Adblock Plus comes (somewhat) clean about how Acceptable Ads work
The Acceptable Ads program from Adblock Plus has proved slightly controversial. The company behind the ad blocking tool, Eyeo, has already revealed a little about how it makes money from the program -- despite the fact that no money changes hands in most whitelisting cases -- and today it has opened up further about how it makes its money.
Whilst recognizing that people do want to block ads, Eyeo is also aware that sites do need to benefit from ad revenue -- hence Acceptable Ads, non-intrusive ads that it is hoped are less irritating and therefore easier to stomach. But Eyeo itself also wants to make money. How does it decide which company to charge for Acceptable Ads whitelisting, and what to charge? If you're expecting full transparency, you might be disappointed, but we are given a glimpse into how the financial side of things works.
In a blog post, Adblock Plus' Ben Williams concedes that while people in the ad blocking business are fully aware of how acceptable ads works, "we understand that it might be murky to you". He is quick to stress that most of the companies whose ads are whitelisted do not 'compensate' Adblock Plus ('pay' is such a dirty word, isn't it?). He goes on to offer a rule of thumb for deciding whether to charge or not:
[...] only advertisers that stand to gain more than 10 million incremental ad impressions per month because of whitelisting are asked to sponsor. To put that in perspective, if 5 percent of a site's users block ads, for example, then that site needs to have 200 million ad impressions to begin with in order to break the 10 million threshold.
A site's non-ad block traffic is not included in the calculation. Using this definition, most publishers don’t pay anything at all -- in our last measurement, 90 percent were free actually.
In many ways this is a story we've heard before. There are a few new snippets of information, sure, but there's hardly full transparency; it's far too easy to hide behind phrases like 'we cannot provide details about specific contracts or partners'). The blog post itself is an exercise in making things awkward. Rather than simply presenting the information people are likely to be interested in, in an easy to read format. We are instead treated to a short blog post littered with links to other pages on the Adblock Plus site, forums pages, and so on.
It doesn’t matter whether you click through every single link provided, you find that you're still left scrabbling for what you want to know. Fancy working through more than 600 forum threads to properly determine how Acceptable Ads works? No. Thought not.
The post goes on to explain -- a little -- how a chargeable fee is calculated. Adblock Plus also tries to put forward the idea that charging for whitelisting is nothing to do with generating profits. Taken at face value, you'd be forgiven for thinking every cent earned is ploughed back in to the company:
For those not admitted for free, we calculate the licensing fee as a percentage of the extra revenue the advertiser earns after whitelisting. It is not based on total ad revenue, but rather the value our service creates.
This revenue allows us to hire employees to do the hard work providing that service demands. Software engineers have to maintain the whitelist, monitor it and provide customer service to each whitelisted site, whether payment is involved or not. Acceptable Ads also provides value to publishers that was previously unavailable -- and not only value, but sustainable value created with the user rather than at his/her expense.
All clear? No? Good.
But it's OK, because Ben says:
Finally, this blog post will not answer every question. Trouble is, we can't, because NDAs and contracts.
So there you go. Just don't ask about integrity...