Facebook Signals Strong Anti-Ad Block Position

facebookunderthumbimgFacebook introduced a page-loading protocol on Tuesday that makes its ads almost indistinguishable from Facebook content, and thus prevents ad blockers from working on its site.

Andrew Bosworth, the social media company’s VP of ads and business platform, said the change forces ad blockers to choose between not blocking ads or severely undermining the user experience. While ad blockers could parse the JavaScript to identify ads and keep them from rendering, it would introduce significant site latency.

Bosworth insisted the change is “a matter of principle” rather than Facebook trying to increase inventory. (During its latest quarterly, Facebook warned that it was running out of space to show ads.)

Other industry insiders agreed.

“I think it might be more symbolic than anything,” said Mitch Weinstein, IPG Mediabrands’ senior VP of advertising operations.

The move only applies to desktop, which is a fraction of Facebook’s revenue and audience. And only some desktop ads will be blocked. Paid media opportunities like sponsored posts in Facebook’s news feed were already unaffected.

“It makes me speculate about what they actually want to accomplish,” said Ben Williams, operations manager at Adblock Plus (ABP), the world’s largest app and browser ad blocker.

Unlike Google, which pays for whitelisting with ABP’s Acceptable Ads initiative, Bosworth insists Facebook has never and will never cede so much as a cent for the right to serve ads.

But this steadfastness can put marketers in a bind.

“It’s a tough thing to serve ads to people who proactively made a choice to use an ad blocker,” said Weinstein. He said he would caution IPG clients to avoid being visible during Facebook’s desktop rollout of this practice, since people who don’t want to see ads and are accustomed to not seeing ads react negatively to brand infiltration.

And Facebook’s solution might only be temporary. Williams expects the open-source community to eventually find and distribute a workaround – part of the cat-and-mouse game between ad blockers and publishers.

While Bosworth acknowledged ad blockers could build workarounds, he said those Facebook users will have a slower, lower-quality experience.

“It will show how little [ad block] services actually care about user experience online,” said Bosworth.


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