Why Adblockers are harmful: A plea for online advertising

As a publisher, you are at war with them and for many Internet users it is part of the standard equipment: these are called adblockers; small browser extensions, which automatically hide advertisements in websites. What sounds good on the user side at first, i.e. not to get any advertisements displayed, often has devastating consequences for the website owner. For example, parts of the income from advertising programs such as Google AdSense or Zanox are no longer available, which is often the only source of income for the operators of small and independent special interest media on the net.

Also, when installing an ad blocker, one forgets that with every page impression one causes costs to the operator, which otherwise would be covered by advertising overlays. With Blocker, the usual barter transaction “content for advertising view” is levered out unilaterally on the user’s side and the operator remains seated on the expenses for research and hosting. That this is diametrically opposed to a diverse network culture is also clear to hard-boiled free culture supporters.

According to the German Digital Economy Association (BVDW), currently about 20% of all online-advertising is blocked on desktop computers. Adblockers do not yet seem to play a major role on mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones yet, where the share is in the low single-digit range.

However, the effects of adblocker use have already been clearly visible for some years now: For example, content migrates in some cases to apps in which advertisements cannot be blocked or content disappears behind payment barriers (e.g. BILD.de since 2013). The Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) announced that in 2013, 70 and in 2014, almost 100 German daily newspapers had already introduced a pay barrier for parts of their content – and the trend is rising.

One of the main arguments for using adblockers is often cited as protection against storing your own user profiles using scripts. These data can be used, for example, to record the interests of a user in an online shop such as Amazon, so that the collected data can later be used in the form of suitable advertising banners that are displayed on other websites. But it should not be forgotten that advertising blockers also track the surfing behaviour and sell this data or draw attention to themselves with sometimes obscure business practices: The Adblocker “Adblock Plus” of the developer Eyeo only displays so-called “Acceptable Ads”, which can be placed on a whitelist by advertisers against payment of a fee. SZ-Digital Managing Director Johannes Vogel, accused Eyeo of “modern highwaymen” for this behaviour.

Google wants to equip its web browser Chrome with its own adblocker from 2018 onwards, which also allows only pre-filtered online ads to pass through. Which banners these are, determines the “Coalition for Better Ads”, a consortium of members such as Google, Facebook or the German “Federal Association of the Digital Economy”. The industry giants here may exert too much influence in the future on what is acceptable and what is not, and this influence should be considered critically.

Ultimately, and with the increasing prevalence of advertising blockers, marketing departments and advertising networks will have to come up with new strategies to bring online advertising to the users’ screens in the future as well. Be it through advertising integrated into the content or technical tricks – the victims of this development will most likely be the small publishers, who have no resources to implement complex payment models and are dependent on the honesty of their readers.

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