In the arms race of ad blocking there’s clearly never a dull moment as efforts to block ads are combated by publisher and platform countermeasures trying to fox the blocks.
This is why Adblock Plus maker, eyeo, says it’s getting more serious in how it tackles what it dubs “circumvention technologies” — by setting up an interdisciplinary team internally that’s devoted to countering the ad blocker blockers.
It also says it wants the team to “work alongside publishers to develop user-friendly alternatives to so-called circumvention technology” — which, at the base level, boils down to trying to sell them on signing up its Acceptable Ads whitelist, aka the official way to circumvent its ad blocks (which also involves paying it a fee).
Though it also talks about promoting other more ‘user-friendly’ alternatives to reinjecting ads (such as paywalls).
Prior to creating the anti-circumvention taskforce eyeo says efforts towards blocking circumvention of ad blocks were mostly carried out by interested others outside the company — aka the open source community, filter list authors and developers of other ad blockers — who worked together, along with some from within eyeo, to try to fox the would-be ad block foxers.
It also says that effort was “somewhat siloed” — whereas now it’s confident its interdisciplinary taskforce is going to be more effective, claiming: “The results have already spoken for themselves.”
One result that eyeo stands by (though it predates the creation of the taskforce) is successfully beating back Facebook’s efforts to slip its ads past Adblock Plus.
Ben Williams, director of advocacy at eyeo, confirms to TechCrunch it’s now just short of a year since it figured out a way to counter Facebook’s workaround for Adblock Plus ad blocks.
“We can almost promise our users that Facebook will be back with a fix to our fix,” he wrote in October last year. “The good news is that the ultimate eventuality here is Facebook moving to make ads indistinguishable from content. And it’s not likely they’ll go that far.”
Williams tells us now that the taskforce represents “an effort to provide users with a better experience and to show them our efforts in securing it”.
“The taskforce will respond to users and their requests for a better experience, wherever that may be. In general, we at eyeo welcome all conversations with publishers to support meaningful and respectful monetisation,” he said. “The task force is charged with finding technical solutions to third-party circumvention. At eyeo, our mission is to provide users with control when they’re online, while keeping the web fair and profitable.”
While eyeo accepts that the number of circumvention technologies in play has increased, presumably as increasingly revenue-strapped publishers seek ways to workaround ad blocks, it argues that going against the wishes of users is “ineffective, and ultimately harmful to publisher revenue”. The company would clearly prefer publishers to submit to its Acceptable Ads whitelist route.
“We believe that the independent, third-party Acceptable Ads Standard, developed by the Acceptable Ads Committee, is the long-term solution to securing a sustainable advertising industry,” agrees Williams. “The Acceptable Ads marketplace provides users with a respectful ad experience, while allowing publishers to monetise.”
“In a much more general sense, the right way to deal with a user who blocks all or filters some ads is to talk to them and let them decide if and how they want to pay for the content,” he adds.
“For instance, circumvention is often confused with “anti-adblock walls,” which ask users to disable their ad blockers (the two are totally different). A wall such as this is just one alternative, which keeps users in control and does not attempt to circumvent their wishes.”
Williams says v3.1 of Adblock Plus, which landed back in April, baked in “new and significant anti-circumvention measures” for the first time — and he lauds “early results”, saying the addition resulted in 103 websites being “freed from reinjected ads”.
“The most common method used is to serve first-party ads with a randomized ID. The advertisement is stored on the same server as the main website, so blocking a specific domain does not work. We’re happy to say that we’re now more successful in combating this type of circumvention,” he says of circumvention techs.
“It’s important to keep in mind that circumvention is not something new — it’s been around since the start of ad blocking. It’s just that there are more third-party providers of circumvention now than there used to be.
“Our efforts with the taskforce are geared toward giving users of all ad blockers a better experience. However, circumvention has always been a cat-and-mouse game – it’s just that now the mouse is ready for anything the cat might throw its way.”