Facebook Sticks Up Middle Digit To Ad Blockers And Will Circumvent Them

It’s on now. The battle between websites and users that block online advertising is about to come to a head, and we’ll have Facebook to thank for it. Browser users that surf with ad blockers enabled often see polite messages on certain websites asking them to turn off the functionality, as it robs content providers of their lifeblood: advertising revenue.

However, Facebook is working on a way to mask advertising on its site so that today’s popular ad blockers can’t reliably disable ads. Facebook acknowledges that many of us have been soured by online ads in general due to past experiences. We all remember the highly annoying, eye-searing flash ads of yesteryear and annoying popups -- users of course had the right to be upset at these tactics.

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“Many digital ads haven’t kept up,” writes Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s VP for the Ads and Business Platform. “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.”

So how does Facebook plan to circumvent a browser's ad blocker? Well, most websites rely on third-party networks to serve up ads, which makes them an easy target for ad blockers. These networks, especially the more obnoxious ones, are blacklisted by default via software. However, Facebook serves up its own ads, which puts it in a unique position. It can modify the code within these ads to trick content blockers into thinking that they are regular content typically found within a page.

Even though you probably won’t be able to rely on your favorite ad blocker to cut down on the amount of ads you see on Facebook any longer, the company is giving you the ability to block certain ads at the site-level with the Ad Preferences settings page. Although it would likely be rather time consuming, you can pick through this list and remove any advertising content that you find objectionable.  

84 percent of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from mobile devices [PDF], with the primary driver being the company’s app for iOS and Android. Ad blockers aren’t much of a threat to Facebook using those mediums. For those that use mobile web browsers to access Facebook, which the company is actively dissuading, the market for ad blockers is relatively nascent. But on the desktop side of things, where 26 percent of U.S. internet users make use of an ad blocker [PDF], Facebook sees a real threat to its revenue stream.

Facebook also says that it refuses to pay what amounts to a ransom to ad blocking companies to have its site whitelisted so that its advertising still makes its way to customers. “Ads support our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected. Rather than paying ad blocking companies to unblock the ads we show — as some of these companies have invited us to do in the past — we’re putting control in people’s hands with our updated ad preferences and our other advertising controls.”

So what do you think of Facebook’s move? Do you feel that the company is well within its rights to protect its primary source of income?