Facebook engaged in an extended game of whack-a-mole with some of the most popular ad blocking apps this week, with both sides scrambling to change their code in order to respond to their opponent’s latest changes. The result could be a boon to all consumers, regardless of whether they use ad blocking software or not, as Facebook is now offering an opt-out for its ad targeting.
The escalation between Facebook and companies providing ad blocking software began earlier this week, when the social network announced that it would start to circumvent ad blocking software by making it harder for these apps to distinguish between ads and regular Facebook posts.
Germany-based Eyeo, maker of the popular Adblock Plus software, quickly responded with a workaround that once again blocked ads on the site. Soon after, Facebook’s VP of Ads & Business Platform Andrew Bosworth took to Twitter to complain that this workaround didn’t just omit ads, but also posts from ordinary users — a claim that has been put into question by some.
Hours after that, Eyeo executives responded by claiming that a tweak to their software’s blocklist was able to once again block ads. “We have found a workaround against Facebook’s workaround against the adblocker’s workaround against Facebook’s circumvention,” announced Adblock Plus senior manager Job Plas on Twitter late Thursday.
Ad blocking software has become a real problem for some web publishers that rely on common web advertising formats, with Facebook pointing to research earlier this week that some 200 million people worldwide were using apps to block ads.
The makers of ad blockers tend to argue that they simply give users a choice, and that their goal is to block ads that invade users’ privacy. Some of ad blockers even keep lists of acceptable ad formats and work with select platforms to allow their advertising. However, Adblock Plus in particular has been criticized for charging sites fees for not filtering their ads, something that Facebook apparently wasn’t willing to do.
Facebook’s game of whack-a-mole with Adblock Plus and others will likely continue; blogger Arvid Narayanan pointed out Wednesday that there is no way for the network to make its ads un-detectable to ad blockers without running afoul of rules that consumers should be able to tell advertising apart from unpaid content.
“If there is any hope for a peaceful resolution to the ad blocking wars, it is that ads won’t be so annoying as to push people to install ad blockers, and will be actually useful at least some of the time,” Narayanan wrote. “If anyone can pull this off, it is Facebook, with the depth of data it has about its users.”
The good news for consumers is that Facebook has actually taken a first step in that direction this week. On Tuesday, the company announced that consumers now can opt out of ads targeting them for certain interests. Consumers can also select to not see ads from certain companies at all. “These improvements are designed to give people even more control over how their data informs the ads they see,” Bosworth wrote in a blog post.