Acceptable Ads evolves, transparency too · 2015-12-16 15:35 by Job Plas

Adblock Plus started as an open source project and we still run it that way by posting everything we do into public forums. But there are some things we’re not allowed to say because of NDA agreements, and we get a lot of heat for that. But today we’re going tell you about some interesting things anyway, like how we make money. Here goes …

Several years ago, we started to offer Acceptable Ads as a feature in Adblock Plus as a middle way between ad blocking users who opted out of traditional ad formats, while allowing publishers and content-creators to continue to monetize with unobtrusive ads. This first version allowed users to whitelist individual websites that they wanted to support. In 2011, we published a set of guidelines that our user community deemed “acceptable,” and these acceptable ads are shown by default to our users to allow a compromise between blocking all ads, or no ads at all. Since then, we have thought about Acceptable Ads a ton and collected feedback from multiple sources, but the aim has never changed: we are trying to safeguard the user experience of Adblock Plus by only allowing nonintrusive ad formats, while enabling content-creators and others to monetize.

Today, we are announcing updates to the Acceptable Ads criteria while keeping the core values. The idea is to make Acceptable Ads easier to understand, even if you don’t have a background in ads, while providing a perfect starting point for the Acceptable Ads Committee which will take over in 2016. Finally, transparency is critical for us so we are releasing more public information on how we monetize with Acceptable Ads.

Over the last few years, we have listened to our users, partners and other important stakeholders on the web and learned that our criteria, while in line with users’ interests, could be easier to comprehend and should be more specific. New ad formats are invented and attitudes towards ads change almost daily. So we felt it was time to make a few clarifications.

But at Adblock Plus we do not do anything without involving our user community, so that is what we did — we surveyed thousands of our users in two different continents and did an eye-tracking study. We also collected info from all of the following sources (and a bunch of beer-fueled nights – we are headquartered in Germany, after all):

The evolved criteria: a foundation for the Acceptable Ads Committee

In our ongoing effort to gradually evolve the criteria, we developed a few goals we wanted to be reflected in the new criteria iteration:

Similar to when we launched the first ever criteria back in 2011, we wanted to ensure that the criteria are data-driven and accurately reflect our users’ feedback. Based on the results of our studies, we were able to work out the specifics of the criteria in terms of pixel requirements, location requirements, space requirements and ad-specific guidelines.

We hope that this iteration ensures that the criteria are easier to understand, objective, and provide partners and users with concrete and specific examples about what constitutes an Acceptable Ad. Finally, the criteria are now an even stronger foundation for the independent committee which will take over the project in 2016.

Find the criteria here.

Taking steps towards even more transparency

After organizing our first #CampDavid roundtable discussion with multiple key stakeholders of the web, we learned that there was a demand for us to become even more transparent regarding our business model. This was also confirmed by many of the one-on-one meetings we had with other industry leaders. Therefore we expanded the monetization section on our website with more information about who has to pay, and how much we charge the small amount of large companies (<10% of partnerships) who pay in addition to meeting the criteria.

We’ve already announced a second #CampDavid planned for February 2 in London to continue our open talks with industry leaders. Like #CampDavid New York, the focus here is for us to learn about how to make our Acceptable Ads Committee a success and how to (continue) to make Acceptable Ads better.

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Comment [15]

  1. Borje Borjesson · 2015-12-16 20:22 · #

    I do not want any ads at all. If Adblock accepts some ads I will start looking for a blocker that blocks ALL ads

    Reply from Job Plas:

    Please note that you can always disable Acceptable Ads in a few clicks to browse the web without any ads. Find more here: https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads#optout

  2. Favio Galvis · 2015-12-16 23:12 · #

    I do not want a Adblock software that is being paid to let an Ad go thru, i just get another adblocker.

    The software its a simple lie.

    Reply from Job Plas:

    Please note that you can always disable Acceptable Ads in a few clicks to browse the web without any ads. Find more here: https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads#optout

  3. Henrik · 2015-12-20 17:48 · #

    The Acceptable Ads guidelines leaves out a few key areas which would be important if I should allow those kind of ads
    1) Tracking and privacy
    2) Performance as in content size and response time of serving the ads

    If Acceptable Ads allows tracking or degrades performance they wont be accepted on my computer and I will find a different ad blocker.

    I know I can disable the Acceptable Ads but if the format allows for tracking then I will take no part in it or use products that are in favour of tracking

    Reply from Job Plas:

    Thanks for your reply Henrik.

