Adblock Plus: taking ads off the internet

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By Thomas Scott

Browser add-on removes online ads, but might just be adding a few as well

When surfing the Internet, users are often inundated with annoying ads that can be detrimental to their online experience.

Adblock Plus stands out as a service that allows users to filter through the static as a web browser that lets its users block ads.

According to their website, “Adblock Plus itself has no functionality, in the sense that it does not block anything until it is ‘told’ what to do by its filter lists. These filter lists are essentially an extensive set of rules, which tell Adblock Plus which elements of websites to block.”

Recently, revelations have showed that the browser extension’s whitelisting practices may not be as benevolent as they seem.

Adblock Plus maintains a whitelist, which is a roster of what its proprietors believe are more discreet advertisements.

On Oct. 4, Adblock Plus’s Public Relations manager Ben Williams reached out to Twitter in a blog post saying Adblock Plus would “like to partner with [them] to engineer acceptable, non-intrusive advertising that would conform to [Adblock Plus’s] guidelines and make it to [their] whitelist.”

The question that is being asked by many industry insiders is whether this post has commercial ramifications for Adblock Plus which occasionally charges advertisers in order to allow its users to view their ads.

Back in July, it was revealed that Google had paid Adblock Plus to do the same thing.

Another blog post by Williams elucidates the effect and reach of the policy by providing the number of requests for whitelisting in the “first-ever release of statistics on the Acceptable Ads initiative.”

According to Williams, there have been “777 whitelist applicants” since the initiative’s inception with “over 50 percent rejected because ads“ had been deemed ”not acceptable.”

Willaims continues, claiming that Adblock Plus “accepted only 9.5 percent of applicants.”

He claims that of 148 whitelist proposals, more than 90 percent were for free.

Advertising is a vital part of most websites’ business models.

Yet the goal of Adblock Plus may in fact conflict with that goal by making those ads as inconspicuous as possible. Andrew Leonard of Salon pointed out that, “if advertising is easy to ignore, it doesn’t work.”

Adblock Plus’s whitelisting policy actually benefits the little man by default.

According to Leonard, on “most small websites, blogs or news sites, the ‘acceptable’ ads are ‘whitelisted’ by default. That means, they’ll go right through. They won’t be blocked.”

It is the larger websites that are overwhelmingly affected by Adblock Plus’s policy and bear the brunt of the costs in regard to maintaining Adblock Plus.

They must pay Adblock Plus in order to let advertisements that the Adblock Plus community views as unobtrusive through their filter.

Adblock Plus has several criteria for what it believes are “acceptable ads.”

For example, the Adblock Plus community only permits static advertisements, which means “no animations, sounds or similar.”

Ads should also contain text only and should be devoid of “attention-grabbing images.”

Moreover, advertisements “should never obscure page content” or “interrupt the reading flow” of text articles by being placed in the middle of the page.

Adblock Plus’s acceptable ads policy also asserts that the “same applies to search results pages” in that “paid search results cannot be mixed with organic results.”

Adblock Plus also has a specific size limitation for ads placed above content.

The policy assumes that “available vertical space is likely to be at least 700 pixels” and advertisements should be limited to no “more than one-third of that height.”

The goal of this restriction is to ensure that ads do “not require the user to scroll down.”

The open-source community also maintains similar specifications for side ads.

Adblock also mandates that ads “should be clearly marked as such with the word ‘advertising’ … and it should be distinguishable from page content.”

Adblock Plus has additional requirements for “criteria for hyperlinks with affiliate referrer IDs.”

Adblock Plus claims that these stipulations “are not necessarily final.”

In regards to privacy, Adblock Plus says that it “want[s] to require that every user’s privacy is respected” through a Do Not Track Policy which would prevent users from being monitored by sites that they have not visited, but it is ”not yet in a position to enforce that requirement.“

Adblock Plus has now blocked the bulk of Facebook ads as well through a new service which can be found at facebook.adblockplus.me.

This tool allows Facebook users to rid themselves of what Adblock Plus’ Sven Hartz refers to as “unneeded, potentially unwanted elements that insert themselves automatically into your news feed and sidebar.”

More information on Adblock Plus and the free services it provides, as well as why it does it, can be found online at

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