According to Business Insider, ad blocking is now “approaching 200 million.”†
Calling it a boycott is my wife’s idea. I say she’s right. Look at the definitions:
Merriam-Webster: “to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (as a person, store, or organization) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.”
Wikipedia: “an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for social or political reasons. Sometimes, it can be a form of consumer activism.”
Free Dictionary: “To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, dealing with, or participating in as an expression of protest or disfavor or as a means ofcoercion.”
Ad blocking didn’t happen in a vacuum. It had causes. We start to see those when we look at how interest hockey-sticked in 2012. That was when ad-supported commercial websites, en masse, declined to respect Do Not Track messages from users:
As we see, interest in Do Not Track fell, while interest in ad blocking rose. (As did ad blocking itself.)
Leading up to this, from 2007 to 2011, advertisers and publishers cranked up tracking-fed advertising, aka “behavioral” advertising. Or, to the business itself, adtech.
Here are Google Trends searches for nine pieces of adtech arcana, none of which were in use before 2007:
Add retargeting to that last one (note: you can’t search more than five terms at a time), and you get this:
Retargeting is the most obvious form of adtech. It’s how one ad shows up over and over again, at site after site, because some part of adtech’s collective brain (combining all the stuff trending in the graphs above, and more) decides to treat you like one of those enemies in a video game that has to be shot over and over again until it finally blows up. Not surprisingly, as retargeting started to rise, so did searches for “how to block ads”:
(Original source: Don Marti)
Finally, here’s adblock war, by itself:
Google says data for September, at the right edge of that last chart, is partial. Given the media coverage going to adblock + war (and Apple’s support for “Content Blocking” in IOS 9), interest is sure to stay high.
If we look at this war through the lens of GandhiCon…
- First they ignore you.
- Then they laugh at you.
- Then they fight you.
- Then you win.
…we’re at GandhiCon 3.
It is typical of business, even on the Internet (where everybody has power, and not just the big institutions), to think that ad blocking is a problem that affects only them, and that it’s up to them to fix it. (A new example: Secret Media.)
Actually, it’s up to us. Because we’ll win. Then we’ll find ourselves saying again what Cluetrain first said for us sixteen years ago:
we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.
Deal is the operative verb here. Publishers and companies that advertise have power too, and we need to engage it, not just fight it. (In his speech at the UN today, President Obama had a good one-liner that applies here: “We all have a stake in each other’s success.”)
I describe one path toward engagement in A Way to Peace in the Adblock War, over on the ProjectVRM blog:
The only way engagement will work is through tools that are ours, and we control: tools that give us scale — like a handshake gives us scale. What engages us with the Washington Post should also engage us with Verge and Huffpo. What engages us with Mercedes should also engage us with a Ford dealer or a shoe store.
That path leads to a pair of related outcomes.
One is that ad blockers will evolve to valving systems for accepting advertising’s wheat while rejecting its chaff. (I explain the difference in the first post in this series. Also, sez AdExchanger, 71% of Ad-Block Users Would Consider Whitelisting Sites That Don’t Suck.)
The other is that we’ll help marketers think past abuse and coercion as ways to get what they want out of customers. After that happens, they’ll realize that —
- Free customers are more valuable than captive ones
- Genuine relationships are worth more than coerced ones
- Volunteered (and truly relevant) personal data is worth more than the kind that is involuntarily fracked
- Expressions of real intent by customers are worth more than guesswork fed by fracked data
And we’ll prove it to them. Because we’ll have the power to do that, whether they like it or not.
More on all this in my People vs. Adtech series.
† [Added 3 March 2019] The last numbers I could find on this were in 2017, and I reported on them here. They said 1.7 billion people were blocking ads online by that time. No doubt the boycott is at least as big today.
Found this article on Flipboard and thought to leave a comment. Ad blocking will just grow by the day / month.
Personally, I think this is a timely one. There are many bad ads out there which are really annoying etc. Sure, there are really good and ‘polite’ ones but hey, you know what I mean.
