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Ad blockers: A solution or a problem?

Robert L. Mitchell | Jan. 16, 2014
It's a cause. It's a curse. It's just business. Ad blockers take a bite out of the $20 billion digital advertising pie.

And some publishers have tried to offer alternatives, such as freemium and subscription services. However, they complain that most users haven't responded. In that case, says Raicu, "The use of ad blockers on those sites is unfair."

The bottom line for consumers is actually very simple. "If you don't want to view ads you need to pay," Raicu says. One way or the other.

In fact, he doubts that most publishers can afford to take "such extreme measures" as abiding by the conditions of Adblock Plus' program, especially when the digital advertising market has been moving toward high production quality ads with rich text and digital video.

And signing a deal with Adblock Plus won't make the problem go away entirely. The Acceptable Ads program has been controversial within the Adblock open-source community as well.

Some people took issue with the concept of opting Adblock Plus users into the whitelist by default, says Schumacher. The controversy split the community after the program was announced in December 2011 and led to the development of Adblock Edge, a version of Adblock that does not support acceptable ads -- or even offer an option for users to opt into such a program.

Other ad-blocker strategies

There are other ad blockers out there that don't monetize using this type of approach.

Some offer pay-what-you-want and/or "freemium" services. For example, the similarly named AdBlock, a competitor to Adblock Plus operated by former Google engineer Michael Gundlach, accepts donations and has no external investors.

Another service called Disconnect offers an add-on by the same name whose primary objective is to block tracking scripts -- but in so doing, it also blocks website ads relayed from third-party advertising networks. Disconnect's co-CEO Casey Oppenheim says his pay-what-you-want business model has taken off, with 3% of users contributing and 20% of new paying users choosing to subscribe annually. (There's also the chance that Disconnect will offer premium for-pay features in the future.) "Online privacy is a mass-market opportunity for the first time," he says. Which may explain why the company has drawn more than $4 million from venture capitalists.

(Faida at Adblock Plus declined to say how much money its investors have put up, but Schumacher, the biggest investor, says it's less than what Disconnect has raised so far.)

Ghostery, owned by marketing firm Evidon, doesn't block ads by default, but lets users block ads selectively after presenting information about the ads and companies behind them. Evidon's "data donation" business model asks users to opt into its GhostRank panel, which allows Evidon to collect "anonymous statistical data" on user activity that it uses to sell services to advertisers, publishers and others.


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