It’s a game of cat and mouse. On Tuesday, Facebook announced it would begin circumventing ad blocking software in an effort to show more ads in the News Feed. The ad-blocking community was pissed and vowed to fix the problem. Two days later, Adblock Plus contributors made good on their promise and released a workaround, correcting what it described as Facebook’s “dark path against user choice.” Now, it looks like Adblock Plus’s workaround is dead.
Facebook will begin rolling out code to nullify Adblock Plus’ workaround today, according a TechCrunch report. Following the story, the social media giant released a statement about its stance on ad blockers:
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.
Facebook’s biggest complaint with the Adblock Plus workaround is that it includes content from friends and Pages. However, there are other existing third-party tools that let people manipulate content from Facebook users including the Wall Street Journal’s “Blue Feed, Red Feed” tool.
Facebook has not commented on why tools like Blue Feed, Red Feed are allowed to exist while others like Adblock Plus aren’t. Our best guess is that it has to do with the company’s $6.24 billion in Q2 advertising revenue.
Although Adblock Plus’s latest workaround has been quashed, the hacking war still rages on. When the initial workaround was released, Adblock Plus acknowledged that Facebook would likely respond in a swift manner. The organization concluded that the battle would be fought for years to come:
Facebook might “re-circumvent” at any time. As we wrote in the previous post, this sort of back-and-forth battle between the open source ad-blocking community and circumventers has been going on since ad blocking was invented; so it’s 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, etc.
Adblock Plus is facing an uphill battle, though, because it often requires users to update software in order to receive the full benefits of the tool. In the latest workaround, it even required users to manually edit their filter list—which is an added barrier of entry that most people won’t bother to cross.
Facebook, on the other hand, can update every single user’s homepage with the push of a button. In its latest update, Facebook blends HTML of its lucrative advertisements into the content it serves up onto pages, so ads will appear even if someone is using an ad blocker.
The social media giant believes that by providing opt-out settings on its targeted ads, it is fulfilling the same role as ad blockers. Whether that’s actually the case should probably be up to the user to decide.
The whole back-and-forth has reignited the debate over ad-blocking and keeping track of every company’s stance is long and complicated. In 2015, Apple sided with ad blocking programs, allowing them to be installed on the Safari browser in iOS 9. This year, Google banned ad blocking apps in the Google Play Store, but allowed them to persist in desktop and mobile browsers.
Advocates for ad blockers argue that digital advertisements are usually pesky, bothersome, unhelpful, and often take up precious bandwidth. People against ad blockers argue that it deprives websites and publishers—those providing the content—from the meager advertising revenue they need to keep going.
Of course, Facebook isn’t paying for or creating any of the content from news publishers who are left to “feed on scraps,” as a Bloomberg executive recently said.
Your move, Adblock Plus.