I think this debate will go on for a long time and publishers will slowly find different ways to advertise their ads.
At least, that’s what I truly believe!
Good read and thanks for sharing!
I feel that people are missing an important third way between free+ads (at war with your brain) and subscription+paywall (impoverishing the net). That third way is, roughly, Patreon.
* Those who want the content, pay voluntary contributions, on an ongoing basis.
* The content producer scales their work according to the sum of contributions.
* Everyone else gets to free ride. The internet is not hidden behind paywalls.
* Being only beholden to patrons, the content producer has complete editorial freedom, and their incentive is to help you, not tie you hand and foot and feed you to the sharks.
Thanks for the reminder !!
I have added Ad Blocker to one of my machines just now 🙂
One of the reasons we are seeing more action on ad blocking is because we are using our mobile devices more and more. “Data” costs us money and ads suck up LOTS of data !! Why would anyone pay to have JUNK downloaded on our devices !!
Reading those definitions of a boycott, I don’t think that’s what this is.
In a boycott, you stop buying/using a service.
In this case, people are just stealing the service.
If I boycott Walmart for employment practices, that doesn’t mean I get to walk in and start stealing stuff.
But I’d argue there is an implied agreement that you are getting the content in return for seeing the ads.
Ad-blockers are the successors to “pop-up blockers”. Truly horrible ad experiences in the past led people to block pop-ups from appearing because of how intrusive they are on the user experience. This is just the second era, and it’s obvious that ad companies haven’t learned. Why should I give them a second chance?
Ad-blocking today is as much about security, readability, site performance, and privacy as it is about aesthetics.
This can mean me whitelisting you if you do ads well, like ad company “The Deck” does. They are small, well-designed, and non-intrusive. But the whole thing about ads is they WANT to be intrusive, they want to grab your eyes more than the content you are there for, and I find that to be annoying and off-putting in general. We need something better than ad-supported media. I have no use for ads in my life in general. I can’t remember the last time I ever clicked on one, even when I didn’t ad-block. My mind is already ad-blocking… I just want them off the page now for readability and performance sake.
If this means that sites need to stop serving content period to ad-blocking users, go right ahead. If you lose traffic, money, or your entire business because of it, I’m not certain I’d feel too bad about it. You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it.
I think we’re all being too genteel about bad the situation really is. Doc, it’s worse than just “tracking.” We have to call it what it really is: surveillance. The primary business model on the consumer internet is now surveillance. It is so pervasive, and getting worse thanks to companies like Google and Facebook, that to use the Internet and expect any privacy is foolish.
Jeff Jarvis posted something on Medium recently advocating for a reform of advertising as a way to rebuild user trust and reduce the desire for blocking. Again, I think this is a pipe dream and way to genteel when considering how bad the problem is.
I take a rather more blunt approach to ad blocking, tracking, and all that. Doc you may find it interesting: http://brianstorms.com/2015/09/a-response-to-jeff-jarviss-call-for-reforming-advertising.html
You seem to see an evolution happening with the Ad providers, “The other is that we’ll help marketers think past abuse and coercion as ways to get what they want out of customers.”
But if (as seems probable) “abuse and coercion” work at some level(s) then it seems like there will always be providers willing to use it. Besides, it’s easier (and probably cheaper).
Possibly we might evolve to get more “better” providers, for the reasons you mention. But the others will still be with us. For the same reasons spam stays around. Though we can always work to minimize it.
Whatever revenue a website gets for the ads it shows me (a cent or some fraction thereof) I’m willing to pay myself. Why is this model not considered? I view 12 page views of some news site, they charge me 3 cents. I get my privacy, you get your revenue, trackers and Google get nothing. Why is this so hard to understand?
@tom it exists, it’s called Google Contributor
Pingback from Post-it on September 29, 2015 at 10:45 pm
Venkatesh Rao just asked – “What is the Largest Collective Action, Ever?”
