Facebook vs. Adblock: The Advertising “Arms Race”
Last week, we briefly touched upon the cat-and-mouse battle between Facebook and Adblock. Described by some as an “arms race,” Facebook and Adblock have been joined in a heated battle over Facebook’s decision to block Adblock from blocking sponsored ads on the platform. With Facebook looking to service more ads in their live-streaming, the platform is heading into a more advertising-heavy direction with Wall Street expecting their shares to jump more than 20% over the next year on ad growth alone.
In their initial announcement, Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform, stated, “Creative, relevant and interesting ads are a part of Facebook, and allow us to support our mission, which is why we’ll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.”
Adblock responded to Facebook’s decision on their blog as such:
“This is an unfortunate move, because it takes a dark path against user choice…[b]ut you kind of have to wonder about the thinking that went into this decision. I mean, let’s also not forget something their blog post said: ‘When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads.’ So if that’s true, Facebook apparently agrees that users have a good reason for using ad-blocking software … but yet those users shouldn’t be given the power to decide what they want to block themselves?”
This, of course, prompted a response from Facebook where they claimed, “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. This isn’t a good experience for people and we plan to address the issue. 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.”
After much back and forth over the week with Facebook and Adblock circumventing each others attempts, Adblock finally took pause and released their latest statement in which they assert that “this isn’t a tussle between Facebook and Adblock Plus, but rather between Facebook and all web citizens… While Facebook appears to have had the last word for now, this, friends, is a long game.”
This “arms race” is a question beyond ethics as two businesses collide with each other while mincing words about “customer choice.” With Adblock failing to provide its own namesake’s service, it dilutes their brand while for Facebook, it’s an obstacle that can account for billions in revenue. As Fortune points out, “If [Facebook] can’t reliably ensure that users are seeing its advertising, then the $1 billion it currently makes on desktop ads is potentially in jeopardy, and questions might also be raised about its ability to display ads on mobile too, which is a $5-billion business.”
Fortune goes on to predict Facebook’s eventual victory by addressing that while Adblock and other such ad-blocking companies would “have to update their software every time there is a fix for a Facebook workaround, it’s fairly trivial for Facebook to roll out new changes without users even noticing. So whatever you think of ad blocking as an ethical choice, it seems likely that Facebook will always have the upper hand in this war.” And when there is a 20% growth on the horizon for a $350-billion company, all bets are off.
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