Last week I read an article on Adblockers and their impact on free content that really caught my attention. The article is in Dutch but you can find it here: http://www.demorgen.be/tvmedia/christian-van-thillo-lezers-die-geen-advertenties-doorlaten-krijgen-geen-gratis-nieuws-meer-b907e77e/
Basically adblockers allow users to install a piece of software on their computer that blocks all the (annoying?) ads on websites the user surfs to. While at first sight adblockers seem to serve a meaningful purpose and help the user, after analyzing their activity in more detail, one has to conlude that they are hurting the user instead of helping them.
In the above mentioned article Christian Van Thillo, who is the CEO of De Persgroep, a digital publishing company that is focused on the Benelux markets with approx. 5,400 employees and +1.3€ billion in annual revenues, refers to adblockers as “Ordinary Thiefs”.
I agree 100% with the opinion expressed by Mr. Van Thillo for the following two reasons:
1. Free does not exist
There are two models: free vs premium. Website owners either work on a “free” model whereby the user enjoys free content as the advertiser generates its revenues through ads. Or a premium model whereby there are no ads but the user has to pay to get access to the content (e.g. Netflix).
Adblockers will lead website owners to charge their users for the content they provide. This is not good for anyone as the internet should be accessible for everyone, and not just for people who can afford to pay for the content. The user should have the choice to opt for the free model (i.e. for free but with ads) or the premium model (i.e. paying but without ads).
2. Adblockers will still show you Ads and/or sell your data
Although adblockers claim they won’t show you any ads after installing their software on your computer, they will effectively still show you ads. They will only show you ads from advertisers that PAY them to let their ads through. By doing this, the adblocker defeats its own purpose and cheats on the user as they claim to not show you any ads. Adblock Plus, one of the largest adblockers on the Internet, is a business and the primary purpose of a business is to make money by charging advertisers to still show their ads to the users. They are basically strongarming advertisers: pay us, or your ads won’t be shown anymore.
Other adblockers such as Ghostery make money by collecting data about your surfing behaviour and then sell that data to publishing companies so they can, guess what, better target their ads to your interests.
Some say adblockers will lead advertisers to rethink their ads, and how ads will be displayed to the consumer in the future will change thanks to adblockers. New forms of advertising will come up and replace the old ones. Native advertising is one of these forms, whereby ads are blended in with content and are not so obvious to recognize as the traditional banner ads.
That is partly true, but adblockers will still steal away a substantial part of the revenues website owners need to provide the free content the user enjoys. Native ads complement traditional banner ads, they don’t replace them. In the example of De Persgroep that currently offers most of its digital content for free to their users, they need the advertising revenues to pay for their employees, hosting, offices, etc in order to keep on providing the free content to their readers.
Others will say adblockers disrupt business-as-usual, and that is true. This is in fact the only awesome part of an adblocker. I am all for market disruption IF it is done in an honest, transparant and straightforward way (like Uber has done). Which in my opinion is not the case with adblockers as the disabling of the ads that pay is either very well hidden in the software the user installs, not communicated at all, or with some adblockers not even possible at all. Adblockers have a shady and untransparant business model.
I am quite sure that +95% of internet users genuinely think they won’t see any ad if they install the software on their computer and that +99% of all users do not know that the adblocker will aggregate and sell their data and surf behaviour to whoever is willing to pay for it. With Uber the value proposition is crystal clear to the user, with adblockers it simply isn’t.
To conclude. Given that adblockers infringe the privacy of users, sell user data to whoever wants to pay for it, defeat their own purpose by still showing ads to users, and last but not least steal away revenues from publishing companies – that are needed to keep on delivering content for free – one can conclude adblockers are a Trojan horse to the end user and should therefore be forbidden by law.