On the other hand, companies like Dublin-based PageFair develop tech to block the ad blockers. Company CEO Sean Blanchfield said his product’s solution is to encrypt the ad call so that the phrases ad-block software is looking for (DoubleClick, AppNexus, Page-Ad, etc.) are not identified.
Similarly, Secret Media, founded last year, provides solutions that encrypt phrases that trigger ad blockers, or that bounce between servers to avoid ad-block detection, said company CEO and co-founder Frederic Montagnon.
But these are risky solutions.
Montagnon pointed out that, like Wikipedia, Adblock Plus (ABP), the world’s largest ad-blocking provider, has “a small army” of users – a disproportionate number of them fluent coders – who update the tools the service needs.
EasyList, for instance, is an open-source database that filters publishers based on the quality of their ads and their response to ad blocking. EasyList is an integral part of ABP’s solution, but is maintained by people who aren’t affiliated with the company besides being in the beta testing community.
The result, according to Blanchfield, is a heavily imbalanced relationship.
“A website has to abide having something like this imposed on them,” he said, “because you might think ‘why don’t they just block it?’ Which to a degree they can, but the ABP community can then go nuclear and block all scripting on your site.”
Having established the legal right to block ads, companies like ABP are in the same position as a poker player holding a straight flush: When push comes to shove, they’re going to win.
When asked directly about ABP deploying its user community as a means to do material harm to publishers that work around ad blocking, ABP manager Ben Williams responded in an email that “when a publisher chooses anti-user tech that serves ads to those who have chosen to block them, users complain. So the filter list moderators try to ‘uncircumvent’ the tech that is actively circumventing the filter list.”
Barokas doesn’t see those technology workarounds as valid long-term options. Publishers will be bound by ad blockers’ terms until they establish new ones with their readers – as is perhaps best exemplified by the unwillingness of almost any publisher to speak publicly about its anti-ad-blocking solution.
“Once we can establish that these are advertising experiences or pieces of content that the reader has chosen, and actually say, ‘This has been requested,’ then the ad blockers are in the wrong,” said Barokas. “That may not change the legal status of ad blockers, but I think publishers need to establish a moral consumer high ground, and then move forward.”