AdBlock Plus spreads its gospel of unintrusive Net advertising

A new manifesto from an ad-blocking company Eyeo tries to build support for the idea that some ads are OK. That's good for its business, since big advertisers pay to get on its whitelist.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

AdBlock Plus strips out ads that come from sources on its filter list, but advertisers that meet its "acceptable ads" criteria for unobtrusiveness are shown.
AdBlock Plus strips out ads that come from sources on its filter list, but advertisers that meet its "acceptable ads" criteria for unobtrusiveness are shown. Adblock Plus

Eyeo, the makers of the Adblock Plus browser plug-in, is trying to win the rest of the world over to its effort to strip annoying ads of Web sites while leaving less obtrusive ones intact.

On Wednesday, the German company unveiled the Acceptable Ads Manifesto, an attempt to generate support for its compromise stance. With so many Web sites and now mobile apps now supported by advertising, ad-blocking has become a real threat to free services, but Eyeo sees the Adblock Plus approach as moderate compared to, say, AdBlock, which is a separate service with a confusingly similar name.

"We want to change the face of advertising online," spokesman Ben Williams said of the effort. "We think ads can work."

The five principles are as follows:

  1. Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
  2. Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we're trying to read.
  3. Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
  4. Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
  5. Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.

Adblock Plus got its start in 2006 and until 2011 blocked all ads by default. The next phase was the introduction of a whitelist to let through ads deemed to meet the AdBlock Plus acceptable ads criteria. And it grew from hobby to business: larger advertisers have to pay to get on the whitelist, but ads still have to pass the acceptability test.

Installing an ad-blocker is still an unusual measure for the average person, but Adblock Plus has between 50 million and 60 million users and 300 million downloads, Williams said.

So far, the manifesto doesn't look to have ignited the passions of Web users. So far only 31 people have signed the manifesto.

From the perspective an advertiser, though, Adblock Plus is a serious threat. There's nothing illegal about the add-on, and plenty of people would love to see YouTube preroll and overlay ads vanish. It's possible that ad-blocking services could help encourage advertisers to self-regulate, preempting consumer displeasure with obnoxious ads and intrusive behavioral tracking techniques.

Displeased publishers are often upset when they approach Eyeo, but more recently tempers have eased, Williams said.

"We're trying to make this compromise, so the tone has gotten a lot more friendly," Williams said. "We do tell them we are trying to evolve with the times."