I did some research on ad blockers a while ago and thought I would share it here while we are waiting for a working beta of SWF encryption software. After my research I realized that ad blocking software is very bad for the web as we know it, and more damaging than software piracy (since I believe that most pirates wouldn’t buy the product anyway). It doesn’t affect this website as I don’t have ads yet, but it has hurt some of my free website projects in the past.

The problem is not that ad blocking software exists, but that the design is severely flawed. I like the idea of being able to block annoying ads. But surprisingly, of the dozens+ of ad blocking programs out there, not a single one will let me do that! They are all set to BLOCK EVERYTHING BY DEFAULT – including the inoffensive ads and the sites you use daily and want to support. Some let you “whitelist” sites where you want to see ads, but this is a red herring. The harmful flaw of this software is due to the power of defaults. No significant number of people is going to go through this process for every site they want to support: [disable the ad-blocker, find out if a site has inoffensive ads, enable ads on that site, reenable the ad-blocker]

While researching this issue I installed an ad-blocker with no intention of keeping it – but I liked it, and now I understand the problem. You want it for that damn 5% – those annoying websites with popups and flashing ads. But being an ethical person I want to support the other 95% of sites I like. When you install an ad blocker, it’s a real eye opener to see how differently a sizeable chunk of people are seeing your website.

At worst, ad-blockers hurt the free web. At least, they are ripping us off. People who use ad-blocking software are being subsidized by people who do not. Everyone who runs this software (MILLIONS of people) is leeching off the free web, and depending on those who do not leech to keep their favorite websites free. There are no good estimates that I could find as to how much revenue is lost due to this problem (it’s very hard to measure), but since the number of users is in the millions (just one program boasts 1.35 million subscribers), I would guess that between of 10%-30% of revenue on free websites is being lost due to leeching, most of which is not the fault of the users but software makers who have no vested interest in fairness to free websites.

The logical extension of this problem, if everyone installed today’s ad-blocking software, is that large portions of the free web would dry up, either going subscription-based, or out of business. That makes this flawed software hostile to my business. But where is the public rage, or at least the mild annoyance? This issue is not in the public consciousness. It is mentioned on a few public forums, where virtually everyone is in support of the ad blocking software. I think this reflects a real misunderstanding of this software’s effect.

One potential solution I came up with is to convince companies to change the paradigm from block everything, to block ON DEMAND. I think this option would be popular, because it lets the user lack the smack down on bad websites, while being much more friendly to the good ones. It’s the way I would like the software to work, speaking as a user, not just as a website owner. This active censorship could even have the effect of discouraging annoying ads from being run in the first place.

I wrote to a few developers of the largest ad blocking products to suggest this change, and I was greeted with indifference and even rudeness – not surprising. They already know their software is costing us money. Maybe the proper negative attitude toward software with this flawed design will eventually convince these companies to listen. This issue needs better public awareness. Webmasters that rely on ad revenue to stay in business should be aware of the harm being done to them personally by this software.

Related Articles

Browser Makers Warned Against Ad Blocking
“The end of free Internet content will come when Web browsers start blocking online advertisements by default, a DoubleClick executive has warned.”

Is Norton Blocking Your Internet Marketing Efforts?
“Even though these products are sold as “Security” THE DEFAULT IS SET TO BLOCK ADS”

Norton Antivirus 2004 Ad Blocking – Tough Call?
“If banner ads fail, more and more sites will be forced into a pay model, and the days of the “Free Internet” will be almost over.”

Wikipedia – Ad Filtering

Legitimate products

These appears to be more legitimate products, only blocking popups and adware, but not stripping ads from webpages.

Pop-up Stopper