Ad block or blackmailing?

Adblock Plus is an interesting product.

The free browser extension allows users to block virtually all ads; in order to speed up their browsing, reduce tracking and clear-up web pages (of ads).

Now the interesting thing is that the company operates a blackmail type business model. If you are a big site that relies heavily on advertising you can pay them a fee to be on their “white list”.

Being on their white list means that even when users have installed the Adblock extension those on the white list get through.

Such is the fear of Adblock that even Google, which relies on ads for more than 90% of revenue, has paid to be whitelisted.

It is estimated that ad-blocking cost Google $887 million in lost revenue in 2012 alone. So it is reasonable to assume that Google paid (and continues to pay) a significant amount to be on the whitelist.

Of course there are layers of irony here – Google effectively controls Internet search and so can charge what it wants through its opaque ad bidding process. However, a tiny company from Germany can hold them to ransom by providing a free product to millions of Internet users. A product which is available free for both Google Chrome and Firefox – and is downloaded 50,000 times a day onto Google’s own free browser.

However, the real losers are the websites that rely upon ad revenue to make money. If they are blocked and cannot pay the ransom to be on the whitelist they could face an uncertain future.

Many people loath Internet ads, some with good reason, but ads keep many websites free. They also allow sites to invest time and money in creating large amounts of quality content.

The alternative is an Internet of subscriptions, pay-walls and micro-transactions, or an Internet of trashy low-quality content, written solely for search engine ranking purposes.

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