Your idea seems to have legs, but I think you’re dead wrong. A boycott is AVOIDING a product or service in protest of policies. A BOYCOTT would be
Claiming that ad-blocking is a boycott when users are taking the content without the ads, completely legitimizes publishers’ claims that it’s piracy or theft.
You know that Intellectual property is substantially different than physical property and the rules and expectations should be different – I’m disappointed to see you making the same mistake that publishers only on the other side of the power equation.
I have to say, I see both sides of the coin here.
Websites that violate DNT or are extremely/deceptively ad heavy (pop-ups, unders, interstatials, etc) I don’t sympathize for.
However, running a large-scale website isn’t cheap. Servers don’t grow on trees, nor do developers, content writers, sysadmins, etc. Newspapers in the past used the ad section to keep their operation afloat. Now, they use online ad revenues — or they’ve went out of business.
Even as a small business owner and entrepreneur, ads are a key channel to building any business in 2015. So if more ads are blocked, CPC will go up, making it more expensive for small business owners whom already have been largely snuffed out of Google Adwords.
Pingback from We didn't start the war - mathew’s web site on September 30, 2015 at 3:12 pm
The only alternative to being surveilled, to being made into a product, is to pay for content. Even if users weren’t boycotting ad networks, ad revenue is not enough to support the content that people want without completely diminishing and centralizing sources of reliable information.
I’ve been using a hosts file since the birth of the internet and I don’t feel one ounce of guilt about the ad dollars that people say they have missed out on based on my use of the Hosts File. I am free to use a hosts file if I want and I do. I pay for content I want and I avoid 99 percent of advertising on the web plus my system stays cleaner from trojans and adware because of the fact that by using a hosts file I am avoiding ad based/delivered malware. I recommend to everyone I know that they use a hosts file but lucky for most website operators, most people I know would rather see the ads than skip them. I will continue to skip them as I have done for the past 20+ years. 🙂
The New York Times have published “The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites “(http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/01/business/cost-of-mobile-ads.html) with and without ad-blockers on an iOS9 iPhone.
An introductory article “Putting Mobile Ad Blockers to the Test” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/technology/personaltech/ad-blockers-mobile-iphone-browsers.html).
Regarding the notion that adblockers allow users to “steal” content / services, there lingers another question:
If we consumers purchase (or lease) or devices and then we pay for service (bandwidth) on them per month, aren’t we being stolen from when a site or application, without our consent serves money-making (for the hoster/app-vendor) to us?
I completely understand having web pages hosted is not free, nor is the time or effort required to design/upload/update/maintain content. However, the over-abundance of ads we are expected to consume while doing even casual browsing or even by owning a device (many mobiles ship with non-removable applications are ad-funded) is becoming ridiculous. Its nearly impossible to use “the net” anymore without the ads creaping in from somehwere: even on pay-for-access sites requiring registration and payment up-front before using them! Then, on top of making money, the ad providers use their code to “help” us by tracking us, sharing our data around to other companies (for a fee of course), and even exploit us by doing so without regards to our security/privacy.
Nothing is free, meaning there is a cost to $all, and my devices are certainly a subset of that.
Phorm tried to figure out a person’s interest before providing relative ads; this had a great CTR and was transparent. Vint Cerf decided that advertising on the Great Internet was bad, and Phorm was the champion of bad. No one challenges Vint Cerf.
Fast-forward: Phorm is a faded shell, and we’re asking for what they did compared to NebuAd and Google. Can Vint Cerf be wrong? Do we want behavioural ads rather than crappy ads?
I have never clicked on an ad on purpose. There are a few that I’ve accidentally clicked on due to big fingers/small device but backed out immediately.
I have a couple of concerns which have me using ad blockers, no script, ghost, and privacy badger.
1. Delivery of Malware. There are still articles showing an ad companies delivery mechanism has been used to deliver malware.
