Adblock Plus Now Sells . . . Ads

Tech September 14, 2016

Yes, you read that right. As of Tuesday, the widely-used ad blocker, Adblock Plus is now selling ads to be distributed through their own network of Adblock Plus users.

The idea is that instead of the big, ugly, flashing banners it commonly blocks out—users will have them replaced with “prettier,” less intrusive ads. In essence, “bad ads” will be replaced with those that are less annoying.

Via The Verge:

The marketplace is a extension of the Acceptable Ads program that Adblock Plus has been running since 2011. Since then, the ad blocker has defaulted to “whitelisting” approved ads, so that they show up even when users have the blocker turned on. But the program has been fairly limited in scope, since publishers and ad networks need to specifically work with (and pay) Adblock Plus to have their ads deemed acceptable. It’s a time-consuming process, Williams emphasized, which limits how many websites can sign up to display ads to would-be blockers.

Adblock Plus hopes that, through this new marketplace, there’ll be a big expansion in the usage of Acceptable Ads. Because they’re already picked out and ready to go, any publisher will be able to sign up, plug some code into their website, and start running whitelisted ads. None of the ads are able to track visitors from site to site, and they’ll all be limited to certain dimensions and page locations, as defined by Adblock Plus’ guidelines.

The program is meant to be friendly to publishers — it is, after all, letting them display some ads instead of none whatsoever. But there’s still obvious reason for publishers to be unhappy. Acceptable ads are likely to be less valuable than the ads a publisher could otherwise display, limiting what a website can earn. And in setting up its own marketplace, Adblock Plus continues to position itself as a gatekeeper charging a toll to get through a gate of its own making.

While the effort to replace “bad ads” with “less bad ads” makes sense (especially from a business perspective)—it leaves a bit of confusion for new users. After all, most people would probably assume a browser extension called “Adblock,” you know, blocks ads. Now it appears, it’s more “AdReplace” than AdBlock.

What effect this has on the usage of the browser service remains to be seen. Nevertheless, there’s something profoundly ironic about selling a practice your product is meant to prevent.

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