Facebook will show you an ad, whether you block it or not

Analysis: The world's largest social network is turning to technology to put an end to ad blocking.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read
Enlarge Image

Hello, Facebook ads, it's been awhile.


Facebook's going to show you an ad, whether you want it or not.

The social-networking giant unveiled on Tuesday a plan likely to boost its sales and make its advertising partners happy. The plan is to skirt the ad-blocking technology that strips pesky commercial messages out of websites as we surf the internet.

Supporters of ad blockers say the technology is a form of protest against invasive and prolific advertising that's become a norm online. How many of us are annoyed by online ads? Nearly half a billion people are now using ad-blocking technology on mobile devices, according to a survey from PageFair, an advertising startup that claims to offer ads that are less intrusive and annoying.

Website owners say they need to get paid somehow, and ad blocking chokes off one of their only ways of making money.

No matter what side of the debate you're on, one thing is certain: There's no such thing as a truly "free" website. Whether it's a news or video site, companies must figure out some way to pay for staff, computers and internet connections, among many other items.

A few companies, like the video streaming service Netflix, rely on subscriptions. Others, like Google's YouTube, focus on ads. Hulu, which used to offer free access to some of its shows, just made its service fully subscription based. Apple Music, as well, offers only a subscription option.

Still others, like Facebook, use data about you to sell targeted ads. Such ads can be more lucrative than other types, helping to fuel the $17 billion in ad sales the company reported last year.

Regardless of how you look at it, companies need to be paid by someone. And for most of today's online sites and services, it's either you or an advertiser.

That brings us back to Facebook. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team believe charging people for access to its social network goes against its core mission of connecting everyone in the world online.

"Ads support our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected," Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's vice president of ads and business platform, said in a statement Tuesday.

A company spokeswoman declined to say how many of the 1.7 billion people who log into Facebook each month use ad blockers. The company also didn't warn ad blockers about the change, choosing to just do a bypass rather than figure out how to work with them.

Ben Williams, a spokesman for Adblock Plus, said that Facebook's move is "anti user" and that the world's most popular social network should give its members more power to decide what they want to block.

"Wouldn't it be better to address users (like all of you!) who have chosen to block traditional ads on their own terms? That is to say, don't you want to be consulted here?" Williams wrote on the Adblock Plus blog.

To its credit, Facebook said it's also creating better ways for its users to indicate what types of ads are annoying or not relevant to them.

Facebook isn't the only company working against the ad-blocking trend. Publishers including Wired, Forbes and CNET ask users who have ad blockers installed to disable them for their sites. The New York Times has taken the extra step of asking ad blocking users to buy a subscription.

Now Facebook may have introduced to a new way to fight ad blockers altogether.