Adblock Plus: Why users, not ads, are at the heart of Facebook's experience

(c)iStock.com/Paolo Cipriani

I’m sure you’ve seen it already – the news that Facebook has decided to circumvent ads on its desktop site for users with adblockers installed.

However, this didn’t sit too well with the open source community who instantly hit back by creating a code to re-block ads. But this wasn’t the end of it.

Facebook changed its code once again, and then without hesitancy the open source community struck back with a new update.

What has then followed is a constant back-and-forth between one of the largest technology and social media pioneers, and a [rightfully] large group of frustrated internet users in what has been regarded under several terms as a “cat-and-mouse”, “whack-a-mole”, “ping-pong”, and perhaps most alarming, an “arms-race”.

However, this exchange alludes to a much bigger issue and one which Facebook has clearly overlooked – the desire to maintain an independent internet user-experience.

Those users who have equipped their browsers with ad-blocking software have chosen to do so out of their own preference to have a seamless internet experience without interference from intrusive advertising.

Facebook has ultimately forced its consumers to adopt a one-size-fits-all policy that goes against their free choice.

But why?

Ironically, in a recent blog post by Facebook, it asked its users why they used adblocking software and, surprise-surprise, the primary reason was to stop annoying, disruptive ads.

83% only want to block “obnoxious” ads and 77% would rather filter ads than block them all

It would seem a bit contradictive to then not allow them to block the ads themselves. For both publishers and advertisers alike, it also represents a lose-lose situation; publishers alienate their audience, while advertisers force their brand down the throats of its consumers.

While it is good to see the amount of support the public has given towards adblocking software, the constant cat-and-mouse games suggest no end in sight.

But what has been largely ignored in this continuing game is that all those years ago, holed up in a dorm room, Facebook was created for users.

Their absolute and continuing importance to Facebook is underscored by the fate of MySpace and the company’s own $22bn purchase of WhatsApp, a messaging service that was generating only $10.2m at the time, but had 400 million active users. For any technology company, the requirement to innovate is vital, but it should never come at the expense of those who use it. Especially, or so one would think, for Facebook.

Instead, they’ve chosen a path at odds with a sizable chunk of their users’ desires.

What else could they have done?

A better alternative would be understanding that ads can be bettered through absorbing the feedback provided by users – something, admirably, they seem to be trying to do – but, crucially, paired with the choice that has been available to them over the years: to block.

We recently conducted a study alongside HubSpot aimed at finding precisely what ads users would accept.

Rather than simply creating another study replicating statistics on the growing number of people using adblockers, we aimed to identify the main reasons why consumers block ads and what can be done to solve the dilemma of monetising for content creators.

The survey found that 51% of respondents claimed to use adblockers because they want to be in control of their own web experience, which shows how important it is for users to feel free.

Another stark figure found that 63% of people who don’t use adblockers, nonetheless say that ad-blocking has had a positive impact on consumers’ web experience. And it appears that users are even fine with seeing some ads: 83% only want to block “obnoxious” ads and 77% would rather filter ads than block them all.

At Adblock Plus, we have always prioritised user experience. This is the fundamental foundation for how our software was created and grown. Facebook was also created off the same premise – through the support of its users.

But neglecting them at this stage is denying those that have helped establish what Facebook is today. Ads are indeed needed to support the running of the internet, but creating acceptable and non-intrusive ads is of the upmost importance.

This is why we are encouraging all respective parties in the media industry to collaborate together in an attempt to better both the ad and internet experiences for all parties. 

Related Stories

Leave a comment

Alternatively

This will only be used to quickly provide signup information and will not allow us to post to your account or appear on your timeline.

whyblockinformedchoice
31 Aug 2016, 5:20 p.m.

"Ironically, in a recent blog post by Facebook, it asked its users why they used adblocking software and, surprise-surprise, the primary reason was to stop annoying, disruptive ads...The survey found that 51% of respondents claimed to use adblockers because they want to be in control of their own web experience, which shows how important it is for users to feel free....At Adblock Plus, we have always prioritised user experience."

But Adblock Plus's default settings directly conflict with putting the user in control of their own web experience. Rather, ABP blocks everything, including facebook ads, even if the users installed ABP because of some random blog ad and never found facebook ads annoying or disruptive. Then, because facebook ads are defaultly blocked, a user never sees them to make an informed decision about unblocking. If, however, ABP's default setting was not to block Facebook ads then users could make an informed choice and keep or block those ads.

Adblock Plus isn't interested in informed consumer choice because that default block setting on millions of installs is at the core of ABP's shakedown business model. They wouldn't have nearly the mob power they have if they actually allowed users informed choice about what sites/ads they consider annoying/disruptive instead of choosing for them by default. In fact, ABP circumvents publisher attempts to offer informed choice by communicating with users about their ad quality commitment and whitelisting -- ABP blocks those arrival greetings by default. That directly conflicts with informed user choice and helping users customize their web experience in an informed way.

Reply