Eyeo, the owner of the AdBlock Plus product, has been quietly inviting industry influencers to a roundtable discussion on the future of adblocking. I received, and declined, their invitation and want to publicly explain why I will not attend.
First and foremost, adblocking is a consumer-driven challenge to our industry and therefore, as I’ve consistently advocated, solutions to this challenge should be focused on consumer needs. Mozilla, maker of Firefox and advocate for an open and accessible Internet, has also focused on consumer needs, creating a great framework that is focused on privacy, performance and security.
It’s crystal clear that billions of dollars have been spent in ad technology with little to no value for consumers. And now, users are fighting back by installing software which opts them entirely out of advertising. As Doc Searls notes, this might be the “biggest boycott in human history.”
Paving the future for trusted content requires an open and transparent discussion in the marketplace but it does no good to use inflammatory and threatening language (“extortion”, “inner-city crack dealers” , “profiteers”) towards adblockers (or the consumers who use them). Especially when, to varying degrees, we’ve all been a part of the problem for quite some time.
Consumer (and advertiser) trust are vital to premium publishers. With this in mind, I’ve openly met with as many interested parties as possible on industry challenges including adblocking. My meetings with stakeholders have included dozens of premium publishers, associations, research companies and ad tech companies on both sides of the Atlantic.
I’ve had discussions with AdBlock Plus and some of the newer makers of adblockers including Shine and Crystal. And I listen even more intently when I meet with consumer advocacy organizations. Even the FTC has now weighed in on adblocking. Bottom line: If you’re thinking about adblocking or have a stake in the ground, I’m interested in being in the meeting.
Like many in the industry, I have always been concerned by the reports of Eyeo profiting from selling whitelisting of ads into AdBlock Plus. Their majority owner, who benefits the most from these sales, broke it down in some detail a year before the industry press erupted. Frankly, I see this practice as benefiting their owners possibly even at the expense of consumers. At minimum, it rightly creates a lot of questions about who is really looking out for the consumers.
I would look at these reports on Eyeo’s business model and their focus on consumers much differently if they were 100% open about it. If AdBlock Plus publicly stated which companies were paying them for whitelisting ads and the terms under which this was happening, then my level of trust would increase dramatically. I would even show up at their meeting! This statement also applies to Google which is reported to be one of the companies paying AdBlock Plus the most for whitelisting services.
Google has also been making waves that they want a new set of ad standards “within months.” How can we sit down at the table with a company that wants to set new standards but is also funding Eyeo in its own self-interests? And who in their right-mind thinks consumers will be better off if ads grow to look more and more like Google’s text ads? It certainly won’t subsidize the professional content consumers enjoy and love.
Standards must be set in a way that encourages better ads and higher-quality creative rather than simply reducing the Internet to light-weight text ads and low-quality advertising. We’ve spent close to 20 years proving that the Internet can provide engaging, brand-building advertising experiences and we’re ready to scrap that now because we have been sloppy in rolling out the technology?
Standards should help meet consumers’ demand for a better overall experience by protecting premium content and allowing only respectful, trustworthy advertising. Adblocking is a blunt technology instrument with no regard for the content or its advertisements. Consumers are choosing it because it is their only choice right now. A true solution can’t be equally blunt in its lack of regard for the value of the content in exchange. As Univision’s Kevin Conroy wrote months ago in Ad Age, “we need to set the bar higher to see advertising truly break through on digital.” Kirk McDonald of Pubmatic recently followed with “and when the experience for the consumer is great, the invasion of the ad blockers should die out.”
Many have argued that ad blocking is a direct result of a flood of intermediaries clogging up websites in an effort to ubiquitously track consumers. I agree. These issues clearly are impacting performance and more quietly are impacting privacy and security delivering a vacuum in trust. If we’re going to truly work to create our industry’s future — Advertising 2.0 — then we’ll need to make certain the benefit flows to the consumer and not yet another intermediary.
Here is my email declining the invitation.
Hi Ben, I appreciate you reaching out with the invitation. As discussed in our meeting, I’m deeply supportive of consumer-focused approaches to solutions. As much as your independent board is empowered to align better principles with what ultimately will drive consumer value long-term, I’m highly supportive. However, I’m still troubled by the existence of models where your company profits from allowing ads to be served. I must send my regrets and pass on the invitation. Thank you again for the consideration.
Jason Kint | CEO
Digital Content Next | digitalcontentnext.org