Adblock Plus defends new "whitelisting" ad platform

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Controversial ad-blocking software company Adblock Plus recently unveiled a platform that aims to make it easier for publishers to use pre-approved, nonblocked ads.

But while some in the industry claim it is counterintuitive for the ad-blocking company to sell ads itself, Adblock Plus argues the new move allows media companies to get revenue while letting consumers enjoy a better online experience free of unwanted and intrusive ads.

"What we've done is we've improved the process for advertisers," said Ben Williams, Adblock Plus spokesperson. "We're improving the ad landscape to encourage better ads, and giving users the tools to block all the ads they don't like."

Adblock Plus announced Tuesday that it would be partnering with advertising technology platform ComboTag to create its own ad tech platform. The new product allows publishers to select pre-approved or "whitelisted" ads. While Adblock Plus' users won't see most ads, "whitelisted" ads will appear if the users are on the software's default "acceptable ads" setting. (Adblock Plus users also have the option to turn off all advertising, Williams said.)

"We began as an ad blocker that blocked everything," he said. "After five years of blocking everything, we decided that wasn't a very good idea. We needed to strongly pivot away from that so we could generate revenue for publishers because publishers need money to survive."

Whitelisting certain ads is not new. What the new platform does is make the process much easier, Williams said. Instead of a publisher having to ask Adblock Plus to specifically approve their ads — which can take weeks — they can just use the new platform to select from a menu of pre-approved ads. The process is a lot faster, but it also ensures that Adblock Plus will get ad revenue.

Adblock Plus' practice of allowing certain ads has been controversial in the marketing industry. Opponents have likened whitelisting to "extortion" because some publishers have to pay the company a fee to let their ads be seen.

The company's whitelisting service charges publishers whose ads are shown 10 million or more times to Adblock Plus users 30 percent of revenue. For example, if a publisher earned $10 million through whitelisted ads that ad-blocking users see, the ad-blocking software company would collect $3 million. (Williams pointed out those million-dollar figures are nowhere near what the company makes from an individual publisher.)

Ad blocking cost publishers an estimated $22 million in 2015 because the media companies were unable to hit guarantees that a minimum number of people had seen the ad, according to the 2015 Adobe PageFair Ad Blocking Report. Approximately 198 million people use ad blockers globally.

But about 90 percent of publishers don't pay Adblock Plus to be whitelisted because they don't reach the 10 million impression threshold, Williams said.

"We only charge the entities that cost a lot of work on our end," he said.