Pando

AdBlock Plus swings at ad companies again with new Android browser

By Nathaniel Mott , written on May 20, 2015

From The News Desk

AdBlock Plus has released a new Android browser to make it easier than ever for consumers to avoid irksome advertisements -- and for its creators to give other companies a reason to pay to be on a list of sites allowed to show ads.

Google previously removed a version of AdBlock Plus' software from its Play Store. This new browser is a way for the company to make it back into the software marketplace and become even more popular with Android's users.

The browser is based on the open source foundation used by Mozilla's Firefox. Like the rest of AdBlock Plus' software, which is mostly limited to extensions for desktop Web browsers, consumers won't have to pay anything to use the tool.

That's because the company behind AdBlock Plus makes its money by working with advertising companies and taking a cut of the revenues drawn from ads shown to its users. The Financial Times reported in February that AdBlock Plus' creators have asked companies for up to a 30 percent cut of these revenues.

Consumers aren't able to block ads from AdBlock Plus' list of approved sites. This means that the people who download its tools aren't its customers, they're its unwitting hostages, as I argued when the Financial Times report came out:

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. A court in Hamburg recently decided that AdBlock Plus wasn't breaking any laws with its tool, much to the chagrin of the media companies threatened by it. But the most surprising aspect of that ruling was AdBlock Plus' response to it:

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.) Damn. And now, less than a month later, the company is releasing a browser to threaten companies' already precarious mobile advertising revenues. I have to admit, this is really quite the racket AdBlock Plus has going. Hats off to them.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]