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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Columns

Ad blocker’s feature shuts out an even playing field


In 2011, Adblock Plus caused much disappointment when it whitelisted particular types of advertisements that it deemed reputable.

In September, the designers of the ad blocker that was installed on more than 100 million devices announced that it will allow publishers to choose from “reputable” ads so users can see them. What used to be an essential tool for internet navigators had shifted its intent from protecting the user to becoming too close for comfort on the industry side.

The ad blocker’s Acceptable Ads initiative was created “in consultation with our users,” which amounted to under 1500 completed surveys when the app had 20 million actual users in 2011. Even five years ago, the company’s idealism started to crumble and could be chalked up to the need for funding to provide the app free of charge.

Many advertisers claim that the blocking of ads parallels stealing, but advertisers have had such a dominance on common culture that they forget they have been taxing our decision-making regions and emotional processing for decades.

At first, there were criteria for the ads that could be seen by users, one of which encouraged “the ad industry to pursue less-intrusive ad formats.” Despite being a slightly alarming shift in the wrong direction, the reasoning was understandable.

The new platform, however, provides a gateway for a cartel of publishers to generate preapproved ads to be displayed while Adblock Plus acts as the middleman. Many users already have the add-on installed on their web browsers; these shifts in company policy could go unnoticed until subtle advertisements appear, bit by bit, on the websites.

“Less-intrusive ad formats?” Sure. The approach, however, also displays the shrewdness of advertising and how these advertisements could subconsciously penetrate users’ minds without using a flashing banner ad.

If you are a current Adblock Plus user, fix this problem by going into the “options” section and uncheck the “allow some non-intrusive advertising” box. This effortless solution should not understate the magnitude of this decision.

It’s a big move to charge advertisers by providing them with a gateway to users who didn’t just stumble upon the announcement in the business sections of a few publications a couple of weeks ago.

While allowing advertising as an ad-blocking software is questionable enough, providing the ability to select advertisements and charging certain advertisers creates an uneven playing field. With Adblock Plus maintaining a majority share of the ad-blocking software market, this is an ominous sea change.

Opinion columnist Nicholas Bell is an MBA graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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