opinion

This Ain’t Ad Blocking, It’s an Arms Race

This Ain’t Ad Blocking, It’s an Arms Race

I've never used an ad blocker, and not just because I own and operate an advertising network. I don't consider myself to be against ad blockers, even though I probably should be. The fact is, I'm a realist because I understand the dynamic of advertising on the internet — the reality is that most of the websites on the internet are supported by advertising, which allows people to enjoy the website and its content for free. By blocking the advertising, users of that software enjoy that content for free, but do it by actively leeching from the website while at the same time, consuming bandwidth and increasing the costs to operate the website itself.

If "ad blocking" continues to grow, it will lead to the fall of the free internet. That's not fear mongering. That is the simple economics of it. Running a website requires many resources, and they aren't cheap. The larger a free website grows and the more popular it becomes, the more expensive it is to run. If you remove revenue from advertising, a publisher's most attractive option is charging for subscriptions or premium access.

The larger a free website grows and the more popular it becomes, the more expensive it is to run.

It's like take a penny, leave a penny — if everyone takes a penny, well … social psychology teaches us about something called “The Tragedy of the Commons.” In an ecosystem with shared resources, individuals acting independently in their self-interest will behave detrimentally to the common good of all people in that ecosystem. The individuals will deplete the resource or spoil the supply so that it ultimately is unavailable to the collective group.

For example, a spring-fed lake that renews itself and is used by a community goes dry if a small group of individuals exploit it. It's the same principle that drives people to buy up (or loot) vastly more quantities of food and supplies than they need, in the days leading up to a hurricane.

“The Tragedy of the Commons” is similar to what is happening on the internet due to ad blocking users essentially depleting a freely available resource, thus depleting the site’s finances to a point that it is forced to stop operating freely for the commons.

During June of last year, I found myself annoyed by someone on Twitter thanking one of the leading ad block software companies:

"I'm unsure how many years ago exactly I installed [ad blocking software] but I just broke 10 million blocks thanks to your chrome extension! Been quite the journey and a whole lot of clean web-pages over the years!"

That's a staggering number of views for one person. When you account for the lost revenues those publishers suffered, while at the same time paying the server, hosting and bandwidth costs, it becomes apparent how parasitic ad block users have become on the health of the free web. At the same time, advertising companies are portrayed as the bad guys.

The German government has deemed ad blocking to be legal, even though it infringes on the economy, profits and sustainability of advertising companies and the internet itself. However, in 2015, Business Insider, The Verge, Engadget and many others cited an article by the Financial Times that described a scheme where huge marketing companies including Google, Microsoft and Amazon were actually paying Adblock Plus to unblock their ads. It was stated that the companies were paying "30% of the additional ad revenues" that the company's software was blocking. If you think that sounds legally questionable, you are not alone.

In a recent public tweet, AdBlock Plus stated: “We are not against ads, we are just against malvertising." However, that does not appear to be true.

Today, Adblock Plus provides an honest-looking "white-list" option for its users to display ads which the company has deemed acceptable. JuicyAds was invited to participate in the company's "Acceptable Ads" program and naturally intrigued, we looked into it. However, to be accepted into this "free" program it requires following criteria so rigid that it is extremely difficult to comply with. For example, one of the criteria is that your ads must be static and no animation is allowed. Animated ads are abundant and common in the advertising ecosystem. So common in fact, that Google, one of the most stringent and restrictive advertising networks in the world — appears to allow them.

If ad blocking companies were truly "just" against malicious ads, then why would there be such rigid standards to be white-listed? Why would they force the banishment of ads placed inside the body of written articles in order to be white-listed? Why would animated ads be considered "malicious" in nature when they contain no malicious payload? It seems obvious that these elements are not malicious at all, yet they appear in the requirements for the "Acceptable Ads" program to be white-listed.

The volunteer-supported community that manages and maintains the data for ad blockers is called "Easy List." It contains a huge list of domains used for serving ads, regardless of their content being malicious or not. This list commands the ultimate power over advertising companies and thereby, publishers as well.

JuicyAds has aided in the prosecution of malware distributors internationally. I think we all agree that nobody wants malware to infect the systems of their users. I feel it safe to say that any reputable advertising network supports that. However, if this were indeed a battle against malvertising and malicious ads, the goal would be to block only malicious ads, rather than to aggressively block every ad on every website; yet this is the current result. Don’t get me wrong. We are heavily restrictive of advertisers here at JuicyAds. Due to security concerns, we long-since discontinued third-party ads for nearly all advertisers, save for the most trusted and largest brands in the industry.

While the German Court recently sided with ad blocking companies, that does not mean that it’s right for software to inhibit and cause damage to other businesses as their core (and intentionally designed) functionality. Therefore, it only seems fair that if surfers have the right to use blockers to hide safe and legitimate advertising, then publishers have the absolute right to protect content by restricting users of blockers. The New York Times (NYT) is often cited as the proof that paywalls and content blockers work to drive the subscription model. However, isn't it just easier to see a couple of ads than buy a subscription? I believe most people would say yes. People who may choose to use a blocker, should at the very least, support their favorite websites by "opting-in" for advertising.

With all of this in mind, JuicyAds has been working to bring the most advanced and powerful anti-adblock technology the adult industry has ever seen, and it was launched last month. What goes around comes around — let the arms race begin.

Juicy Jay is the CEO and founder of JuicyAds, the Sexy Advertising Network. You can follow Jay on Twitter @juicyads, JuicyAds.com or Facebook.com/JuicyAds.

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