    For 1) Tracking and Privacy:

    You can configure Adblock Plus in such a way that trackers are blocked. Enable EasyPrivacy here: https://adblockplus.org/en/features#tracking

    For 2) Performance as in content size and response time of serving the ads:

    I agree that this ideally should be part of the criteria. Currently, we do not have the manpower and/or technical capabilities to enforce such performance-related criteria. I sincerely hope this will be part of our criteria in the future.

  4. JD · 2015-12-20 18:13 · #

    While annoyance is an issue with many ads, the major problem is the user tracking that is going on with the ads servers.

    You could argue that it is already done by facebook/google/… widgets/javascript that people put on all their sites… it also “phones home”. That is why I block them too (as much as possible) and disabled “Send Referrer” a long time ago.

    Ignoring the “do not track” option, fingerprinting our browsers, using everlasting cookies… There is sadly no alternative to blocking… since they lost our trust a long time ago.

  5. Jack · 2015-12-20 18:35 · #

    Adblock origin blocks ads without a caveat for it’s favorite donors. I think I’ll use that instead. So long and thanks for all the fish.

  6. Ed Fry · 2015-12-20 19:05 · #

    I would like to see something in the policy regarding Malvertising and what happens to your acceptable ads status if your ad server has a frequent history of spreading infections.

    The main reason I (any everybody’s PC I fix) use Adblock plus, and disable acceptable ads is because many ad firms on that list (Yahoo for example) have had major malvertising issues this past year and frankly I can’t trust them to clean up their act. I shouldn’t need to have to train some grandma or grandpa on what links to click on or not on a search site, or flat out tell them to don’t download or install anything because they like using a search engine to search for games to download.

    I know that the Ads policy explicitly blocks rich media ads, but with static links that redirect to malware sites becoming more common, (especially search Ads. Use Yahoo and search for an open source app like VLC media player or openoffice. First ads you almost always get is drive by downloader sites.) and Javascript and HTML5 moving up as the malware redirect of choice, there should be something in the policy that blacklists a firm for a set period of time if a malvertising attack originates from their server and increases in severity as more attacks take place.

    Reply from Job Plas:

    Hi Ed Fry,

    Thanks for your great comment, and I like your idea. We have explicitly discussed malvertising in relation to Acceptable Ads and the Acceptable Ad Committee (read more: https://adblockplus.org/blog/from-the-manifesto-to-the-acceptable-ads-board). When discussing the Committee with potential stakeholders, this issue came up quite a few times. Therefore, I am certain that in the mid-term, this would be reflected in the criteria.

    Personally, I like your idea of a temporary block if malvertising is found. But, it would be up to the Committee how to exactly implement this.

  7. Zephyron · 2015-12-21 04:08 · #

    We need another aspect of Acceptable ads which deals specifically with tracking and/or retargeting. These are practices which are unethical and largely hidden from the eyes of the end-user.

    With the agreement to white list Criteo recently as part of the “acceptable ads” platform, I’m going to argue that this is getting a little bit out of control.

    When I think AdBlock Plus needs is a simple “Tracking? Yes / No?” switch in the control panel which gives the user more transparent control over whether they’ll be followed around all over the web, via out what Doc Searles refers to as “surveillance capitalism”. That aspect of online advertising is completely off the rails and totally out of control, and like the rest of the online ad industry, it cannot be reformed by hoping and praying or asking nicely. See the dismal failure of “do not track” from 2007 to 2012 for further details.

    If AdBlock Plus can bring this about and make it happen, great. Otherwise it’s off to ublock we go.

    Reply from Job Plas:

    Hi Zephyron,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Adblock Plus can be used to easily opt-in to additional tracking protection through the EasyPrivacy blocking list. Having that said, I fully agree that we need to provide easier ways in our UI for users to identify and enable this feature. When we will do the next iteration of our settings UI, this will definitely be part of it.

  8. Paul · 2015-12-21 16:12 · #

    Where can I find some sites which have already adopted this standard? I’d like to evaluate it, but so far I’m still seeing zero ads everywhere I go, even with the feature enabled. So I can’t tell if it works for me or not.

    Reply from Job Plas:

    Hi Paul,

    You can find the whitelist here: https://easylist-downloads.adblockplus.org/exceptionrules.txt

    There should be plenty of websites there for you to try!

  9. James Edward Lewis II · 2015-12-25 05:29 · #

    Go here to see discussion about what advertisers or sites are considered acceptable: https://adblockplus.org/forum/viewforum.php?f=17

    As the FAQ page says, here you can find the whitelist itself: https://easylist-downloads.adblockplus.org/exceptionrules.txt

  10. Pico · 2015-12-31 21:59 · #

    Be careful, the website owners will replace all occurrences of uBlock to AdBlock in the comments !!!!

