By Tyler Dikun
Apps like Adblock Plus and Crystal have skyrocketed to the top of Apple’s paid-apps list. Known as extensions to encoders, these apps provide a necessary filter against the all-too-familiar, irrelevant and annoying pop-up ads. While these digital advertisements combine the misery of having to wait longer than expected to load an unwanted ad with the aggravation of accidentally clicking on one, the ad-blocking technology has sparked an ethical dilemma over its use. After all, take away the ads, take-away the revenue. Right?
The advertising industry can only be described as a three-headed giant. Consulting firms like Strategy Analytics have estimated advertising spending at nearly $187 billion in 2015. Of that $187 billion, the fastest growing sector of advertising, digital, has increased 2.5 percent from 2014. The striking figure from Strategy Analytics is that paper-based ads were the only branch of advertising to experience a reduction: 1.8 percent from 2014. If the ad industry continues to move away from tangible advertisements, we can expect an inundation of those noisy, disorienting ads that no one wants to hear.
Ad-blocking combats this problem by promoting ‘acceptable ads’. These ads are described by Adblock Plus’ founder Eyeo as those which are not annoying, do not distort or disrupt page content, are transparent in their intent to be ads, are appropriate to the site they appear on and are effective without shouting at the user. This process of filtering through ads that are deemed acceptable comes with a price to content providers. Media companies that have adapted to the digital age contend that advertisements amass a large portion of their revenue. The latest earnings report from The New York Times shows that digital ads have contributed one-third of an overall revenue of 148.6 million. Threatened with a crippling loss of ad-generated revenue, companies like The New York Times are pushing back against the “unethical” nature of ad-blockers. Many companies have gone so far as to refer to programs like Adblock Plus as extortion.
Essentially, content providers believe that if they do not pay a fee to ad blocker apps, they should better prepare for a loss in revenue. Companies who pay this fee are white-listed by Adblock Plus and can continue to feature advertisements. Where those affected see an ad-blocking mafia, I see regulation. For an undisclosed fee, ad-blockers are trying to promote better advertisements. Companies become white-listed by ad-blockers by modifying their ads to be less aggressive. Without regulation, ads would continue to seize hold of more data on one’s prepaid data plan and open the door to fraudulent phishing schemes that already plague the Internet. Ad-blockers are, in fact, sending a message to many publications that the current advertisement experience for the average user is sub-par. The system of intrusive pop-ups and mysterious tracking software needs to stop.
Interestingly enough, an argument arises over the possible zero revenue that is lost by content providers. Does a company actually lose out on revenue from ad-blocking programs if visitors to a specific website would never have gone there in the first place? Mathew Ingram of fortune.com equates this argument to the music industry. If I pirate music that I was never going to buy in the first place, am I stealing revenue?
Instead of being held hostage by the intrusive nature of digital advertisements, the Internet should set a new standard for how advertising content is displayed. I find it frustrating to sit through five minutes of advertisement videos during a 25 minute YouTube clip. Content providers will bemoan their potential lost revenue until they either confide to the format of an acceptable ad or, sadly, find loopholes in the system. Advertisement that is more relevant to the consumer is more lucrative to the advertiser. If ad-blockers prove to be the destructive thieves of the Internet that many claim them to be, take them down. However, I would rather see the potential for a new ad publication process which would change the advertisement experience. Is that not a fundamental rule of the free-market capitalist system? Adapt or die…your choice.
Tyler Dikun, FCRH ’18, is undecided in his major from Wycoff, NJ.