Advert blocking software is thought to be used by something in the region of just five per cent of online users, or 150 million people of you prefer. It is, however, on the up; research conducted by Adobe and anti-adblocking campaigners PageFair suggests that ad blocking use rose by 70 per cent last year. Of the various options out there, Adblock Plus is one of the best known and most used. Which is why the company behind it, Eyeo GmbH, recently found itself on the sharp end of a court case in Germany seeking an injunction to prevent it from selling the software in that country.
A handful of publishers, including the Zeit Online newspaper, had asked the Hamburg Regional Court to rule that Adblock Plus was illegal because it interfered with the ad-based business model that those publishers rely upon. At the heart of this complaint was the Acceptable Ads mechanism which allows some adverts to be white-listed and so not get blocked, these have to meet certain non-intrusive criteria but also some large companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft pay for their ads to be white listed.
Adblock Plus users can disable this 'feature' easily enough: right click on the browser extension icon, select options, uncheck the box that says 'allow some non-intrusive advertising.' Anyway, the publishers effectively argued that this system was discriminatory and the software anti-competitive and even that it interferes with the freedom of the press.
As expected by most watchers of such things, the Regional Court kicked this case to the kerb and concluded that Adblock Plus is legal. It's not the first time that Adblock has been taken to court in Germany with no success, and I suspect it will not be the last as a number of other German media companies are waiting in the wings with lawsuits.
The company behind Adblock Plus, Eyeo, is understandably rather happy with the court decision and said in an official statement: "This is a victory for every single Internet user because it confirms each individual’s right to block annoying ads, protect their privacy and, by extension, determine his or her own Internet experience. It is living proof of the unalienable right of every user to enjoy online self-determination. Adblock Plus will continue to provide users with a tool that helps them control their Internet experience. At the same time we will endeavor to work with publishers, advertisers and content creators to encourage nonintrusive ads, discover new ways to make ads better and push forward to a more sustainable Internet ecosystem."
If, and I have no doubt that it is true, adblocking software has a negative impact on publisher revenues then maybe that revenue model is broken and needs fixing. Attacking the blocker companies is just a distraction from that inevitable business requirement. What do you think? Is the advertising revenue model a dead duck, or just one that needs pointing in a new direction? Are the adblockers a symptom or the cause? How are you generating revenue within a free Internet content model?