2. Bandwidth. My data usage has more than doubled over the past 6 months or so even though the way I use my phone hasn’t changed much. With an AT&T phone, my data plan is still Unlimited but that will eventually change and due to work requirements, I have a second phone which does have a bandwidth limit.
Note too that Apple has added “Wi-Fi Assist” where it uses the best signal even if it’s cellular. This will likely impact data usage even more.
The often-repeated assertion that “advertising pays for a free internet” needs to be quashed.
The internet is not and never has been free. The internet is a set of physically connected networks and those connections need to be paid for. For many people their monthly telecommunications bill is one of their largest regular expenses. Saying the internet is free is demonstrably false.
Advertising most assuredly is not needed to provide content either. The pre-web internet had useful content such as email, gopher, ftp, bulletin boards, and so on. The web was introduced around 1991 and ran fine for several years with no ads whatsoever. As someone who was personally using the web back then I found it very quickly developed a wealth of useful content with no advertising whatsoever.
I don’t distinguish betwen “wheat” or “chaff”. Advertising on the internet is a cancer, and users need to be given the equivalent of an immune system to fend it off.
I think the statement “…we’ll help marketers think past abuse and coercion as ways to get what they want out of customers.” is naive.
Face it, this is all driven by greed. Marketing, and marketers, are driven by greed. Period. They will never think past abuse and coercion and the multitude of other iniquitous manipulations they use to increase the rate of golden eggs coming out of the goose. They don’t care about the internet or the people using it, beyond exploitation fit profit. “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) Money is power, and power corrupts.
I incur heavy costs for internet access and devices to access the internet. It’s not like it’s “free” for me. I wouldn’t mind a few ads to cover content providers’ costs, but I think the greed has taken over, it has gotten way out of hand like greed does. All the whining by the profiteers that without ask the ads it would all shut down – nonsense. If the ads were moderated it would just moderate the excessive rate of gold being squeezed out of the overwrought goose. I have no sympathy for the profiteers.
Moderation and greed are incompatible. It is entertaining to watch this unfold. Meanwhile, you’re darn right I will block all the tracking and ads possible.
I’m of a retired age, having spent a career in the computer biz. I got the first spam advertising legal aid for non-citizens, and put up my first website for fun (my own expense) in 1996 using native html code (no java back then). No advertising, just an informational website of stuff I was interested so I could learn html coding. It was a top “Google hit” for a couple year back then. (still no java or advertising 🙂
Thing is, lots of lazy folks early on thought to make money off their website and so started putting out ads. Then other folks thought to make putting automated ads on websites could make them money. Then some even smarter folks came along and thought they could start following web users around to make THEIR ads even more profitable. Then new age devs learned to make even more money doing really immoral tracking advertising stuff.
Basically the “original” web became a bastardized money-making web. Now those who present stuff on the web think they “are owed” a living if they put stuff on the web 🙂 (because they are too lazy to earn a living maybe repairing motorcycles.) If you have or want a business, and if you think the web can help your business, web presence is a part of the cost of doing business. Its sad when I see some business website, that has little info about the business (dated earlier than 2015), that is basically a cheaparse placeholder. The business owner obviously has no clue about the net, and my trust in that biz falls to “click the next link” website.
Today I use the web as a library of information. (when I was a kid I hated I could never get good info from local school or county or college libraries.). I’ve also branched out for email, movies, remote control, news, other cool stuff.
If a information website puts ad crap in the way, I move to the next website with similar content. If the website can’t show any info because java is blocked, I move to the next website. I use Firefox “private mode”, DuckDuckGo, NoScript, Ghostery. I do like YouTube stuff sometimes, but get pissed when I change my topic and the previous topic crap keeps showing up, that’s Google for you. Also really get tired of ads over the top of youtube “movies” I have to click on “the moving X” to actually see content! So I restart FF browser which eliminates any temporary tracking and ad cookies Google has put on my PC, and start YT again.
