Ad-blocking hits the mainstream in the UK

Nearly 15 million people in the UK will be using ad-blocking technology by 2017 according to the first ever estimate from eMarketer.

By the end of next year, it expects 27% of internet users, or 14.7 million people, will be choosing to stop digital ads on at least one of their devices, largely in response to evermore intrusive tracking ads that take personal data without permission and also create slow, heavy pages that cannibalise bandwidth and add to page load times.

The report estimates that of the 10.9 million people who currently block ads, the vast majority (90.2%) do so on a desktop or laptop PC, with about 28% blocking ads on smartphones, although there is overlap as some block on multiple devices. Mobile ad blocking is still lagging behind, as the tech is still catching up and ad blocking doesn’t fully work within apps, where most mobile users spend their time.

eMarketer senior analyst Bill Fisher said: “There’s no doubting that ad blocking is now a very real issue for advertisers. Next year, over a quarter of the people they’re trying to reach will be wilfully making themselves unreachable.

“The good news is that numbers like this have forced those within the industry to think long and hard about what it is that they need to do better in order that this practice doesn’t become an epidemic.”

The “greatest consumer boycott in history”, as it has been dubbed, already sees more than 250,000 million users of ad-blocking tech worldwide, with numbers increasing fast.

And while a failure of advertising to understand what their readers do – or don’t – want has contributed heavily, the effects are far-reaching.

Industries and models that rely on advertising to fund their content and make it available for free – including video games and newspapers – find their very funding model under threat as part of this anger aimed at advertising that tracks us and sells on our data.

So what’s the way forward? Ad blocking has always been with us, in the sense that if we didn’t want to read an ad in a paper we simply skipped over it and on to the next news item we were interested in. Ad-blocking isn’t designed to punish the publishers, but the ads that don’t respect our privacy – so how can we apply this analogue blocking to the digital age, and pack a punch where it needs to go without hurting those who are largely innocent parties?

Handily, work is underway at the Internet Identity Workshop in Mountain View on just that, at sessions run by internet legend and our advisor, Doc Searls, and attended by our founder and chairman Julian Ranger and our EVP North America Jim Pasquale.

As Doc said ahead of the session: “What we need is a solution that scales for readers and is friendly to publishers and the kind of advertising readers can welcome—or at least tolerate, in appreciation of how ads sponsor the content they want. This is what we have always had with newspapers, magazines, radio and TV in the offline world, none of which ever tracked anybody anywhere.

“So now we offer a solution. It’s a simple preference, which readers can express in code, that says this: Just show me ads that aren’t based on tracking me. Equally simple code can sit on the publishers’ side. Digital handshakes can also happen between the two…”

The work at IIW will be to reach agreement on that term, its wording , and the code that expresses and agrees to it.

As Doc said: “…this one term is a first step. There will be many more before we customers get the full respect we deserve from ad-funded businesses online. Each step needs to prove to one business category or another that customers aren’t just followers. Sometimes they need to take the lead.

“This is one of those times.  So let’s make it happen.”

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