Is ad blocking hurting the web?

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  • October 29, 2015

ad blockingIncreasing use of ad blocking software is convenient for users, but hurting publishers’ ability to earn revenue, but is it really as big a concern as it’s being made out to be?

In this interview with Upstart Magazine, Richard Taylor argues that it’s generally a non-issue and that if anyone’s being hurt by the use of ad blocking technology, it’s the content publishers, not the advertisers.

See below for Richard’s full interview.

To what extent does ad blocking software affect online revenue?
Right now I don’t believe ad blocking really affects that many sites or advertisers. Most ad blocking software to date has been on desktop computers, and with the now dominant mobile first web, this has meant most sites and advertisers won’t see a change.

What effect do you think Apple’s decision to support adblocking software will have on online advertising?
With Apple now allowing ad block software in iOS9, apart from making great headlines, I don’t think there will be a dramatic change.
iOS9 ad blockers are only able to block on the Safari web browser ~23% of tablet and mobile use. Importantly they don’t affect in-app ads or pre-roll video ads. In the US around 90% of mobile use is in-app, not the traditional web.

One of the arguments in favour of adblocking software is that online advertising has become too invasive. Do you think this is a fair argument?
I don’t agree with this at all. Really invasive ads were in the dark days of pop-overs and pop-unders where they literally got in your way.
Certainly cookies have enabled advertisers to be more targeted with their advertising, especially in regards to re-targeting – where you are targeted with ads after visiting associated websites – can actually make your web experience better. You’re shown ads and content that are related to your interests.
People should remember that personal information isn’t stored in cookies; they are simply a way of tracking. As an advertiser I can’t identify you as a person until you explicitly provide me with information to do so (signing up to an email newsletter, making a purchase, etc).

Some adblock software, like Adblock Plus, has an “acceptable ads” policy. Do you think this could be a healthy compromise?  
I wouldn’t say it was “healthy” as such. It’s a noble idea, but even they admit that they can’t always detect the type of ads they are allowing through or blocking. With the demise of Flash for advertising this will only get harder for them.
Also remember that there have been accusations of AdBlock Plus accepting payments in return for letting ads from specific ad networks through – everyone wants to make money.

A Canadian study found that if adblocking software was implemented across large enterprises, such as universities, it could save between 25 and 40 per cent of their network bandwidth. Do you think this suggests that online advertising is taking up too many resources?
First of all let’s remember that a standard Flash banner ad is only 40k in size.
It’s an interesting study, but flawed in a number of ways and not what I would deem sound.
There was no control over the number of web pages visited on each computer, or on the computer where ads were allowed, were test participants prevented from clicking ads to enable rich media. They even state that a drop in web sessions drove the decrease in data on computers with the ad blocking software installed.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Disabling cookies with ad blockers, incognito browsing, etc. also affects publishers as they can use cookie data to find out more about their readers. if they know the type of content that their readers are interested in, they can promote and create more and better content in those areas.
I don’t think people realise that the real losers from ad blocking are the publishers that get paid to display ads. Nothing is free – if a site doesn’t charge you to use it, then you (and your information) are the commodity. If ad blocking becomes common enough, we may see more sites putting up pay walls to cover costs, or even shutting down.

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