Ad-blocking: new ideas in the unwinnable war of our time

The great online war of our times, ad-blocking is an escalating battle which can never be concluded to the satisfaction of both sides, even as both are seeing increased and unexpected damage. So the only logical way forward is to take an entirely new path, one that changes the priorities and qualities of the precious data at the heart of the struggle, to re-center it back around the individual.

Certainly, the numbers involved in this battle speak for themselves – over 250 million consumers are estimated to be blocking ads on webpages they visit, in response both to being constantly tracked by advertisers and ads they don’t want slowing down their viewing experience and costing them money in bandwidth use.

But businesses are suffering too – many, such as news platforms and video games sites, are important and well-loved content sources that rely on advertising to fund their free output. Even the advertisers themselves are being affected as reach plummets – and what has been dubbed the biggest consumer boycott in history shows no signs of slowing.

Gaming, in fact, is being particularly hard hit – the fourth biggest entertainment industry in the world is feeling the brunt of adblocking more than most. It was top of the PageFair and Adobe Cost of Ad-blocking Report last year, which put global accumulated losses at $21.8bn. Among gamers, 26.5 per cent block ads – and young men, the most committed and thus core gamers, do it more than most – a double blow for the indie publishers in particular.

In an article on MCV, Venatus Media co-founder Rob Gay spelled out the stark reality of the state of the gaming industry: “It’s publishers who’re haemorrhaging revenue because gamers who ad-block are killing the thing they love. 

“…It’s a warning flag – players want free content without realising the impact of their actions, not just on publishers and advertisers but the entire games industry.”

So people using, and presumably enjoying, these services are the very ones threatening their whole existence, simply because of their unwillingness to be tracked, combined with a limited view of the bigger picture.

Of course gaming companies are experimenting with options to get around this – but that is often only possible for the bigger companies, or by those who are prepared to serve controversial whitelist ads, a process which Gay bills as “tantamount to extortion and counterintuitive to next-generation tech – taking online advertising back to the 1990s while the rest of the internet moves forward.”

No-one sheds many tears for it, but the media too is suffering from this same paradox – that those who value and inform themselves daily through the free content pushed out by news platforms are once again those threatening the funding mechanism through which whole organisations operate.

The great Emily Bell, formerly of The Guardian, gets to the heart of the matter when she says that “adblocking thrives because of a failure towards consumers” and “the right of consumers not to look at advertising has run straight into the right of companies to advertise, and publishers to make money.”

And of course it’s true, that’s what it does. But the current system is broken – completely and irredeemably broken, and starting afresh is the only hope of finding a solution that fits all.

At the heart of this great battle is data – it is the essence of each of us and we create more of it daily but are unable to control it who accesses it, while advertisers and businesses are just desperate to get hold of it in any way they can.

So let’s take a step back – how can we make this work for everyone? The obvious starting point is that each of us should be in control of our own data. Own it and use it as we wish and with who we wish, entirely on our terms.

In this Internet of Me, as we call it here at digi.me, the consumer is in control – but businesses can still benefit. It’s not a switch from business control to consumer control, but rather to a model in which both benefit.

Businesses need extensive and good quality data to innovate and continually grow – but what they get from the desperate measures of ad tracking is poor quality, thin data – often stale, often wrong. If they can go direct to consumers for their data, they will access 100 per cent accurate, rich data, which is countless times more valuable to them, and comes with user consent.

No-one needs to get data around the sides, the whole process is open and war ceases.

Platforms such as digi.me have already recognised the need to re-invent the permission circle, to put consumers at the heart of their own connected worlds. In fact, we think it’s so important that we’re supporting and sponsoring an independent industry forum aimed at helping companies do just that – do come and join the conversation aimed at finding a new and better world.

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