FACEBOOK AND ADBLOCK FIGHT
Coding war over ads gets even hotter
FACEBOOK STARTED THIS BOUT. The company tried making its web ads indistinguishable from content, to make Adblock’s job more difficult. In exchange, users got the option to use Ad Preferences to block ads from specified businesses. The company claimed that people blocked ads because they are disruptive and slow, not because they don’t want to see them. Part of its mission is to “create connections between people and businesses.”
The move didn’t go down well, and a new filter for Adblock Plus appeared within a day or two, which circumnavigated the Facebook trickery. Adblock once again removed the ads from Facebook’s sidebar and news feed. It was not a perfect solution, and Facebook warned that it may also remove posts from friends and pages. Facebook went to work to block the block on the block. A back and forth fight soon developed, each side trying to circumnavigate the other.
To comply with FTC rules, ads have to be identifiable, and that means Adblock always has something to work with—it’s just a matter of finding out how Facebook identifies them. Currently, both sides are busy coding to defeat the other, with the “winner” changing every few days.
Adblock is used by over 200 million people worldwide, and is a major annoyance for commercial operations because it directly affects the bottom line. As Adblock’s Ben Williams put it, “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.”
It’s a classic contest, between libertarians and commerce. On one side, we have the freedom from ads, from being tracked, slowed down, and annoyed. On the other, we have companies being stopped from receiving fair compensation for services, being effectively held to ransom by a third party. Neither side looks likely to relent, or ultimately to win, either.