I use Win7 on most family computers, with a couple RPis for fun stuff. I won’t be upgrading to current Win10 due to privacy concerns, but may eventually move my PCs to Linux, which I have used professionally in my career since Burroughs and Xenix days. I also suspect my former employer will wait a couple years to “upgrade Windows” until MS gets real about privacy! (took me a couple years to upgrade from 98 to XP.)
They told me that adding www to the Internet would make it much easier to search for anything that might be available.
I thought that meant I could express the interest in finding something, and ask what in the world would take care of that desire.
Instead it turns out the search tools would be used to find ME, tag me, track me, and try to force crap on my attention that I don’t want.
I made a simple vow. Push stuff at me, force me to notice it, and I’ll never buy it.
Blocking ads allows the possibility I could buy something I want even if they were pushing crap ads at people — as long as I never see it, I might consider buying it if it turns out to be something useful to me at some point.
And — paying for the Internet? C’mon. I pay for the Internet like I pay for the Interstate Highway System. The highways are built to 1950s standard for rapidly dispersing the nuclear retaliatory force, to be able to get all that military stuff spread out so it can’t be destroyed by attacking a few points. The Internet is built to 1990s standards for distributed messaging (Hello FIDO) so communications can’t be knocked out by a few attacks.
The Interstates are clogged with huge double-trailer trucks.
The Internet is clogged with advertising.
So it goes. I dodge them and keep moving.
Pingback from Ad blockers: the debate rages on - diginomica on October 2, 2015 at 6:01 am
Unfortunately, using an adblocker had become a matter of necessity. I recently did an experiment, visiting a website using Internet Explorer (not Firefox, which may be less permissive by default) and not using any ad blocker, flash blocker, an allowing all pop-ups and cookies.
The site was simply not readable at all.
1) There were a few videos that started playing right away, the overlapping audio blaring from the PC speakers.
2) Lots of floaters covering the little text I was trying to read. Closing one, opened another.
3) Animated images squeezing the text to under one word in width.
After a while I was even taken to an entirely different website, which greeted me with a large floater with a “Congratulations! You’ve been selected for … ” (I don’t remember what for)
In all, without adblock and flashblock it had become impossible to read anything on today’s websites.
The minute the advertisers use my pageviews to not just subsidize my internet connection but also cut me a cheque at the end of the month is the only way I’ll consider viewing them and not aggressively blocking them as I have been for over a decade.
Then again, the thought of advertisers’ failing margins only help me sleep better at night, so I suppose it’s a toss-up.
Ad blocking is not boycott, it is free-riding: using the service (getting the benefits) and refusing to pay (accepting the costs). I’m surprised there is no browser plugin to implement proper boycott.
Boycott (properly understood) means that instead of blocking the ads and still displaying the content, the browser would block the content from loading as soon as an undesirable ad or tracker is detected.
It could even annotate links to sites with such “bad” advertising reputation so the user wouldn’t click on them.
Search engines would soon learn to penalize such sites in search engine results, to improve customer satisfaction.
With such a reputation system to implement proper boycott, no consumer is coerced, no consumer sees unwanted ads, and no site owner is or feels cheated.
Of course, in reality, consumers like to get more for less (as normal human beings do) and ad blockers offer a convenient way of having the content and not pay for it. Let’s just not pretend that ad blocking is honorable, or that it is analogous to boycott.
[I’m curious why my comment isn’t showing up. What is going on?]
[These comments are mine; I do not speak for my employer.]
The only malware that managed to infect any of the machines in my home in the last decade was delivered by an ad, and it wasn’t from a porn site or the “dark web”, it was a mainstream news site. I spent a couple of days trying to clean it because I didn’t realize it had infected the MBR, and I ended up wiping the drive and reinstalling Windows.