    Reply from Job Plas:

    No, we would not do such a thing.

  11. Yashodhan · 2016-01-04 14:49 · #

    Being a content publisher, it’s really painful to see such things. Whenever I post new interesting content it makes me think twice to publish it or not (as returns are not guaranteed)..

    Why don’t people understand that if you want good service you have to pay for it, and if you are not paying for it then someone (advertisers) is paying for it on your behalf.

    If I won’t get returns then probably I will publish average of 50% less content (and probably every content publisher)..!!

  12. BBAxter · 2016-01-05 15:56 · #

    I understand that Acceptable Ads are an option, but are they an option right there on the main icon (the quick menu) or somewhere else where people have to dig into? Most people are not that savvy to dig into the options menu, it should be right there under the Adblock Plus icon as a quick choice. Also, being another who chose ABP because i want all ads, not some, blocked – I worry about this “concession”. I don’t see it as being something that is going to satisfy websites who all of a sudden in 2015, after years of profitability “Need” users to drop adblocking in order to survive. This matter needs to be looked into deeper, as I have been seeing not just pleas to disable my security, but websites ASKING FOR MONEY in exchange for me keeping my safety (today I saw that at pastebin,org – who knew they were selling people out in the background as I never recall seeing ads. Some websites want you to disable your security not to show you ads, but so they can subject you to background processes (like trackers). Ill say this. I can put up with a static ad. I can put up with almost any VISIBLE ad, but these background processes will NEVER be “Acceptable” and should be legally classified as invasion of privacy, trojans, and security holes that can be utilized by hackers. These companies do not care about VISIBLE ads – they want adblockers turned off so they can data-mine us and sell our personal info behind our backs. They are under pressure by deep pocketed infor brokers who are getting desperate and greedier. I hope organizations like ABP, with the help of the community can put stop gap to this craziness before we all return to the pop-up city of the 90s.

  13. Sam · 2016-01-06 15:58 · #

    Strap in this is a long one-

    Working in the digital industry I am always torn about ads because I both resent them but their existence pays my bills.

    Additionally I see their necessity to provide users with free things that they want; advertising and/or sponsorships are basically what pays for just about all things in life that users themselves are not completely financing be it media or sports, etc. With the exception of people who are saying that there are harmful ads (not just annoying ones) whose concerns are definitely being addressed, I feel like most people who cannot acknowledge the importance of advertising are being entitled and unappreciative of where wonderful things come from. Also if someone is really worried about their data being collected, the internet is probably not a good resource for your life as it is essentially unavoidable.

    This is why I really appreciate the concept of what Acceptable Ads are doing because I want to support the publishers but at the same time I do not want to resent them and their advertisers so I think this is definitely a way to do that.

    That said, I am curious if there is any data that you guys could provide on how many users have changed their settings to block ALL ads?

    I think it would be interesting to see how many people fall into a similar “bucket” as myself. Sure some people will be too lazy to change the setting back but if they really hated the experience I feel like a person would probably do it quicker than finding a different publisher with a better “ad UX” or getting a new AdBlocker entirely.

    Interestingly enough, I have actually enjoyed having some ads once again become present in my web-experience as they add a certain vibrancy (for lack of better term I haven’t thought of) and can contrast this with my mobile experience that does not have any blocker and can be very frustrating.

    Also are their video units that are “Acceptable”?

    I understand that pre-roll units slow down loading time, are annoying (although midrolls bug me MUCH more), use up bandwidth, etc, but given all I have said about realizing costs, it is much more expensive to create and serve video content so is there something that will yield a higher cost to support video content?
    Also theoretically it keeps someone on a page longer which means a publisher can serve fewer ads <—-this is conjecture.

    Lastly, although I admittedly have not read everything on the topic, I have not seen anything on the “Acceptable Ads” initiatives and the IAB. I feel like these two things naturally are intertwined so is there anything behind the scenes with y’all?

    Kudos on allowing me a way to sleep at night :)

  14. Alan Dean Foster · 2016-01-13 17:23 · #

    Want to know why I removed the adblockplus symbol from my control bar? Because the “# of ads blocked” number flares in bright red and is more distracting than the ads that get blocked.

    Mute the color, or at least provide a way to allow users to do so.

  15. kw · 2016-01-21 12:13 · #

    Noticed today that yet another popular site , UK Daily Telegraph, is foisting an unremoveable notice on its readers that they are using Ad-blocker, so please remove it. There are many sites doing this now, which defeats Ab-Blocker. Is it possible to develop an Ad Blocker which the site cannot obstruct in this way? They don’t gain a client – I simply stop using the site and go to one of the many others that do no carry out this sort of greedy obstructionism

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