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Updated: Facebook blocks adblocking because users block ads & monetisation


Update 12 Aug: AdBlock Plus, the ad blocking extension has published a workaround to Facebook’s feature to surpass adblockers which would show Facebook users ads on desktop. This way, ads which Facebook decides to show to a user can be suppressed by either inserting a filter code or by updating the filtering lists from AdBlock, both of which can be found on its blog. AdBlock Plus had previously written a blog post stating that Facebook’s move to surpass adblockers was against user choice, given that users had blocked ads in the first place for a reason. Facebook will roll out a workaround to AdBlock’s workaround as indicated by this TechCrunch report. MediaNama has written to Facebook for a comment and will update this once we hear from them.

10 August: Facebook has introduced tools to let its users decide which ads they want to see, and created new ad formats “that complement people’s online experience.” Ads can be muted by topic, for example cats or travel. Facebook will let users block ads from businesses or organisations on whose user lists they are (see third image below).

The company is also going to show ads on Facebook desktop for users using adblock software. Interestingly, Facebook says that these tools have been designed specifically for people who use adblockers. Ad blocking extension AdBlock Plus wrote a blog post stating that this move is against user choice, given that users have blocked ads in the first place for a reason.

On going to the ad preferences link, users are shown their ‘interests’ and ‘advertisers who have your contact info’. Interests is basically pages you’ve liked in the past across all topics. By clicking on the “x” sign on the advertiser who has your info, Facebook blocks the ad from that particular advertiser. Users can re-enable ads from this user by going to the same panel and clicking on “+”.


On clicking on a topic:



A desktop ad looks like the one seen on mobile, after stopping adblock on the Facebook domain:



No difference between HTML ads and content

TechCrunch* (see bottom) points out that since Facebook is not dependent on third party ads, it will serve its own ads using JavaScript which adblockers will need to identify, either through JavaScript or by detecting the actual content, thus making it slightly difficult to block ads via adblockers. Basically, Facebook will refuse to distinguish HTML web ads from its organic content in order to sort of “block” adblockers. If this measure was not in place, adblockers could just detect the content which users could block infinitely, no matter how many panels of ads Facebook came up with. The TechCrunch report also asks whether in the future, Facebook users would be willing to pay a fee to get rid of ads, despite it being a free platform.

Ad revenues helping Facebook growth

For the quarter ended 30 June, Facebook posted net profit of $2.05 billion up from $719 million in the same quarter last year, a staggering growth of 186%. Its net profit was primarily boosted by ad revenues which grew 63% y-o-y to $6.24 billion from $3.83 billion in the same period last year. In its concall, Facebook said that over 60 million businesses used its products for advertising. Mark Zuckerberg said, “Our third priority is making our ads more effective and relevant and with only a small fraction of our 60 million business page is advertising, we have a lot of opportunity ahead.”

Why ad blocking doesn’t help publishers

In an editorial in September last year, MediaNama had pointed out that while readers were right to use adblocking software, so were the publishers in blocking ad blocks, given that advertising had been commoditised to a level where the quality of the content was pretty low. Publishers end up selling as much advertising as possible, increase impressions or clicks and offer intrusive upgrades to get higher rates. There are issues with scaling non advertising models, whereas subscriptions are tricky.

Watch this John Oliver video to understand why print publications have to move online taking a significant hit to their ad revenues, subsequently making them even block ad blockers.

Developments in adblocking this year:
– Last month, Indian publishers like Times of India,  Economic Times, Live Hindustan and Hindustan Times started asking users to turn off their ad blockers to read their stories on their websites.
– In April, Microsoft started working on supporting ad block in its new Edge browser through third-party extensions, in line with most other popular browsers like Firefox, Chrome or Safari.
– In March, following an appeal by French trade organization GESTE, a number of French media publications decided to run a week long trial which would stop users who use ad blockers from accessing content. In Sweden, 90% of its publishers plan to take on ad blockers in the month of August.
– In the same month, Opera announced that its latest desktop browser then came with a native built-in ad blocker. In May, it extended this to Android as well.

*Facebook on journalism and being a platform:

Some ad blocking companies accept money in exchange for showing ads that they previously blocked — a practice that is at best confusing to people and that reduces the funding needed to support the journalism and other free services that we enjoy on the web. Facebook is one of those free services, and ads support our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected. Rather than paying ad blocking companies to unblock the ads we show — as some of these companies have invited us to do in the past — we’re putting control in people’s hands with our updated ad preferences and our other advertising controls.

Also read:
– 122 million users in India using browsers with ad blockers: Study
– Thoughts on ad blockers, native ads & the changing ad landscape: Prashant Singh

Our adblockers coverage.

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