Business Irish

Monday 5 December 2016

Ad blocking merry-go-round could be put to an end by Facebook

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

Facebook's vice-president for ads and business platforms Andrew Bosworth defended the company's ads on Tuesday, saying that if they are relevant and well-made, they can be beneficial to users (Stock picture)
Facebook's vice-president for ads and business platforms Andrew Bosworth defended the company's ads on Tuesday, saying that if they are relevant and well-made, they can be beneficial to users (Stock picture)

The threat posed by ad blocking software to publishers is very well known at this stage. In using ad blockers it reduces a publisher's ability to harness income from their (typically free) content.

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It's a headache that has sent plenty of media organisations scrambling into what has essentially evolved into a virtual game of cat and mouse.

Publishers try their best to keep ad block users away from their content but it's hard to do so when you're up against a community that is so united towards a seamless web experience free of pop-ups and anything that may distract from the main element.

Now the plight of ad blockers has arrived at the door of Mr Zuckerberg.

Late last year Facebook identified, and rightly so, the threat the software poses to the Silicon Valley giant's revenue.

Facebook has been relentless in its pursuit of developing targeted ads. Its tagline "It's free and always will be" managed to shroud its intentions by playing itself off as a real "one for the users" platform.

However, anyone remotely aware of its business model will tell you that Facebook in fact isn't free. Granted it doesn't cost you anything financially, but you are selling your data to Facebook when you sign up and use its highly addictive service.

This data is at the heart of Facebook's advertising machine and this is why Zuckerberg and co are taking such a hard line on ad blockers.

"Revenue generated from the display of ads on personal computers has been impacted by these technologies from time to time.

"As a result, these technologies have had an adverse effect on our financial results and, if such technologies continue to proliferate, in particular with respect to mobile platforms, our future financial results may be harmed," Facebook said in a filing late last year.

This should have acted as a warning from the social media giant, a statement that says Facebook's money is Facebook's money.

This week the company announced that it would stop people using ad blockers from accessing its site to minimise the loss in revenue from the software.

Overnight the firm changed the code hidden behind those sponsored posts and ads to make them indistinguishable from personal posts.

Clever, right?

Facebook's vice-president for ads and business platforms Andrew Bosworth defended the company's ads on Tuesday, saying that if they are relevant and well-made, they can be beneficial to users.

"Because ads don't always work this way, many people have started avoiding certain websites or apps, or using ad blocking software, to stop seeing bad ads. These have been the best options to date," Bosworth said in a statement.

However, despite how good Facebook makes its ads, it's highly unlikely to force the ad blocking community to ease its relentless war on adverts. In fact the open source community has already side-stepped Facebook's efforts, making its army of developers look a little bit silly.

The battle between the two bears an uncanny resemblance to a David and Goliath story or (for fans of Silicon Valley) a Hooli vs Pied Piper storyline.

Adblock Plus's Ben Williams gleefully incited a "come get it" attitude towards Facebook saying they're ready to go the full 12 rounds.

"This sort of back-and-forth battle between the open source ad-blocking community and circumventers has been going on since ad blocking was invented; so it's very possible that Facebook will write some code that will render the filter useless - at any time. If that happens, the ad-blocking community will likely find another workaround, then Facebook might circumvent again.

"But for this round of the cat-and-mouse contest, looks like the mouse won," Williams said.

Williams' comments do stir a sense of pride in the little guy, the guy who is fighting for the user, the guy who is standing up against the man.

However, the Adblock Plus business model may make you want to re-think your admiration for the software.

Adblock Plus makes its money by white- listing "acceptable ads" that can pass through their filters. Businesses are charged 30pc of the additional revenue created by the ads for them to slip through their barriers.

From the media's point of view, this is something we've been through. Ad blocking in general ruthlessly minimised the effectiveness of the online ad model.

So when Facebook - a company that has squeezed media firms ruthlessly - is being hit by this relentless movement, it is quite tempting to just sit back, grab the popcorn and watch the pair battle it out.

Sunday Indo Business

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