The plugin’s developers look to expand the marketplace for ‘acceptable’ ads while promising no change to the user experience
Cologne-based software firm EyeO, which makes the controversial AdBlock Plus web browser plug-in, has launched tests for an ad-selling platform, an announcement that has disconcerted many of its users.
The tool, called Acceptable Ads Platform, is modelled after the automated marketplaces that determine which ads are shown on standard web pages, EyeO said.
The difference is that it is based on criteria intended to allow only non-intrusive ads, such as those with a minimum of scripts or animations, and is to include feedback from users who can rank ads by right-clicking on them, EyeO said.
“The Acceptable Ads Platform helps publishers who want to show an alternative, nonintrusive ad experience to users with ad blockers by providing them with a tool that lets them implement Acceptable Ads themselves,” said AdBlock Plus co-founder and EyeO managing director Till Faida.
AdBlock Plus has displayed ads EyeO deems acceptable by default since 2011.
Nevertheless, many users were surprised at the announcement, which drew nearly universal criticism from those writing on AdBlock Plus’ website.
“It’s like taking medicine for something, only to have that medicine not cure you of the advertised sickness,” wrote one user.
“AdBlock Plus is supposed to stop ads, not filter them,” wrote another, while another reader responded: “Uninstalled!”
AdBlock Plus initially gained popularity after its initial release in 2006 for its ability to remove adverts from websites, speeding up page loading times and blocking potentially dangerous ad content.
In 2011, however, the firm introduced a programme that allows ads that it deems meet certain criteria, to be displayed by browsers using the extension.
The feature can be turned off, but is enabled by default, and as a result is used by about 90 percent of the software’s 100 million users, EyeO said.
The company said the ad marketplace should not change anything for users, who will continue to see only white-listed ads, the only difference being that the approval process for those ads will be automated.
“The Acceptable Ads Platform will cut the whitelisting process from weeks to seconds,” EyeO.
The company acknowledged that with the continuing expansion of Acceptable Ads, AdBlock Plus is no longer an advert-blocking service.
“‘AdBlock Plus’ is not the right name for our mission,” wrote Adblock Plus operations and communications director Ben Williams in response to a user comment. “A better name would be ‘Web Customiser’ or similar.”
EyeO has drawn increasing criticism from web publishers and advertisers, who argue its business model gives it undue control over the content users see.
The company allows small advertisers to participate in the Acceptable Ads whitelist for free, but it charges large advertisers to allow their content through its filters.
Then-culture secretary John Whittingdale said earlier this year the government was looking into taking action against EyeO and similar firms, calling their business model a “modern day protection racket”.
Whittingdale’s comments echo those of publishers who have described Google in similar terms, in support of ongoing EU antitrust action against the company.
In effect, EyeO has established Google-like dominance over the market for “acceptable” ads, enabled by its large installed user base, industry analysts said, with security researcher Graham Cluley arguing the trend risks putting “too much power” into the company’s hands.
Google, like EyeO, derives nearly all its income from advertising.
EyeO does not disclose how much it receives from advertisers, but says on its website that the “majority” of its revenues are derived from the Acceptable Ads programme, and that it charges a licensing fee of up to 30 percent of the revenues generated by whitelisted ads.
The practice of blocking web ads itself has been validated in German courts, with a Hamburg court last year ruling in favour of EyeO and against two publishers who had alleged that third parties should not be allowed to remove ads found on their sites.
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