Ad blockers rise as ads annoy, bog down websites

Ad blockers rise as ads annoy, bog down websites
In this June 16, 2013 file photo, Internet users browse at underground station in Hong Kong. Ad blockers may help users navigate, but they also threaten the livelihood of websites and publishers that depend heavily on advertising revenue—companies like Google, Hulu and The New York Times. While the rise in ad blocking isn't causing panic yet, publishers and content creators are watching. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

When you visit a website, you often find yourself waiting and waiting for advertisements to load. Video starts playing automatically, and animated ads jump in front of what you were there to see. The seconds tick by.

It doesn't have to be this way.

There are easy ways to block such annoyances, and Apple is now permitting apps that block in its Web browser for iPhones and iPads.

All this might help users navigate, but it also threatens the livelihood of websites and publishers that depend heavily on advertising revenue—companies like Google, Hulu and The New York Times. While the rise in ad blocking isn't causing panic yet, publishers and content creators are watching.

Already, some websites are taking steps to reduce the annoyance so users won't turn to ad blockers. They are also subverting the ones out there to make sure they get paid for delivering news and entertainment.

"It is possible to be too alarmist about ad blockers, but it's a very real phenomenon," said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.

It's one thing if just 5 percent of iPhone users install an ad blocker; it's another if 80 percent do, Benton said. If today's ad practices get too annoying, he said, they could disappear just like pop-up windows, which many browsers now block automatically in response to consumers' annoyance with them.

Over the years, websites have been more aggressive at delivering ads that break through the noise and target specific customers more precisely. But websites are also filling unsold ad space by turning to ad brokers to deliver pitches that are less and less relevant.

Every little bit can slow down or freeze your browser.

"I think publishers got very out of hand in terms of what they put on," said Dean Murphy, 28, a Yarm, England, app developer who responded by creating Crystal, a $1 ad blocker for Apple devices.

Craig Smith, a 47-year-old website developer in Musselburgh, Scotland, said Twitter started showing him ads for adjustable waistband trousers not long after he and his followers discussed about how ridiculous his grandfather's trousers looked in a photo.

"All of a sudden you're getting hammered with stuff you've got no interest in," he said. "It just makes the whole browsing experience really unpleasant."

PageFair, a firm that seeks to counter ad blockers, says worldwide usage of ad blockers grew 41 percent from last year to nearly 200 million people. That's 6 percent of Internet users worldwide, including 16 percent in the U.S., 37 percent in Greece and 25 percent in Germany. PageFair estimates these tools will block nearly $22 billion in this year and $41 billion next year.

The threats to websites are about to get bigger. The ability to block ads, long available on traditional computers, arrived on Apple's mobile devices with a recent software update, iOS 9. Apps with these capabilities—going by such names as Purify Blocker and Blockr—quickly became top sellers. These tools affect only the Safari browser and won't block ads inside apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Apple's own News app.

Google's Android system also allows ad blockers in Web browsers such as Firefox, as long as they don't affect unrelated apps.

Many websites already have countermeasures for ad blockers.

Hulu, for instance, simply replaces commercials with an unskippable message prompting you to turn your ad blocker off. Or, you can pay Hulu $12 a month to go ad-free.

Meanwhile, some companies are paying developers of ad blockers such as Adblock Plus for the right to bypass them. Companies that benefit a lot from search ads, like Google and Microsoft, pay for the privilege, the Financial Times reported. Microsoft declined to confirm the report. Google didn't respond to requests for comment, although the list of Web addresses that get a pass includes many from Google. Hulu declined comment.

All this raises questions about the role of ad-blocking companies. Ad blockers streamline the user experience without contributing back to the digital economy, even as they seek to make money by charging websites for the right to nullify their impact. Smaller websites can get a free pass from ad blockers, but only if they forego revenue from video ads or other display ads deemed intrusive.

Perhaps there's another way—a truce, of sorts.

Some companies are trying to create a smoother experience to get at the root cause of consumer frustration.

Apple's News app, Facebook's Instant Articles and SnapChat's Discover all seek to speed up online journalism and cut back advertising, while sharing revenue with news outlets.

The New York Times has ads in Apple News, but it's looking for ways to make them less obtrusive. For instance, the Times says it's selling ads by time of day and encouraging marketers to tailor their messages accordingly, like making ads that help readers prepare for the day in the morning, but entertain them at night.

The Washington Post has been testing whether visitors with ad blockers installed would respond to being redirected to a page that asks them to pay for a subscription. And on Tuesday, the Post said all of its articles will be available through Facebook's new service for "lightning-fast" reading, sharing and commenting from Apple devices.

"The market wouldn't be robust for ad blockers if some ads weren't intrusive, creepy, hold you hostage or slow down your experience," said Jed Hartman, the Post's chief revenue officer. "Everything should be on the table: fewer ads, different types of ads, no ads."

Meanwhile, the industry group Interactive Advertising Bureau is pushing for "viewable" ads that load only when that part of the page is visible. That way, marketers don't pay for ads that aren't seen, and sites should load faster.

Randall Rothenberg, the group's CEO, called ad-blocking practices "definitely immoral and unethical," yet he acknowledged that consumers turn to blockers because they are fed up.

"Consumers are speaking and you've got to listen to them," he said.

Explore further

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User comments

Sep 23, 2015
Yes, ad blocking works very well.

I don't allow any advertising crap on my screen.

