Here’s a new twist on the issue of ad blockers: they not only break the internet, but they break web sites as well. A study conducted by ad tech firm Oriel on how twenty-four common ad blockers, including UBlock, AdBlock, and AdBlockPlus found that the tools not only blocked popup ads, but were also accidentally corrupting useful parts of a website, such as retail order tracking pages or airline check-in screens. Many users install the ad blockers, and then forget they’ve done it, only to find out that information they really want to receive is missing from their screens.
Oriel tested 100 popular sites in the UK, including British Airways and Vodafone, Ryan Air, Land Rover and P&G. A visitor to those sites who was running an ad blocker would not know what was wrong; she would only see an error message. This study will create greater consternation in the world of not only publishers, but also e-commerce sites.
It’s more complicated even than what we’ve just discussed, because Oriel tested only downloaded ad blockers. But they’re not the only way users can block ads. They can also use a browser like Opera or Brave, which have native ad blocking capabilities, or if they are really anxious to block ads. According to Oriel,
Mobile operator Three is even looking at blocking adverts at a network level, that is even before they reach mobile devices. It might seem convenient, but below the surface is a very shady, and serious issue – it is interfering, changing and potentially censoring web content and like a “man in the middle attack” the true nature of what the publisher intended to deliver to their website audience is therefore compromised.
British culture secretary John Whittingale likens this to a modern-day protection racket, in which the publishers who can afford it pay to have their sites whitelisted. In a speech at the Oxford Media Conference, Whittingale offered support to both publishers and people in the music industry.
Stopping short of announcing an outright ban on adblocking, he said he “shared the concern” of the newspaper industry about the impact of the technology and would “consider what role there is for government” after hearing all sides of the argument.
No, we haven’t forgotten the fact that Oriel has a dog in this hunt, since it markets a service that allows you to communicate with sites that block ads and assure that the advertiser’s message gets through. In a sense, it’s a blocker of ad blockers. But we think this is a good discussion to raise, and the fact that people like BA and P&G are involved, and that what’s affected are not just ads will cause the ad block sector to re-think how it is doing business and give the publishers and content providers stronger legs to stand on in battling ad blocking.