If you’ve been using Adblock or any other popular advertisement blocking software when visiting Facebook, you probably received a rather rude shock this week. The social media giant announced that they’ve been studying the “problem” of advertising on the web and trying to understand why people are annoyed by advertisements and would want to block them. Having apparently “solved” that problem, they made the move to go all meta on us and block the ad blockers. (AT&T News)
Facebook is blocking ad blockers on the desktop version of its service, saying well-made, relevant ads can be “useful.”
At the same time, the world’s biggest social media company says it is giving users easier ways to decide what types of ads they want to see — unless, of course, the answer is “none.”
Ad blockers filter out ads by refusing to display page images and other elements that originated with a known ad server. But Facebook has found a way around this. Beginning Tuesday, the desktop version of Facebook will show users ads even if they have ad blockers installed.
You can read Facebook’s announcement here, and I have to give them credit for at least trying to put a positive spin on this and sell their decision to the user base. (Emphasis added)
As more and more content has shifted to the internet, online experiences have improved dramatically, becoming more immersive and intuitive. But many digital ads haven’t kept up. We’ve all experienced a lot of bad ads: ads that obscure the content we’re trying to read, ads that slow down load times or ads that try to sell us things we have no interest in buying. Bad ads are disruptive and a waste of our time.
Today, we’re announcing some changes to help with this problem. First, we’re expanding the tools we give people to control their advertising experience. Second, we’re providing an update on our approach to ad blocking on Facebook…
When they’re relevant and well-made, ads can be useful, helping us find new products and services and introducing us to new experiences — like an ad that shows you your favorite band is coming to town or an amazing airline deal to a tropical vacation. But because ads don’t always work this way, many people have started avoiding certain websites or apps, or using ad blocking software, to stop seeing bad ads. These have been the best options to date.
Pay particular attention to that final, highlighted paragraph. This seems to be the part of the argument where the wheels come off in the showdown between content providers and consumers. Facebook has to approach the question from a starting point of insisting that advertisements are – or at least can be – good and desired by users. The challenge from their perspective is to make the ads as useful and non-intrusive as possible. It’s a good starting point from a marketing based view of the world. Users long ago seemed to accept the existence of advertisements as they price they pay for the mountains of otherwise “free” content on the web. Somebody has to pay the bills to keep the servers running and employ the people who create the content and maintain the technical infrastructure, and advertising is traditionally how that’s done unless you are willing to fork over money for premium subscription service content.
But that was mostly true in the era of banner ads at the tops of pages and along the side columns. Those were static images and text for the most part, but that’s not how the most aggressive ads work these days. There are videos (too often auto-play clips with the audio turned on) which begin running as soon as you load the page. Some of them, as Facebook notes, pop up in the middle of the page over the content you’re trying to read. And many are real memory hogs which can effectively shut down your browser while they load and run. People don’t simply find these ads “inapplicable” or “not useful.” They hate them with a passion. But even beyond that, most of us don’t feel that we need ads. If we really want to buy something or book a vacation, we know where to go look for our options. There are rare exceptions, of course, and you might notice some new book, movie, product or service which you’d never heard of, but it’s rare. And for the most part, we’re more trusting of learning about new offers from friends and other content consumers than the people hoping to get our money.
So was this move by Facebook the end of the discussion? Of course not. For savvy users who keep up to date with Adblock’s online community, this turned out to be much ado about nothing. In literally a matter of hours the company was describing this as a cat and mouse game which the mouse had already won. If you don’t like Facebook’s blocker blocking routine, you can block that as well.
Well, that was fast.
Two days ago we broke it to you that Facebook had taken “the dark path,” and decided to start forcing ad-blocking users to see ads on its desktop site. We promised that the open source community would have a solution very soon, and, frankly, they’ve beaten even our own expectations. A new filter was added to the main EasyList about 15 minutes ago. You’ll just need to update your filter lists (see below for how).
This is the full meta circle in action. There were ads. Then there were ad blockers. Then somebody came up with a way to block the blockers. And now you can block the blocker blocking mechanism. The game is afoot, as Holmes liked to say, and it won’t be ending any time soon.