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Publishers Are Banding Together to Outwit Ad Blockers

Ad blockers continue to stifle ad revenue for publishers, who are in turn getting increasingly creative – and legally involved – in finding a solution.

The problem with ad blockers, besides the obvious, is that there are no consequences for using them. Consumers get all the content and none of the ads.
But all that could be changing.
On May 26, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) took its fight against ad blocking to the Federal Trade Commission and filed a complaint and request for investigation. NAA is alleging that some ad blocking technologies violate FTC rules that are designed to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive trade practices.
Meanwhile, publishers are beginning to take their concerns directly to consumers. This summer, 90 percent of Sweden’s publishers are uniting in a plan to prevent anyone using an ad blocker from seeing their content for the entire month of August.
French publishers tried this experiment in March. Readers with ad blockers encountered this message, “Display problem on our site? It’s probably your ad blocker. Disable it to continue reading.”
In response, 20 percent of Le Figaro Media readers using ad blockers whitelisted the site (unblocking the ads) and 5 percent bought a premium subscription without ads.
The New York Times began using a similar tactic in March. Readers with ad blockers are being served this message: “The best things aren’t free. You currently have an ad blocker installed. Advertising helps us fund our journalism. To continue to enjoy the Times, please support us in one of the following ways.” Readers are then asked to subscribe or whitelist the site.
Understanding how ad blockers work could help content creators and publishers outwit blockers. David Levine, chief technology officer of Streamwize, creators of AdTonIQ, technology that claims to be able to serve ads to ad block users, wrote a white paper explaining how ad blockers work.
Ad blockers use either URLs or CSS selectors to block ads. For instance, they use URLs to prevent browsers from loading out-of-line content. Since advertising content is often embedded, ad blockers also need to be able to target nested content. Ad blockers use CSS selectors to identify nested content that should be blocked.
According to Levine, publishers could detect ad blockers by embedding a small JavaScript in their web page that uses a bait-and-trap pattern. The code puts out “bait” by creating an invisible ad unit somewhere on the page after it loads. Publishers can determine whether the ad blocker has taken the bait by determining whether the ad unit has become hidden.

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