Response to: AdBlock Plus is paid ‘protection money’ to allow Google ads to pass filters

Yesterday I wrote that AdBlock Plus’ is paid money by large companies like Google  to allow their ads to pass filters. After posting this, I read more into it and realised that though what I said was not entirely untrue, it was grossly misleading. Unfortunately I have not been able to correct my mistakes until now and I have since received a comment on the original post from Jessica Ciesielski, a media and entertainment student interning at Eyeo, saying the following:

Hey Jake,
Thanks for writing about Adblock Plus, but your idea of the Acceptable Ads initiative is completely inaccurate. Websites can’t pay to get on the whitelist. To get on, they have to prove to us that their ads conform to our criteria. Then the biggest ones on the list do pay for the service and the value it provides them, true, but over 90 percent on the list pay nothing. And the criteria are the same for all.
Besides, for the end-user you can turn off the feature at all times — just go to your Options page. We think it’s a good compromise that will encourage better ads. If you don’t, just turn it off. And btw: not sure what you meant about net neutrality: that’s about keeping ISPs from turning the Internet into cable TV, it’s got nothing to do with advertising … and we want the net to stay neutral too!!!

So in a nutshell, I was misleading, but not entirely inaccurate. No, a company cannot simply pay to ‘whitelist’ their ad(s) by simply paying; the ad(s) they want to whitelist must conform to a set of criteria listed below and if they are a large company then they will additionally be required to pay. You can also turn off this feature in the AdBlock Plus settings.

Which ads are “acceptable”?

We currently have the following requirements:

  • Static advertisements only (no animations, sounds or similar)
  • Preferably text only, no attention-grabbing images
  • Ad placement:
    • Ads should never obscure page content (e.g. require users to click a button to close the ad before viewing the page).
    • For pages featuring a reading text ads should not be placed in the middle, where they interrupt the reading flow. However, they can be placed above the text content, below it or on the sides. The same applies to search results pages: paid search results cannot be mixed with organic results.
    • When ads are placed above the content of a main page, they should not require the user to scroll down. The available vertical space is likely to be at least 700 pixels. Advertising should not occupy more than one-third of that height. Paid search results on search pages are allowed to occupy more space, but they should never outnumber organic results.
    • When placed on the side ads should leave enough space for the main content. The available horizontal space can be expected to be at least 1000 pixels, and advertising should not occupy more than a third of that width.
  • Advertising should be clearly marked as such with the word “advertising” or its equivalent, and it should be distinguishable from page content, for instance via a border and/or different a background color.
  • Marking and placement requirements do not apply for hyperlinks with affiliate referrer IDs embedded in the content of the page. Additional criteria for hyperlinks with affiliate referrer IDs:
    • Redirects originating from the hyperlink should not present any other webpage than the destination page.
    • In texts, not more than 2 percent of the words can be hyperlinked for monetization purposes.
    • Hyperlinks should not be formatted or behave differently than other links.
    • Hyperlinks should not be misleading, in either content or placement.

These criteria are not necessarily final; we are always working at improving them. In particular, we want to require that every user’s privacy is respected (e.g. mandatory Do Not Track support). However, we are not yet in a position to enforce that requirement.

[Source]

However, to say that this has nothing to do with net neutrality would depend on how the 10% that are expected to pay for whitelisting are handled. If one of these companies refused to pay, would they be removed from the whitelist? If so, then this does pokes the net neutrality bear in my opinion. Here’s an example.

Lets say you have two big names, Company X and Company Y, they both produce non-intrusive ads and they both fall into your 10% that must pay to be on the whitelist. Company X agrees to pay to have their ads pass your filters but Company Y does not (for whatever reason).
You are now in a situation where you are offering a tiered delivery system that is based upon payments which is exactly what Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) in the USA are trying to do.

Technically speaking net neutrality is the principle that

“Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user”

But this principle should also apply to anybody who is involved in deciding what end-users can or cannot see.

I concede that this isn’t the biggest issue when it comes to net neutrality, as what is happening with ISP’s is much graver, but it certainly affects the issue and in my own honest opinion is immoral.


Jessica, if you are reading this response, I hugely appreciate your contribution and I honestly wish others would follow suit. Thank you.

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