Since then, I use NoScript, AdBlock, Ghostery, MSE, and MBAM with site blocking (white-listing the sites I visit on a regular basis and have come to trust), as well as the firewall on my ISP provided router and Windows firewall, and I feel no shame or guilt for it. If that makes me a “thief”, then thievery is the most prudent course to follow when using the web.
Ron, you got duped into clicking on a banner saying your site was infected? You seem highly technical to fall for that.
Also, were you not using security software at the time?
Doc Searls, I don’t recall saying that ad blocking is necessarily wrong yet (I’ll explore that separate question below), my point was it is not boycott but free-riding.
So I’m not sure what you mean by “we disagree on what ad blocking is” (especially when you later concede that “As for the correct definition of a boycott, point taken”).
Regarding the rightness or wrongness of ad blocking, let me explore the question by considering how to apply your principle into physical world.
For instance, is it right or wrong to skip the checkout line at a retailer (your body and wallet are your private space after all)?
Or take the coffee ordered from a street vendor and then run away?
Or enter CostCo and avoiding checkout in order to avoid showing your membership card (you don’t like tracking)?
My point is that those transactions, just like in a browser, there is a conventional protocol or norm, which may not be spelled out in a contract but that we respect nonetheless. If you don’t follow it, then at the very least you don’t expect to be served subsequently.
So you don’t just skip the last step of the protocol (stopping at the cash register, after you ordered and ate food) because you like the benefits but don’t like the costs.
If you want to get fed for free, then you should announce it before you order. It seems to me the parallel is that if you want to use ad blocking, the right thing to do is announce it. A simple HTTP header would suffice (then the content service can choose to serve you or not), yet I haven’t seen this done.
But if you don’t announce it, it would seem normal and expected that the provider would refuse you service the next time at least. Why should they give you content at their own expense? Of course, whether they can do that practically is a separate question (you might be able to get away with free-riding in some situations, which does not make it right).
Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that you accept any costs asked of you, but rather that you consider the deal offered to you and then decide for yourself whether it is worthwhile. A proper boycott browser extension (using reputation logic and other rules) could assist you with that.
This is what we do in the physical world and I don’t see why it should not translate into online services.
While I agree with @B, I’m even more militant in my distrust and disgust of Ads on the Internet. So, let’s talk real for a minute. First off, I could care less if your site is ad supported. That is your problem/choice. If I came up with a crappy business model, I wouldn’t expect folks to feel sorry for me as I bawled about how it was failing.
As B said, if you give the content away, stop crying that folks filtered what is essentially an input-stream of “human programming” coming their direction. The idea that people don’t have the right to filter what they are seeing/reading is offensive, small minded, and unrealistic. Just because someone intended for me to see some ads, doesn’t mean I’ve got no say. Just because that’s “their business model” doesn’t mean I’m obligated to view their ads, either. Think of me as the “dishonorable” person that is breaking your “honor system” or whatever is needed for you to realize that the “model” is broken, not the users & viewers of the site.
The internet was not invented to be your ad-serving platform. I was here using Gopher and Veronica et al before the web was invented. Even after the web was invented, it wasn’t until it was hyper-commercialized that people started bellyaching about this “issue”. If 98% of all web sites went out of business due to not having advertising support (ie.. because of adblock) GOOD. Because 99% of them are garbage, anyway. The leftover 1% that’s worthwhile just picked a nasty way to fund their efforts. I’m not going to shed a tear for either one. Advertising is generally odious, anyway. If the only way to fund your site is via ads, maybe you shouldn’t have the site. One thing is certain, some of us don’t have any sympathy for your “plight” of losing out on ad revenue due to Ad-blockers.
Pingback from Niusrum on October 5, 2015 at 7:50 am
Blocking ads is not stealing content.
It is like a shop offering a free doughnut to every passer by. All they need to do is walk in to the shop and collect it. They have adverts on the wall to entice you in to buying their other products.
Am I stealing this free doughnut if I don’t look at the adverts on the wall? If I walk in with blinkers, am I a thief?
Comments are now closed.