Facebook this week took a stand against the makers of ad-block software by providing more controls for users to opt out of targeted advertisements. The company says today's ad blockers are part of the problem, so it designed a new way to bypass ad blockers in desktop browsers and force ads through.
A number of motivations likely influenced Facebook's decision. While it stands to benefit financially from the strong-arm play, the move is also symbolic, and the company should earn tremendous goodwill from the advertising and media industries.
"Ad blocking has been an ever-escalating trend," says Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst and advisor. "Facebook's revenue is predicated on advertising, [so] they need to strike a balance between the needs of their advertisers and their users."
Ad blockers have little effect on Facebook
During the second quarter of 2016, Facebook earned about $5.24 billion, or 84 percent of its ad revenue, from mobile ads. Third-party programs can't block ads in Facebook's mobile apps, and ad blockers generally don't work as well in mobile web browsers. The changes Facebook introduced this week do not apply to the company's mobile apps or mobile browsers used to access Facebook.
"We've all experienced a lot of bad ads: ads that obscure the content we're trying to read, ads that slow download times or ads that try to sell us things we have no interest in buying," said Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's vice president of ads and business platform, said in a prepared statement. "Bad ads are disruptive and a waste of our time."
Relevant ads can be useful, but because many of them don't always deliver positive experiences, ad blockers have become very popular among consumers, according to Bosworth. "We've designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software."
A July study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) found 26 percent of desktop computer users and 15 percent of mobile device owners use ad-blocking software to remove ads from the sites they visit. For obvious reasons, the organization is pleased to have Facebook on its side and hopes other platforms will follow the company's lead. "Facebook should be applauded for its leadership on preserving a vibrant value exchange with its users," said Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of IAB, in a prepared statement. "Its decision to respect advertising as an essential ingredient in connecting users worldwide is spot-on, and should be replicated across the free and open internet."
[Related: 1 in 4 desktop owners use ad blockers]
Facebook is one of the most powerful players in digital media and has significant resources to dedicate to this issue, according to Lieb, so its actions will likely have an effect on other companies in the market. "I promise that its peers are watching," she says.