Ad blocking goes big-time.

Adblock-PlusA new milestone of sorts has been reached in the ad blocking realm. Adblock Plus, the leading ad blocking tool, has just announced that it’s just passed the 100 million marker in active installations.

An earlier milestone – 500 million downloads – was reached at the beginning of this year. That means the active user base has now doubled in less than half a year.

If these figures are accurate – and there’s little reason to think that they aren’t – it’s a pretty big deal. No longer is ad blocking an exotic functionality that’s the exclusive preserve of techies or other geeky subgroups.  It’s gone majorly mainstream.

What’s driving the ad blocking business is the ubiquity of online advertising. For many viewers, it’s nothing short of intolerable:  obtrusive, irritating, and sometimes creepy (hello, retargeting).

So once a well-functioning and reputable tool like Adblock came along, it was only a matter of time before it would take on “snowball-rolling-down-a-mountainside” proportions.

AdBlock Plus promises “annoyance-free web surfing.”  But as with most any innovation, there are one or two hitches. For Adblock Plus, it’s something called “Acceptable Ads.”

untitled“What’s that?” you might ask. It’s a white-list program that allows certain advertisers through Adblock’s screen.  The company receives a cut of publishers’ revenues through that program.

Fundamentally, it’s how Adblock Plus makes money. But it’s also how advertisers can do an end-run around the very service Adblock provides.

AdBlock goes to great pains to “explain” its rationale and why the Acceptable Ads program makes sense for everyone.

But it isn’t difficult to see where this might end up.  Larger advertisers will see fit to exempt themselves from ad blocking by paying for the privilege of their ads being served.

Which gets us right back to where we were with advertising in the first place, doesn’t it? Pay to play.

What’s old is new again, I guess. And meanwhile, the online ads just keep coming …

On the march: Ad blocking tools continue their rise in popularity.

What Adblock PromisesI’ve blogged before about the rise of online ad blocking tools and their growing popularity with consumers.

One example:  AdTrap – a device that intercepts online ads before they reach any devices that access a person’s Internet connection.

AdTrap’s motto is simple and powerful:  “The Internet is yours again.”

In the months and years since I first blogged about it, ad blocking has only become more popular – so much so that it’s no longer just a mild irritant to advertisers and publishers, but rather a commercial threat that has a significant impact on publishers’ financial bottom lines.

It’s hardly surprising.  Most people want to run as far away from advertising as they can.  For years, we’ve taken trips to the kitchen or bathroom during TV commercial breaks.  We’ve TiVo’d ads out of existence.

And the participation levels in online ad blocking bear this out now as well.  According to data from PageFair, a company that measures publishers’ ad blocking rates and provides alternative non-intrusive advertising options, the number of ad blocker tool users reached nearly 145 million people in 2014.

That’s more than five times the 21 million users of ad blocker tools we had in 2010.

Growth continues apace:  Adblock Plus, which is the biggest of the ad blocking tools, reports more than 2.3 million downloads each week, on average.

Where are people blocking online ads?  In all sorts of areas.  But the most frequent incidence of ad blocking is on gaming sites, where blocking rates are in excess of 50%.

But blocking is happening on other online sites, too, including entertainment, fashion and lifestyle sites – albeit at about half the degree as on gaming sites.

[Tellingly, ad blocking is happening on technology sites, too, where about a quarter of the ads are being blocked.]

One of the more interesting nuggets of information reported by PageFair is the difference in ad blocking rates by country.  What we see is that Americans lag well-behind a number of other countries:

  • Argentina: ~34 of online ads are blocked
  • Poland: ~34% are blocked
  • Sweden: ~33%
  • Finland: ~32%
  • Germany: ~30%
  • United States: ~15%

Germany, in particular, has been the scene of several fervent legal skirmishes in recent years.  There, the publisher of the news magazine Die Zeit sued the parent company of AdBlock, claiming that the ad blocking tool is “illegal and anti-competitive.”  (The suit went nowhere, incidentally.)

Some observers speculate that the higher incidence of ad blocking in certain countries may be tied to those nations’ sociological profiles.  “I personally suspect that in some of these countries, citizens are more concerned about their personal privacy – perhaps for historical reasons,” Sean Blanchfield, PageFair’s CEO, has remarked.

One might wonder if, in the age of Edward Snowden and the Patriot Act (now superseded by new legislation ironically called the “USA Freedom Act”), Americans’ ad blocking practices might now be poised to align more closely with Europeans’.

I imagine we’ll know more about that degree of convergence within a year or two.