Battle of the blockers: Facebook defeats Adblock Plus workaround

12 Aug 2016

A war of attrition or a form of digital blockade running? A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has begun between Facebook and Adblock Plus

The battle for the eyeballs and clicks of internet users is on, as Facebook fights back against a workaround devised by Adblock Plus to its block on ad-blocking software .

Last year, even the powerful Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) admitted that internet advertising had gotten out of control in terms of intrusiveness, annoying design and tracking methods.

It was the advertising industry’s own fault that ad-blocking technology that drowns out annoying ads had risen to such prominence that it threatens the entire internet industry as a whole.

‘We’re disappointed that ad-blocking companies are punishing people on Facebook as these new attempts don’t just block ads but also posts from friends and Pages’

Future Human

Recent research by PageFair and Adobe found that some $21.8bn in advertising revenues was lost in 2015 due to ad blocking by annoyed consumers.

This week, Facebook, the biggest social media site on the planet with 1.6bn users and which derives its income from advertising, decided to tackle the issue by introducing new controls on ads in tandem with software that blocked ad-blocking software.

Digital blockade running

However, this gambit at blocking the pesky ad blockers was quickly met with defiance by popular ad blocker Adblock Plus, which drew on support from the open source community to come up with a workaround.

What ensued has been a game of cat and mouse, as Facebook responded with its own code to nullify Adblock Plus’ attempts at a workaround.

“This sort of back-and-forth battle between the open source ad-blocking community and circumventers (sic) has been going on since ad blocking was invented,” said Adblock Plus.

“So it is very possible that Facebook will write some code that will render the filter useless — at any time. If that happens, the ad-blocking community will likely find another workaround, then Facebook might circumvent again.”

It looks like it is going to be a war of attrition between Facebook, with its powerful user base and vast resources, and controversial players like Adblock Plus, which can rally legions of sympathetic open-source programmers to its flag.

Within hours of Adblock’s workaround, Facebook began rolling out code that meant Adblock Plus’ workaround wouldn’t work.

“We’re disappointed that ad-blocking companies are punishing people on Facebook, as these new attempts don’t just block ads but also posts from friends and Pages,” Facebook said.

“Ad blockers are a blunt instrument, which is why we’ve instead focused on building tools like ad preferences to put control in people’s hands.”

Submarine image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years