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Adblockers explained: Inside the menace that stalks publishing

John E Dunn | March 7, 2016
Adblocking tools have turned into the feared gatekeepers of web advertising.

Eyeo, makers of Adblock Plus, defends itself by pointing out that Acceptable Ads can be turned off by end users although that is perhaps a moot point from the point of view of publishers. If all users turned off the system in their adblockers there would be no need to pay to bypass it. Most will leave it turned on.


Whittingdale wants to discuss the issue with industry insiders but it's not clear what practical action he can take. Users will not unload adblockers just because they are damaging some publishing websites, even less so because politicians want them to. The browser is a private domain.

It is also a fact that despite their name, many tools also block ad-tracking systems that many believe represent a threat to privacy. It's hard to see how a government could legislate against tools that perform what is a perfectly legitimate and possibly necessary function.

Adblockers explained - are adblockers obsolete?

What governments could do is regulate against the emerging trend for blocking at the network level, a technology being trialled in the UK by mobile carriers. Although this type of system is only being applied to mobile devices at present it has the potential to render software adblockers obsolete. Although network adblocking has to prove itself effective, the potential is clear.

Some see network-level adblocking - which hosts the same filtering technology on servers - is an even bigger menace than browser tools because it has the capability to turn mobile firms into even more powerful gatekeepers. This sort of control could be something end users wouldn't even be aware of. It's not clear whether these firms plan to build a business model like Acceptable Ads around this technology but they might think twice given the controversy surrounding that system.

As ever with adblocking the key will be what is blocked, what is not, and how those decisions are made.


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