The UK culture secretary John Whittingdale has branded ad blocking as a ‘modern day protection racket’, joining sides with advertisers and publishers in the increasingly hostile ad blocking wars.
Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention, Whittingdale compared adblocking to piracy and vowed “to set up a round table involving major publishers, social media groups and adblocking companies in the coming weeks to do something about the problem.”
Whittingdale was particularly damning about adblockers offering incentives for companies, or so-called “whitelisting” in which companies were “offering to whitelist providers in return for payment”.
His speech highlighted industry estimates that show the top three mobile adblockers in the App Store were downloaded nearly 175,000 times within their first week. And in the 12 months to June last year, there was a 48% rise in the use of in adblocking use in the US and 82% growth in the UK.
The attack did not acknowledge the advantages of ad blocking. Many users opt into adblcoking to save mobile battery life, block viruses and adware, improve the reading experience, and preventing privacy invasions in cross-site tracking.
In his speech, Whittingdale said: “Ten years ago, the music and film industries faced a threat to their very existence from online copyright infringement by illegal file-sharing or pirate sites,” he added. He said that in the current climate, adblocking potentially posed a “similar threat”.
Stopping short of announcing an outright ban on adblocking, he said he “shared the concern” of the newspaper industry about the impact of the technology and would “consider what role there is for government” after hearing all sides of the argument.
“My natural political instinct is that self-regulation and co-operation is the key to resolving these challenges, and I know the digital sector prides itself on doing just that. But government stands ready to help in any way we can.”
Eyeo response- “Paving way for better ads”
Eyeo, parent company of popular ad blocker Adblock Plus, is probably the most well-known ad blocking firm that offers such a service, with its “Acceptable Ads” program. Companies including Google, Amazon, and Criteo pay Eyeo 30% of the additional revenue created by having their ads unblocked.
Speaking to Business Insider, Ben Williams, Eyeo’s communications and operations manager, responded to Whittingdale’s attack on the ad blocking industry. The company said that while it “might not share all the same beliefs” outlined in the speech, it welcomes the call for cross-industry cooperation to resolve the digital advertising industry’s challenges.
Here’s Eyeo’s statement in response to John Whittingdale’s Oxford Media Convention speech in full: (source: Business Insider)
“In a recent speech at the Oxford Media Convention, the Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, outlined his views on the rise of ad blocking technologies and the impact on the newspaper and music industries. While we might not share all the same beliefs seen in the statement, one thing we are in complete agreement with is the need for cooperation in order to resolve the challenges within advertising – not just between advertisers, publishers, and ad blockers but also consumers as well.
“Ad blocking is a consumer reaction expressing unambiguous disapproval of online advertising, which grew from a hobby project in 2006 to the phenomenon it is today. As ads have become more intrusive, increasing amounts of consumers have opted in to ad blocking. A testament to this can be seen from figures by the IAB and YouGov, which show that usage of ad blockers amongst British adults has risen from 18 per cent to 22 per cent since October 2015, and we only expect this figure to rise further.
“Without ad blockers and other tools end-users would have precisely zero power over their experience on the web, online security threats (in ads these are called “malvertising” – and they are vicious) or their own privacy.
“Beyond being essential for user control, ad blockers are paving the way to better ad formats. When even the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the industry’s leading lobbyist, admit that they have “messed up,” it’s clear that the industry needs to improve. So while it empowers consumers daily, ad blocking is also making greater strides to driving a better advertising industry. We were the first ad blocker to allow advertisements through if they meet specific standards designed to better the consumer’s online experience; now others have implemented the idea.
“This idea is far from perfect – indeed, in an effort to improve it, we will soon hand over control to an independent board – but it is moving in the pro-user direction of compromise. Ad blocking software empowers users to have a better online experience and also opens the doors for greater innovation amongst publishers and advertisers, creating more unique forms of monetisation for better-funded journalism, and ultimately bettering the industry. In order to achieve this we agree that communication is key and would be happy to engage in any discussions as to how we can continue to better the consumer’s online experience.”