surprise, but that is precisely what has happened. Ad blockers have been much talked about since Apple opened up support for them in iOS 9. The now infamous Peace shot to the top of the download charts before it was pulled by its creator.

Now AdBlock Plus has come out in support of Marco Arment who developed something of a guilty conscience after his ad blocking creation proved so popular. Ben Williams from AdBlock Plus says "I really applaud this guy", going on to suggest that whitelisting and the Acceptable Ads feature of AdBlock Plus epitomize the "more nuanced, complex approach" Arment called for.

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Williams makes much of the fact that Arment refers to ad blockers as "necessary". In a blog post he explains that he applauds the Peace creator not for killing AdBlock Plus competition, but for highlighting that fact that an all-or-nothing approach doesn’t work well for content creators. When announcing the death of Peace, Arment recommended Ghostery, and it is no secret that he was working with that company.

As Williams' point out, this is not (necessarily) about sycophancy. AdBlock Plus is itself working with other ad block developers, in particular Dean Murphy -- the man behind Crystal. The aim is to bring AdBlock Plus' Acceptable Ads integration to Crystal so users have finer grained control over what they see, what they block, what they permit. There's also the clear admission that money changes hands:

In fact we’re helping several developers out with integration logistics and even paying some of their costs when they want to incorporate Acceptable Ads.

Paying others to adopt a feature is something that many people will question, but Williams insists that it is about empowering people and putting them in control. AdBlock Plus is due for release for iOS "any day" now, but in the meantime the company is happy to recommend Crystal. But that's not entirely surprising, is it...?

Photo credit: BravissimoS / Shutterstock

25 Responses to AdBlock Plus defends ad blocking, applauds Peace, and backs Crystal for iOS

  1. m97402 says:

    One of the things that most of these articles about ad-blocking neglect to mention is that web sites could easily evade ad-blockers and display ads simply by limiting the ads to static images and text and then serving that content as part of the web page itself. In fact this is exactly how we used to do it in the olden days (late 90s, early 00s).

    The biggest problems with ads began when web site owners start allowing dynamically placed content on their pages from 3rd party ad networks. That content could be coming from anywhere and is not well-policed. This dynamic content now includes auto-play video or audio ads, intrusive ad overlays that almost force you to click the ad to see the requested content and increasingly, malware.

    The web-site owners abdicated their responsibility to their readers/viewers and now they are paying the price. I think the Acceptable Ads approach taken by Ad-Block Plus is a great thing. It allows reasonable, non-intrusive advertising through and blocks the crap effectively.

    • FF222 says:

      What you think is "easy" is actually not. If it would be "easy", then web sites would obviously do it. Since they don't, it's obvious that it's not "easy". And that for several reasons.

      • G Annett says:

        Not all, people like me who block more than most don't care. If sites vanish because they can't refrain from annoying their so-called valued readers, then so be it. I'm fine with it. If sites find ways to bypass adblockers, they get on the ignore list. If they manage to not annoy whilst providing useful content, also good. The status quo of what is essentially a war of attrition is not going to work the way it is now. And with this subject now becoming front and center in the media, more will discover adblocking and as far as I can tell, no one ever goes back after that moment. Some sites will fall, maybe many. The onus is now on them to find a solution that isn't egregious to the users and still workable to providers.

        Personally, I think the web will do just fine

      • m97402 says:

        Actually, being a web site designer and coder, I do know one or two things about the subject. If I don't use JavaScript or HTML to refer to content not local to my own site than an ad blocker sees nothing to block. Perhaps some day they'll have image recognition built into ad blockers but for the present it is exactly that simple. The blocker can't tell the difference between a picture relevant to my web page and another selling soap as long as they both come from my own site.

        The only difficult part about it is the current business model. Right now the web site owners are basically renting a space on their page to a advertiser via an advertising network. The advertising network uses code to inject content from the advertiser into the web page. The code helps track you and that data is used to select advertising to display to you.

        That last bit is the only hard part. The ad networks are selling their services based on that tracking/targeting data. Advertisers believe it gives their ads more bang for the buck. Very few, if any, advertisers still support the old model of static image based ads. It is simply easier and, they believe, more effective to work through the ad networks.

        As far as accountability goes. The digital economy relies on automation far much these days. Automation is frequently gamed and hacked. It is fairly common knowledge that ad networks have gamed the system to their advantage on more than one occasion. Advertisers on radio and TV audit their ad buys to confirm the automated data they are provided. Why should the Internet be any different? Perhaps it is time to put a few more human beings to work!

