There is almost palpable fear from the online publishing community regarding the astronomical rise in the adoption of adblocking by Internet users understandable fed up with aggressive online advertising.
Latest reports show a growth of 41 percent worldwide in the use of adblock, especially within the 18-29 demographic. This surely informs the reason why online publishers are starting to go into full panic mode, employing various tactics such as blocking viewers with adblock from viewing their content, to their latest move – petitioning the FTC to wade into the matter.
The Newspaper Association of America (NAA), an industry group representing 2000 newspapers, filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the consumer watchdog to investigate adblocker companies’ “deceptive” and “unlawful” practices.
According to the complaint, adblocker companies mislead consumers by positioning their products as a way to block “bad ads” based on opaque rules for acceptable ads, when in fact adblocker companies like Adblock Plus allow some advertisements to be displayed if the advertiser pays Adblock Plus a fee.
They asked the Commission to investigate the following “deceptive” trade practices:
- The use of “paid whitelisting” by Adblock Plus.
“Paid whitelisting” is a practice under which large companies are required to
make payments to ad-blockers to be placed on a “whitelist” that ensures
that their advertising will reach consumers.
- Substitution of ad-blockers’ own advertising for blocked ads,
false claims that subscription services prevent publisher harm,
and the evasion of metered subscription systems. These three
areas either deceive consumers or constitute unfair competition. First, ad
substitution constitutes a deceptive trade practice by misleading
consumers into believing that publishers have consented to the
substitution of their own advertising for new ads sold by ad-blocking
Ad-blocking companies argue that consumers should use their software to “opt out” of the online advertising ecosystem, either because of concerns with privacy or the data use represented by digital advertising.
But as a review of the practices of adblocking companies discloses, consumers do not “opt out” of an ecosystem by using adblockers, claimed NAA. Instead, they “opt in” to a deceptive new environment that does not adequately disclose its practices to consumers.
The NAA urged the Commission to undertake an investigation of these practices to determine whether they constitute deceptive trade practices or unfair methods of competition in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, and to impose appropriate remedies.