Sep 23, 2015
You mean like the long running script that delays your site when I open it?

Sep 23, 2015
"Randall Rothenberg, the group's CEO, called ad-blocking practices "definitely immoral and unethical,"

Awwww, my heart bleeds Randall.

I went on IAB's website and the first thing that confronted me soon after was a pop up. How ironic.

Here is an article by Randall:

"As abetted by for-profit technology companies, ad blocking is robbery, plain and simple -- an extortionist scheme that exploits consumer disaffection and risks distorting the economics of democratic capitalism."

Randall Rothenberg

Since when is online advertising being rammed into your face with annoying pop ups democratic?

Don't give a stuff about advertising, or the consequences of blocking it. So suck shit Randall.

Sep 23, 2015
If you want to run adds on your website that is fine with me just as long as they do not delay my browsing or lockup my computer while they are trying to load. As long as they continue to lock me up due to their refusal to buy enough bandwidth I will continue to use ad blocking. Unfortunately, good websites running ads that do not take a long time to run also are blocked. Sites like the New York Times run some sort of " Font " site that can take ages to load and return control of your computer to you. I just wonder exactly what they are searching on my computer.

Sep 23, 2015
@MR166. Today I had my Firefox browser on Linux (Ubuntu) lock up the entire PC twice while reading NY Times articles. I had to do a hard reset each time. I pay for a subscription to the Times. My ABP plug in choked. Yesterday, I started my e-mail application, Thunderbird, and it froze with a google library failing to operate. This after I added a Chrome browser to my PC a few days ago. Thunderbird has ad blockers too, but Chrome did not have one yet. I removed any software related to Google (sudo apt-get purge google*) and saw about 40 libraries and other stuff "go away". I then had to "reset" Firefox to "Factory" settings. In my mind, there are no "good sites". When an ad is simply a print ad (like a print newspaper) I have no problem. When it is goobers of Java code with tons of images and videos, that shout at me violently with sound and images, I draw the line. When they are so integral to the web page that it kills my PC, I consider the site malicious.

Sep 23, 2015
The advertisers who dump their obtrusive ads in your face are trying to make you believe there would be no free internet if their efforts to shove their ads in your face is diminished by ad blocking. This is pure hogwash because it is you paying for the actual cost through your monthly bandwidth allotment.

Video ads chew up a lot of bandwidth you are paying for & they start automatically, it's exactly the same as if you are watching an online movie. Count the numbers of flash video & their duration & you'd be more than a little surprised how much time certain websites make use of your bandwidth so you can have their so-called FREE ACCESS.

I've seen websites that automatically start video ads before you even get scrolled to that section of the page to see them, sometimes half a dozen are running at once......whew, that is suddenly a lot of your bandwidth used up & you haven't even started accessing the content for which you went there in the first place. And they're mad at us?

Sep 24, 2015
This kind of stories and people really choke me. I'm a friggin thief, immoral and unethical criminal for blocking a plague of craperoni! Like the darn thieves are them. They steal my time, my bandwidth AND most importantly my data through those invisible one pixel flash animations that drop flash cookies and spy on you every way they can. I honestly could live with a few unobtrusive ads on a site, but I draw the line when they bombard me relentlessly, I take appropriate actions. Sure that hurts some websites, because today advertising has gone overboard, but I don't care, change your tactics, don't steal my data, don't care about your ads, if I need something, I'll make a search on it myself, don't need you to suggest/tell me what I need, thank you very much...

Sep 24, 2015
In all fairness someone has to pay for the websites and ads are a very fair way to do so. If the content of a site is worthwhile then someone put a lot of effort and money into it and they should be paid for that knowledge, effort and investment. Please just don't take over my computer with over aggressive ads.

Sep 24, 2015
I've never been interested in anything I saw in an ad - ever. They are wasting their time on me. It's mutually beneficial for me to block the ads, the advertisers don't need to pay for an ad that will be ignored, and I don't have to deal with the harassment.

Even my 6 year old niece who has learned to use tablets / phones with no ad blocking whatsoever does not click on ads, or even pay attention to them. You would think it is an easy market, the flashy cutesy cartoon worlds of kids? nope, even they know what they want and how to get there.

At this point ads only exist as an obstacle and time-waster between the user and their intended actions. And that, is definitely immoral and unethical for those who continue to shove them down our throats.

Sep 24, 2015
Why does advertising work? Does it work? Someone must think so. I have never undertaken an act that would lead anyone to believe advertising works, Do other people respond to advertising? Am I fooling myself? Perhaps I am, but I cannot help but think that there are millions upon millions of dollars wasted on advertising. Flushed down the toilet.

Sep 24, 2015
Well ads and PR must work since that is one of the ways that name brands are created. Advertising is a funny thing since it's effect is cumulative. You might not want a particular product right now but if you do in the future prior ads play a role in your decision. Internet reviews of products are changing this a lot and that is why some of the review sites are covertly sponsored by companies trying to sell their products.

Sep 26, 2015
To all: I hosted a web site for a company several years ago. The ISP for the servers is paid by the server owner by the traffic load. We users pay at the receiving end for whatever is sent to us. The advert maker pays for the server expenses and profits (including the sending ISP's advert traffic load) and we pay our ISP for the received traffic load. Since we pay for both speed and Gigibytes (think cell phone) we are skinned for getting fat ads, skinned again for buying fast network to carry fat ads, and skinned once more to have bloat-web-pages pared down to useful information once received.

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