New Delhi: Facebook Inc. fired its first salvo at the ad blocker industry by announcing that the social networking company will start serving ads to its desktop users, including to those who have ad-blocking software installed and running.

In a blog post announcing the changes, Andrew Bosworth, vice-president, Ads & Business Platform said: “People don’t like to see ads that are irrelevant to them or that disrupt or break their experience. People also want to have control over the kinds of ads they see. As a result of what we’ve learned, we’ve introduced tools to help people control their experience, improved how we decide which ads to show and created new ad formats that complement, rather than detract from, people’s experience online."

Ad blockers have become increasingly popular over the last several years and one of the main reasons people have turned to ad blocking software is to stop annoying, disruptive ads. All users, but especially consumers using ad blockers, want uninterrupted, quick browsing and a streamlined user experience. Ad blockers are more widespread on computers but they’re migrating slowly to mobiles too. Analysts estimate that ad blocking costs web publishers nearly $22 billion in lost ad sales last year, compared with total internet ad sales of $160 billion. A recent study published by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that about 26% of people surveyed use ad blockers on their desktop and laptop computers and about 15% use them on mobile devices.

With the latest update, Facebook is targeting what it terms “bad ads"—ads that obscure the content people are trying to read, ads that slow down load times or ads that try to sell things users have no interest in buying. Bad ads are disruptive and a waste of time. The rise of ad blocking is a clear signal to the ad industry that consumers are dissatisfied with their current experiences. According to research commissioned by Facebook, the main reasons cited for using ad blockers include avoiding disruptive ads (69%), ads that slow down their browsing experience (58%) and security / malware risks (56%).

In general, younger consumers are more open to online advertising and data collection and if they are going to see ads, they prefer them to be personalized and relevant. The research also shows that consumers want more control over ads online, across all age groups and geographies, and agree that increased control will improve their online experience.

For instance, eight in 10 people (79%) agree that they should be able to opt out of seeing ads on specific topics (e.g. Football or Politics) if they want to. Thus, what Facebook is now doing is to provide additional controls to people that will result in a positive, personalized experience while also building trust.

This means that from now on Facebook users can stop seeing certain types of ads. Facebook has expanded its set of tools so that the 1.7 billion monthly active users can better control their advertising experience by adding or removing the kind of ads they would like to opt in to.

For instance, if someone does not want to see ads about travel or animals, they can manually remove that interest from their ad preferences .

Users can also manually opt out of seeing ads from businesses or organizations who have added them to their customer lists, ensuring that “liking" a page doesn’t saddle you with ads from that company or business forever. “These improvements are designed to give people even more control over how their data informs the ads they see," claims Bosworth.

Facebook also takes a swipe at some ad blocking companies who they claim accept money in exchange for showing ads that they previously blocked—a practice that is at best confusing to people and that reduces the funding needed to support the journalism and other free services that we enjoy on the web. Bosworth writes: “Facebook is one of those free services, and ads support our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected. Rather than paying ad blocking companies to unblock the ads we show—as some of these companies have invited us to do in the past—we’re putting control in people’s hands with our updated ad preferences and our other advertising controls."

For now, the company will only be bypassing ad-blockers on the desktop version of its website, meaning that the vast majority of those who access Facebook’s app on smartphones and tablets, will be less susceptible to ad blocking. By unblocking ads, Facebook could boost its already impressive bottomline. In the second quarter ended 30 June, Facebook’s advertising revenue grew 63% to $6.2 billion. Of this, mobile advertising revenue reached $5.2 billion, up 81% year-over-year, and was approximately 84% of total ad revenue.

Facebook’s arch rival Google differs in its approach to ad blocking. The online search giant is a member of the Acceptable Ads Program that is run by Adblock Plus, the leading desktop ad blocker. As the name suggests, this programme filters ads based on a strict criteria to identify non-intrusive ads. Advertisers like Google have to pay for this service. However, paying ad blockers is something that Facebook is strictly against.

From the company’s update it is not clear how the move will pan out as not all Facebook ads are interest-based. Facebook shows a variety of ads based on location-targeting, demographics and other attributes. The update does not talk about not serving ads targeted by other attributes to those who have ad blockers installed. According to Amitabh Verma, founder of AMP Digital Solutions Pvt Ltd, a digital marketing and training consultancy: “I think this is just a partial solution to the problem and forcing ads on people who specifically do not want to see any ad is not a good thing. Apparently there is a practice amongst ad-blocking companies to charge money from advertising platforms to show ads to those using the blockers. Since Facebook has chosen not to pay these companies any money, and since their business model is based on ads, they have decided to show ads to people who have ad blockers installed. This is like using one ‘wrong’ to tackle another ‘wrong.’ "

Facebook should ideally give its users two options: one, do not show the user any ads or two, show the user ads only from the categories that he or she wants. If someone picks the first option, Facebook should not show any ads to them, no matter what their interests are.

Verma adds: “Even from an operational perspective, I don’t see this update working. To serve ads to people with ads blockers on, will require Facebook to circumvent some code on the users end. As ad blockers become smart, it will be increasing difficult for Facebook to circumvent these codes, as ad blocking companies will definitely resist this move from Facebook. “

He is not wrong ! Adblock Plus has come down heavily on Facebook, denouncing its move to circumvent users with ad-blocking software and show them ads. “This is an unfortunate move, because it takes a dark path against user choice. But it’s also no reason to overreact: cat-and-mouse games in tech have been around as long as spammers have tried to circumvent spam filters. In any case, it’s hard to imagine Facebook or the brands that are being advertised on its site getting any sort of value for their ad dollar here: publishers [like Facebook] alienate their audience and advertisers [the brands] allow their cherished brand name to be shoved down people’s throats," the company wrote in a blog post. If nothing else, all this attention from Facebook shows that ad blocking has finally come of age.

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