Adblock Plus and (a little) more

Adblock Plus user survey results [Part 3] · 2011-12-09 15:41 by Wladimir Palant

Previous parts were: survey set-up, general questions, Adblock Plus functionality. Now we want to look at how people perceive the role of Adblock Plus on the web. This was the last page of the survey.

Which of the following statements can you agree to?

How people perceive Adblock Plus

1559 out of 1584 survey participants answered this question. As expected, most people disagree that blocking ads is wrong. What was far less expected is the extremely low percentage of people who would be willing to pay for ad-free content. So much about suggestions to implement micro-payments in Adblock Plus, this isn’t going to work then. We see that some people actually use “Disable on site” feature to support websites (45% if you count those who have doubts about this approach). It is also notable that allowing some ads almost gets the highest level of agreement out of all questions (only “I don’t click any ads so this isn’t my problem” has more people agree to it).

For you, which requirements would be sufficient to allow ads?

Requirements for allowing ads

I had to remove 162 answers for this question because of a contradiction — these people checked “I will always block ads” but also other options as well (probably all of them). This left us with 1380 valid replies. As expected, removing common annoyances came out distant first. Privacy and resource usage share the second place, as to relevant content — people seem to care less about that. Only 21% of the respondents replied that they will block ads no matter what.

112 people used the “Other” field that was also provided. Looking through the list and leaving out options already provided in the survey, the dominant request appears to be a size limitation for the ads (e.g. I some people suggest 20% of the page size and being clearly marked as an ad). Then I see people asking for better ad content and security. Finally some people will only allow ads on their favorite websites.

[To be continued…]


Comment [9]

  1. Ryan Farmer · 2011-12-11 06:49 · #

    I’ve already responded about the acceptable ads nonsense on my blog.

    In short, I smell a rat. There’s no way you weren’t paid well to do this. I think it’s kind of sneaky that it will sail over most users heads what you’ve done and they’ll just passively accept what is going on as Google profiles them (even if they don’t use Google). (Among others)

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Hi Ryan,

    you seem to be new to this blog. I’ve always explained that Adblock Plus is a way to push back on advertisers – make them return to advertising methods that respect the users. Now it was also always painfully obvious that in its current form Adblock Plus fails to achieve this goal. A bunch of different approaches have been discussed over the years and so far this is the only one with a chance to succeed.

    No, we don’t get any money from Google. No, we didn’t even talk to anybody from Google when implementing this feature. Yes, we did think about Google Ads – because unblocking Google Ads is the most common request we get and most people lack the expertise to unblock them while leaving everything else blocked. No, we didn’t unblock Google Ads (they fail the strict requirements we’ve set), only Google’s search ads on one specific website.

    PS: Do you really need five comments to explain your thoughts?

  2. None · 2011-12-11 12:45 · #

    Nice rant but in your blog post you neglect many facts, for example:
    1) Most users are aware that ads are important to support websites not big enough to generate revenues with paywalls.
    2) They install Adblock Plus to eliminate annoyances and secure their privacy and safety (only 21% aren’t willing to accept non-intrusive ads).
    3) ABP is there to make the internet better, destroying the only revenue stream for the websites we love is not helping to achieve this goal. Creating an incentive for advertisers to stop annoying people is.

  3. Ryan Farmer · 2011-12-11 18:28 · #

    I never buy anything from ads.

    I do not want to see ads.

    I don’t want something that claims to block ads opting me into ads that frequently lead to phishing scams and malware, like Google adwords.

    Adblock Plus has just done this.

    Google is probably paying to unblock itself. It’s the only possible explanation for this clearly anti-user malicious “feature”.

    This is just as bad as when NoScript attacked Adblock Plus and started whitelisting sites that the user had blocked, only this time, Adblock Plus is doing it to the user themselves.

  4. Ryan Farmer · 2011-12-11 18:30 · #

    Put it this way. If I wanted to see ads, then they wouldn’t have block rules that I put there to get rid of them, would they?

    It’s a shame to see that Google’s money can corrupt free software into serving them. (Even at the expense of competitors that don’t have Google’s money to give to Wladimir Palant).

  5. Ryan Farmer · 2011-12-11 18:52 · #

    The only criteria I see from looking at the default whitelist that is imposed barely announced on the user is:

    Google > $$$$$$$$ > Wladimir Palant

    (there’s a few others, but he went through pains to make sure nothing from them was blocked)

    At it’s best, even if they’re not bribing Wladimir Palant, the system is entirely arbitrary. It relies entirely on Wladimir Palant to decide what ads are offensive, tasteless, obscene, or annoying.

    It would be a perfect gauge of how acceptable the ad is to Wladimir Palant.

  6. Ryan Farmer · 2011-12-11 19:00 · #

    This reminds me of an article by an economist critical of the UN Human Development Index.

    Where a probably well-intentioned system to gauge the level of progress in each country was designed, but it ended up being so flawed that it was more of a scale of how similar your country is to Scandinavia.

    What one person considers progress may not be the same as what is generally accepted as progress.

    What Wladimir Palant calls an offensive, tasteless, obscene, or annoying advertisement is probably not what a lot of people would.

    Personally, I find Google’s results page, even without considering the ads are frequently phishing attacks and Windows malware, so cluttered that it is utterly useless. Why is Palant saying that it’s acceptable to cover 2/3rds of a search engine in paid links to phishing and Windows malware?

    Where can you go from there? Are pop under ads on sites that install malicious software also acceptable? How about if they offered you $1,000 to unblock them? $5,000? $10,000? :)

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    No, pop-unders are not acceptable and never will be. Animations are not and never will be. But if you are willing to seriously discuss refinements to the current criteria – our forum is open for everybody.

