The popular AdBlock extension was sold last week. The previous owner, Michael Gundlach is stepping away from the company. Mr. Gundlach made the announcement through a pop up to current users stating that AdBlock is now participating the the “Acceptable Ads Program” which is a program Eyeo has set up to deliver ads from large advertisers like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. It allows select advertisers to whiltelist their ads which means they will not be blocked. Eyeo and their partners are compensated in return for letting the ads pass through their system. The landscape of ad blocking is quickly coming to the foreground since the release of iOS 9 which supports ad blockers for the first time.
Eyeo is the company behind AdBlock Plus which isn’t related to the AdBlock extension, unless they are the mystery buyer which is still unknown. Whoever bought AdBlock decided to monetize the ad blocker extension through the “Acceptable Ads Program” rather than the donations that were fueling the development of the project. I have no doubt that someone will fill the void in the market and offer an extension that doesn’t allow “acceptable ads” through. There will be some users who don’t mind the ads from websites they enjoy on a regular basis, but others will want an ad blocker to do what it’s name implies and block all ads unless they choose to whitelist a site.
Let’s take a look at the message Mr. Gundlach sent AdBlock users:
Why does it matter who owns AdBlock? For starters the popular ad blocking extension has been downloaded over 200 million times and is used by over 40 million users around the world. That makes the ownership very important. Their decision to join the Eyeo acceptable ads program is in direct contrast to the purpose of using an ad blocker. I believe that users should have control over their own whitelist. Giving that control to Eyeo or their “impartial group of experts” is just a way for advertisers to pay their way around the system.
There is a larger underlying issue that will be debated which is the impact of blocking ads online. It hasn’t been that much of a problem in the past as ad blockers were on the fringe. Now that they are receiving mainstream attention it could have a far reaching impact on the web as we know it. Much of the content we enjoy is kept free through advertising and tracking. Should it be that way? If you think it should then Eyeo’s acceptable ads program is a nice balance between protecting users from “bad ads” and allowing reputable companies to continue displaying ads. However, if you don’t think that’s acceptable then you might have to pay for some of the content that you now enjoy for free because paywalls are the most likely alternative. At times the price of free can be far higher than paying for access.
In summary Mr. Gundlach sold his popular AdBlock extension to an unknown buyer earlier this week. At the same time the extension became part of the Eyeo acceptable ads program which displays ads from large companies including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. The future of AdBlock will not include Mr. Gundlach as he mentioned in the announcement of the sale. Acceptable ads will be allowed to pass through AdBlock by default. That’s perhaps the most telling line in our post. Anytime you turn a feature on by default a majority of users will leave it on. AdBlock is counting on users doing so to increase their profits. While you can turn the feature off I would suggest exploring alternatives that block all ads by default and give users full control over which sites to whitelist. You might consider uBlock for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Purify is a good ad blocker for iOS devices.