      • FF222 says:

        Not to be rude, but you must really suck at being "a web site designer and coder" when you think "an ad blocker sees nothing to block" if you only use content "local to your own site".

        In reality there are many ways to recognize ads, for ex. by their dimensions, or by simply identifying content that appears on multiple pages or contains special keywords. That's actually how email spam filters work, and they do a fine job at filtering ads.

        Now, of course, technically all websites could have different ads (both in size and content), but that's not economical for the agency creating the ads. And any variance in the ads that can be automated can also be automatically recognized, too.

        Similar economic constraints are the primary reason why its pretty much impossible for most websites to show ads "that are local to the website". Because, you know, ad agencies won't negotiate with your website that has probably a few hundred or even thousand visitors a day.

        That's why we have ad networks and ad exchanges, and that's why advertising will always rely on 3rd party inclusions that are not "local to your website". The latter is also needed to actually audit the traffic and whether a website has really shown an ad as many times and to as many visitors as it claims.

        So, as I said, you only think it's easy, because you know really almost nothing about the technical and business aspects of advertising. And what you think is easy is actually not. If it would be easy, publishers, advertisers and agencies would have already done it.

      • m97402 says:

        Well, not to be rude, but you are mistaken to some extent. I've actually tested this a bit with live web sites and popular ad blockers. They don't block locally hosted, banner shaped images unless you are dumb enough to label them as ads in their ID, Name, etc. fields. They don't block them, even if the image is wrapped in an anchor tag that points to a 3rd party commercial site.

        Until an ad blocker that can determine the difference between locally hosted innocuous content, say a product review with a product image and a link to the manufacturer's site, and paid ads for the same manufacturer, is developed I don't see this changing. Ad blockers can't afford to be blocking legitimate content or people will dump them, fast.

        As to the business model, I already said that was a problem, I just don't care. The current business model is broken or we wouldn't have 1 in 6 web users in my home state using ad blockers with that number going up every day.

        Publishers and advertisers will have to get used to the idea, at some point, that they can't bombard us with ad on top of ad, hidden behind another ad, with many of them auto-playing video and audio all whilst running a dozen trackers per page.

        Before ad networks, advertisers ran their own programs. A web site owner, large or small, signed up, downloaded content and inserted said content on their web pages with a link back to the advertiser's site. Auditing was dead simple too. A simple URL parameter and/or the referrer data from the HTTP Request header data can be used to prove a click-through. I refuse to acknowledge that advertisers need to have a detailed dossier on me just so that I may have the privilege of viewing a web page. That is what advertising networks are really about.

        Anyway it's been fun. I'm sure you don't agree. So have at!

    • Fnordius says:

      This is part of why Google's AdWords was such a success, as back then it really was the first ad network to treat quality and unobtrusiveness as important quality factors. They still encourage quality in their ads, with their Quality Score system that makes better quality ads cheaper than crummy text.

  2. benjitek says:

    Content providers will figure out how to block the blockers, some do already and it'll eventually be easier to just let the ads display. Hopefully it'll help shift ads in general to be less intrusive on the browsing experience, and no tracking. Within the last couple weeks CNET videos have stopped working, with a 'turn off your ad-blocker if you want to watch' banner on the video player's screen.

    • m97402 says:

      I'm boycotting CNet anyway since they started wrapping their downloads with scads of junkware. That they now whinge about my ad-blocker will only reinforce my belief that everyone should avoid CNet (aka Download.COM) like the plague. There are better and far more ethical sites from which to get your tech news fix.

      • benjitek says:

        Or... just subscribe to their video podcast channels, like 'First Look' and watch the vids without the hassle of their bogged down site ;-)

      • G Annett says:

        Yep, it was cnet that got me using 'unchecky', a nice little program that unchecks addons by default as they try to sneakily fool you into installing what you might mistake for the program you really want. It's always running and is very effective against cnet junk addons.

      • benjitek says:

        Whatever those links are, that's not what I meant -- thanks though for stopping by -- who doesn't enjoy cryptic text files every once in a while ;-)

      • Andrew says:

        Sorry. The first one is an open source greasemonkey script that kills anti anti-adblock scripts. Greasemonkey allows you to run custom scripts in your browser. If you can think it you can script it.

        The second is an anti anti-adblock removal list for adblock plus. That can be added from the options.

    • travelsonic says:

      "Content providers will figure out how to block the blockers, some do already"

      Such workarounds, if I recall, are currently worked around easily. I dunno, it just feels like one of those things that I doubt they would have **complete** control over, not that they can't make it **harder** to block ads though.