  7. Ryan Farmer · 2011-12-13 04:50 · #

    Thanks for replying.

    Can you explain how you can prove that ad sites are adhering to their own stated conduct policies on targeting and spying on users?

    What is your policy on things like Google and Facebook setting things like web bugs and spyware scripts on unrelated sites. Not ads, not even content. Should this be allowed? Once you’ve given them a pass to set ads, what stops them from using bugs and spyware scripts on third party sites?

    Also, I’d like to explain my view of ad blocking. I view ad blocking as a way of opting out of advertisements that pitch things I won’t buy and spy on me, annoy me, and make sites less readable and accessible to me. Pretty much all of them fall into my classification as too burdensome to deal with. Some sites are completely over the top. without ad blocking loads skyscraper Microsoft ads in Flash. If even one of them slips past, I consider it a flaw in the blocking rules I’ve set.

    What is your opinion of sites loading ads as full length videos on unrelated sites? Do you find what Brightcove does acceptable? Is that why you don’t block them?

    For an example, see a page like this one,

    The video player to the right has nothing to do with the site, is one giant ad, and loads a full length video, which takes a lot of bandwidth. No ad filters offered to adblock plus users seems to kill it. Is this something that all the filters could be missing or do you consider this acceptable?

    I don’t want to phrase this as GET OFF MY LAWN, but that’s precisely how I feel about it. Your software calling itself Adblock Plus then sneaking back in later and opening the floodgates is dishonest behavior for any reason you are doing it. Even if it is well intentioned. I still doubt you can satisfy my first question though.

    What if the next version of Firefox decided to betray the concepts that they claim it is there to uphold? The reason the user downloaded it in the first place? What if Mozilla decided to make it proprietary, add spyware like Internet Explorer comes with, and they decided to throw in the bonus of unilaterally extending the DOM like Microsoft still does? Would the user feel betrayed that Mozilla did a 180? Sure. Why would they be mad? Because they switched to Firefox to get away from the browser that behaves like that in the first place.

    Changing the rules on people and worse, flying under the radar while doing it an opting everyone into your new unacceptable ads “feature” will correctly lead them to believe you have wronged them.

    Going back a few years, I see you’ve mentioned in several interviews that Adblock Plus is too small for any sites to care about much. You’ve also said (to the effect of) they don’t make money off ads and should quit their bitching.

    Why only now do you change your mind and think that a few percent of web users who decided they aren’t interested in buying crap and being spied on will influence the behavior of a bunch of unethical scumbags like the ones at Google?


    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Given that we don’t have any DNT requirement yet – that is something I prefer to worry about later. As I mentioned a number of times, we currently recommend that people who are sensitive about their privacy (and are subscribed to privacy protection filter lists) turn this feature off. In fact, if we recognize a privacy protection list we won’t even turn this feature on.

    I don’t maintain any filter lists. Concerning the ad you mention (and that I don’t see, seems to be US-only) – did you try to report it? Most filter lists have their forums, if you are lazy you can also use the issue reporter (simpler to send off a report but not guaranteed to get you a response). The filter lists have their own rules for what is considered an advertisement and I don’t define these rules.

    Five years back Adblock Plus indeed was too small. At least three years ago I learned that it no longer is and is indeed very problematic for some web sites (typically the ones with technically advanced visitors). We have been discussing ways to solve the problem on this site at least since then – killing websites isn’t the goal, making them use good advertising practices is. So far the approach implemented now is the only one with the potential to work out.

  8. Shaun · 2011-12-15 05:21 · #

    Hi Wladimir, I see where you’re going with this and with the influence the Adblock Plus has, you have a good chance of cleaning up the toxic mess that is internet advertising.

    Just please don’t end up chasing the pot of gold, because I think you know just how lucrative the ad biz can be.

    A single ‘betrayal’ by a major ad company causing a single violating ad to slip through will do permanent damage to the reputation of Adblock Plus. However, I appreciate your willingness to slowly explain things to ordinary users and even users who would rather spend time attacking and questioning you than to join in the humble clean-up efforts.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Shaun, if I were interested in the fast money – there are easier ways to earn it when you have 20 million users. Personally, I don’t need more money than necessary to make the project sustainable.

    We do need good control mechanisms of course. Adding a filter list in Adblock Plus 2.0 was only the first step, now we have to make sure that our requirements are actually followed. In particular, some improvements to the Issue Reporter should be possible to allow users report issues with “acceptable ads” effectively.

  9. David Russell · 2011-12-15 12:19 · #

    Changing settings on the user’s computer without the user’s consent (especially where that setting change lessens the user’s privacy) is unethical at best. If the concern was that nobody would turn this feature on, then the update screen should ask the user ‘do you want to unblock non-intrusive ads?’

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    We deliver Adblock Plus with usable default settings – that’s something different. We tried the “don’t do anything until the user agrees” approach before and got tons of support requests because people simply didn’t add a filter subscription and complained later. Which is why Adblock Plus 2.0 changes to a different approach – it chooses a usable configuration by default (filter subscription and non-intrusive ads) and makes sure that the user knows what has been configured and can easily change the configuration. As you can see from this survey, switching non-intrusive ads on by default makes sense.

    As to privacy: we recommend that people who are concerned about privacy don’t use this feature (at least as long as we cannot enforce DNT support). These people can be easily recognized automatically (they are subscribed to EasyPrivacy or a similar subscription) and the default for them is “no non-intrusive ads”.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Btw, please don’t use blog comments for something that isn’t related the the topic of the blog posts. As stated above the comment form I will usually remove such comments.

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