The internet is not as free as it should be when most of its content is dependent on advertising. For every ad dollar currently spent online, statistically three quarters goes to Google and Facebook. Tim Berners Lee called it the birth defect of the internet when, from the very beginning, the only monetization for content was advertising.
This was the model that worked in print, and in the early days of the internet, people thought it was the way to do things. From the technology side, it would be so easy to offer different models for allowing users to pay for content, or to monetize content. We’ve seen publications like The New York Times be successful with their subscription models and European publishers experimenting with pay-per-article or freeware models. But with the ad industry so dominant, it has become increasingly difficult to try such alternatives.
In certain European countries, almost a quarter of consumers now use an ad blocker — that’s a very clear signal. Ad blockers are a response to the downward spiral towards bigger, louder, more annoying and more aggressive advertising. It’s all about the number of ads delivered. Publishers are paid by the number of clicks, impressions or both. There is no measure for whether people enjoy the ads or whether they even work.
Pop-up blockers have been integrated into browsers for almost a decade, and in that time, few publishers have thought of any other options for users. Ad blocking has a lot to do with the industry realizing that they have lost their way — they are no longer serving publishers and users. Ad blockers are helping to change their thinking. Specifically, Adblock Plus does not aim to eradicate all ads but to show advertisers they can use more responsible and subtle advertising to reach a wider audience.
Ultimately, users should be allowed to choose what they see on their computer. In April 2018, Eyeo received confirmation from the German Supreme Court that ad blocking is legal. Publishers have tried every angle: claiming that showing advertising to users should be covered by freedom of the press, that removing an ad from a site interferes with their copyright and creative work, that they should be paid for use of snippets. Ad blocking shouldn’t be of concern to politicians or lawmakers. Making Facebook and Google pay their taxes in some countries is more important than overregulating online media.
“Users should be allowed to choose what they see on their computer”
LAURA DORNHEIM is head of communications at Eyeo, creators of Adblock Plus