      • benjitek says:

        "Such workarounds, if I recall, are currently worked around easily"

        Recollections are best backed up by factual info ;-)

        Perhaps you're technically adept, but the average user won't last long when a bunch of sites they frequently use stop working because their ad-blocker is turned on. Many might make it as far as settings -- be intimidated, or change a setting that makes things worse, and they'll give up.

        Thanks though for stopping by ;-)

    • Spark says:

      Cat and mouse game that never ends. If its costing a website tons of money to develop new ways to block ads it becomes more financially smart in the long run to just forget about it.

  3. SilentPatriot says:

    Been running ABP for years now, and it's become a necessity - the web is a VERY messy place without it. Recently discovered and started using Ghostery as well. Tired of getting dinged for bandwidth that someone else thinks they're entitled to abuse (i.e. autoplay ads).

  4. G Annett says:

    This is not addressed to the author or anyone in particular. This screed is more about how the overall coverage this little ad blocking firestorm has hit the web and the ongoing p*ssing match between content and ads.

    The trouble for me as I see it is that a large part of the web has become what tv has become, less a content delivery service and more an ad delivery system that also shows content. When tv shows are cancelled due to poor advertisement possibilities, or advertisers threatening shows, no matter how good the show may be, it's no longer a content service. Sites up and down are whining about losing their bread and butter, well if more had some original content and less regurgitating what every other similar site said, or just opinion pieces, or other such junk... well boo-hoo. The web could do with some trimming and less repetition.

    No one is obliged to look at ads on the web any more than they are anywhere else in life. Ads are there and we can choose to ignore them in any and every instance in one way or another. The web thinks it's special? Really? And anyone who thinks subscriptions will get rid of ads is also fooling themselves. Remember the subscription to cable? Still shows ads. Magazines? When was the last time you paid for a magazine that wasn't full of ads, even after paying $5 per issue. No, ads can go screw themselves along with sites that inflict that junk on me. If I can't block it, I leave. Simple. I can afford to lose a vast amount of the web and still find what I need. So can most others.

    ad blocking affects your bread and butter? Since when has that been my problem? It's your problem, you fix it, I don't care either way. I'd rather not see your site than be annoyed by it. I may be an extreme outlier on this, I stopped watching ad supported tv years ago. No longer buy magazines that are 80% ads. Don't listen to commercial radio since forever. The ad driven model can die a painful death as far as I'm concerned. I've had it. I choose to not be bombarded with junk, tracked, slowed down, inconvenienced and annoyed by the ad based model. Don't like it? Wall me out or fix the model, either way I don't care.

    I will block ads until the last site on the web dies if need be. If I want to look at ads, I know where to find them, I don't need them finding me.

    Ok, back to whatever you were doing, screed over :)

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    • windyspirit says:

      Well put!

  5. UglyStuff says:

    My two cents, for webmasters and advertisers alike:

    - Reduce the size of your ads to roughly 10% (max) of any given webpage;

    - Make sure the images aren't animated more than once;

    - Make sure audio and video content only play on demand;

    - Make sure passing mouse pointer over them doesn't trigger a flurry of animated content the viewer doesn't want to see;

    - Make sure your ads really link to your own content, not a malicious website;

    - Do not include clickable links in your ads, so that the viewer, if interested, will have to double-click on the link to highlight it, then right-click on the selection and choose to copy-paste it in the address bar;

    - Leave the viewer with the option to ignore your ads if he/she is so inclined, as they would when they're reading a newspaper.

    If the conditions above are met, then I'll consent to stop using an adblocking and/or script-blocking software.

  6. Spark says:

    I use ad blockers for more reasons than I just don't like ads.

    1) Websites load faster. Who doesn't like faster loading pages? This is multiplied 100x when you consider mobile devices have slower connections.
    2) Prevent tracking. Who likes to be stalked? Ad blocking all but stops tracking across the web.
    3) You don't see stuff you would rather not see. Who wants to see how large some guy grew his .... with some pill? You wont see that with ad blocking.
    4) No sudden audio/video playing. Who wants to hear some audio out of the blue especially when at work or other quiet place? Ad blocking stops that.

    Overall, I'd say actually blocking ads because I just don't care about them is not even a real reason I use ad blockers.

  7. nubwaxer says:

    adblock edge blocks the ads that adblock plus did not at raw story.

  8. windyspirit says:

    I am tired of the ads consuming half of my visual page on my tablet. The articles I choose to read are reduced to a quarter of a page at times while all these fric king ads are flashing away. Bring on the blockers. Find another way to get your revenue streams because I do not ever even look at the ads, just close the page.

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