Over the last 12 months you have likely read multiple articles from us on the topic of adblocking. We’ve covered many of the arguments for and against, and we’ve written in-depth opinion pieces. But we’re not over it yet; a war of words and coding skills kicked off between Facebook and AdBlock Plus this month, so we’re revisiting the issue.
Facebook threw the first punch on August 9, announcing that it would change its code in order to remove the effectiveness of adblockers on its desktop platform. This isn’t a particularly unusual move – adblocking tools are already non-functional within the mobile app – but Facebook was concerned about its ability to monetise the desktop site alongside this. Although mobile is more lucrative for the social network, with users logging on via mobile devices more than desktop, Facebook still sees some 26 million unique users across desktop web in the UK, according to Comscore.
AdBlock Plus took immediate umbrage to Facebook’s announcement, responding quickly with the confirmation that it had tweaked its code in order to re-block Facebook’s ads on desktop. This started a few days of back-and-forth, with both sides attempting to keep up with the other’s change of code. And herein lies the problem for adblockers. The large majority of adblockers work by identifying unique code which signifies an ad placement on a page, and this is relatively simple on publisher sites where the server sits elsewhere such as Doubleclick by Google. Facebook on the other hand is a completely self-contained environment, which means it can rewrite its code to make the ad placements as indistinguishable as possible from its regular content. AdBlock Plus accidentally started blocking posts from friends on people’s feeds, then Facebook evolved its language to make its ads even more difficult for adblockers to find. Checkmate.
It’s important at this point to look at the effect AdBlock Plus has had on Facebook. Adblocking is a tool to enhance users’ experience of the internet, free from unwanted and disruptive ads that annoy and to disguise malicious tracking. To its credit, Facebook’s ads are native to its platform and do little to disrupt the newsfeed. As a further response to adblocking, Facebook now puts ad preferences into the users’ own hands, allowing them to remove themselves from seeing certain ads or from being grouped into custom audiences.
There are bound to be further battles in Facebook’s war against adblockers but, for now, the platform remains appealing to advertisers as it works to solve issues surrounding unseen ads or limited dwell time. As one of the largest advertising sites in the world, ensuring its immunity to adblocking means advertisers are less limited in the inventory they can access and this is particularly important when trying to target the younger, millennial audience who are more likely to use adblockers.
As an open source tool, the public is likely to want to go after the major players, raging against the machine. However, as AdBlock Plus is unlikely to defeat Facebook any time soon, they may be better advised to shift focus back to where they began and continue the fight against the ads people really hate.
Taking Facebook head on challenges it to consistently interrogate its own code to protect its main revenue stream. Much like a virus, this causes its defence to become even stronger, with defeating adblockers an essential commitment for its talented engineers.