Pando

Court rules it okay to use AdBlock Plus, despite ramifications for the media

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 22, 2015

From The News Desk

A Hamburg court has decided consumers have a right to install the ad-blocking tool AdBlock Plus, even though it makes it much more difficult for the publishers to monetize their pageviews.

The service responded to the news with a self-congratulatory blog post in which it says it wants to "reach out to other publishers and advertisers and content creators and encourage them to work with Adblock Plus rather than against us" by creating advertisements which are "actually useful and welcomed by users."

That's the ad-tech equivalent to a thug punching someone in the face, beating the assault charge, and telling the victim they know where to find him if they ever want to hire someone to protect them. (And here I thought ad-tech was just a boring, convoluted sector that makes little sense to anyone outside it.)

AdBlock Plus doesn't make any money off its users -- not directly, anyway. Instead, it approaches companies and offers to add them to a "white list" of websites whose advertisements are displayed even if the tool is installed, provided they're willing to split the revenues drawn from those advertisements.

The Financial Times reported in February that the company behind AdBlock Plus has asked some publishers for up to 30 percent of the revenues they would draw by being added to this whitelist. They have a name for that kind of thing, and it's not "disrupting" or "adding value" or the like: it's plain-old extortion.

As I wrote when the Financial Times' report was published:

It’s become a cliche to point out that anyone who doesn’t pay for a product are the products themselves, generating revenue for companies by being forced to consume ads. But it feels especially true in this case, where a company is using consumers’ desire not to see ads to extort other companies.

Put another way: AdBlock Plus was likely never built out of some sense of idealism. That’s rarely true in the tech industry. Instead, it was probably built and offered for free because its creator planned to scare companies into paying to disable the tool. The devious bit is that it would have been worse had the court ruled against AdBlock Plus. It doesn't make sense for installing software to be illegal just because it makes it harder for publishers to make money. AdBlock Plus' win is bad for the media industry; a loss would have been worse for everyone else.

Let's just hope none of the publishers wake up to find a horse head next to their pillow.