After its release in 2006, a browser plug-in called AdBlock Plus gained hero status as an open-source effort to save consumers from obnoxious ads. But in 2011, AdBlock Plus began poking holes in its filter, adding a whitelist of "acceptable ads" that it lets through--some of them for a fee. Brooke talks with Till Faida, AdBlock Plus’ managing director, about his company's policy.
5ive Style -- Outta Space Canoe Race
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Obviously, Gonzales is not the only one contending with adblocker. We did a simple YouTube search and found many voices to add to that chorus.
MAN: There’s something you can download called an adblocker.
MAN: Adblocker is a free service that – blocks ads.
MAN: Adblocker is destroying the Internet. YouTubers, bloggers, website owners all make money from advertisement beeps, and because there’s a majority that don’t need to make you pay for our product, which is awesome! I think, at least.
MAN: How do I get paid for my content, or how do – other web publishers get paid for their content? They get paid for their content based on the ads that run alongside it. So, if you block the ads and you consume the content, you’re acquiring that content without the publisher being paid. So you're pirating that content.
MAN: Basically, what you're doing by using our blocker is you’re walkin’ into a shop, taking the goods and you’re walkin’ out without payin’.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So if you’re one of the millions of users now strangling the Internet by blocking ads, chances are you’re using AdBlock Plus. The company claims it's got 47 million unique users a week, which would make the world's most popular browser plug-in. After its release in 2006, AdBlock Plus acquired hero status as a community-based, open source effort to save Internet users from a deluge of intrusive obnoxious, tenacious ads. But in 2011, AdBlock Plus became less of a shield and more of a filter, allowing certain ads to pass through. Till Faida is AdBlock Plus’ managing director. He says whitelisted ads must meet certain criteria.
TILL FAIDA: Ads shouldn’t be animated. They have to be clearly marked as advertising and they have to be separated from the content. Every ad out there will be blocked except the ones that have been certified as being acceptable by the community. Those are the default settings. But the user is free, of course, to block every ad out there, or create exceptions for websites they want to support or individual ads they would like to accept.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you, an independent, unelected body, are basically setting standards for the ads on the Net.
TILL FAIDA: We didn't make up those rules. We did this incorporation with our users, with our core community of contributors, but also websites at networks. And the rules we have right now are a starting point, but that doesn't mean that they will not change.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Molly McHugh wrote on the Digital Trends website that you actively pursue companies to offer them this whitelist status in exchange for either a flat fee or a percentage of the revenue from the ads that you agree not to block.
TILL FAIDA: In the past, we have reached out to companies and introduced them to our initiative. Some people want to partner with us, some don’t. And that’s fine. It’s not like we have a sales force that is pushing the companies to become our client. That is not how it works.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Digital Trends piece raises this question: Are you guys functioning essentially as a bunch of media mafiosos charging protection money so that these deep-pocketed advertisers can pass through your filter?
TILL FAIDA: It is a controversial subject, but I think it’s important to understand that companies pay us because they wanted us to succeed in our mission to facilitate a reasonable middle ground between users that are annoyed by ads and websites that need to monetize with advertisement. To achieve our goals, we have to run a sustainable business, so that’s why we need the support. But, at the same time, we’re still a very transparent community-driven project.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But don’t you sense some irony behind your position, maybe even a little hypocrisy? So many people on the Internet are now justifiably howling that your handy little device is killing them. How do you suggest that those sites pay for themselves, when your business also needs money? What about the little guy?
TILL FAIDA: Well, for the little guy it’s very easy to join the initiative. A website that only uses ads that comply with our criteria can get whitelisted. It’s not a service we only offer to ad networks. As a small block or as a small publisher, it’s very easy to get unblocked by the community.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What would the best outcome for the Internet and for content be, in your view, that AdBlock Plus manages to convince your community that it's better to have polite ads than no ads at all?
TILL FAIDA: Users should be in control over what they think is acceptable and what isn’t. And if we can make our product in a way that even non-technical users are able to make their own informed decisions, what kind of ads they are willing to accept, then there will be an incentive for advertisers to focus on the better user experience, instead of focusing just on creating tension. I think it’s important that everyone understands that ads are essentially what keeps the Internet free, and when we’ve conducted a survey amongst our user base, we found that almost 80% of our users said they would be willing to accept ads because they see the value that it brings to them. They’re just fed up with the way ads are currently presented on the Internet. And if this was to change, then people would widely accept them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Till, thank you very much.
TILL FAIDA: My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Till Faida is managing director of AdBlock Plus.
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