- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2015

No one likes wading through a sea of advertisements while surfing the Web, but a report suggests an explosion in the use of ad-blocking software is on course to cost publishers $22 billion in revenue by the end of the year.

Usage of specialized browser extensions and plug-ins that keep third-party commercial content from cluttering websites is surging, to say the least: 198 million people around the globe are using content-filtering apps such as Adblock and others, 41 percent more than the year earlier, according to the report, which was published this week.

In the 12 months before June, ad-blocker usage in the U.S. soared by 45 percent; in the United Kingdom, it increased during the same span by 82 percent, the study found.

With fewer ads to click, however, Web publishers are seeing a stupendous loss in revenue that analysts expect to only get worse.

The report — a collaboration between software giant Adobe and PageFair, an adblock solutions company — concluded that the “existential threat” of keeping ads off of computer screens could cost more than $41 billion by next year.

“It is tragic that ad block users are inadvertently inflicting multi-billion dollar losses on the very websites they most enjoy,” PageFair CEO and co-founder Sean Blanchfield said in a statement. “I hope this report will prompt more editors, website owners and publishers to join with us to combat the problem.”

As far as many Web surfers are concerned, though, it’s the ubiquity of online ads that is making matters worse for the Internet. The authors of the study spoke with 400 people in the U.S., and half said they use specialized ad blockers as a means of protecting their privacy.

Whereas purposely navigating to a website will give its respective administrators information about its visitors, ads embedded in those same pages can provide equally extensive personal details to the third-party companies behind the advertisements.

Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California-based digital rights group, rolled out a new version of PrivacyBadger — a browser extension based off of AdBlock’s code that, according to the EFF, is a direct response to the “alarmingly widespread” online practice of nonconsensual online tracking.

“To be clear, EFF isn’t against websites seeking to build businesses around advertising. More business models means a more vibrant Web. But advertising cannot come at the expense of user privacy and the inviolable principle of consent,” the organization said in a statement.

According to this week’s report, privacy violations and potential data misuse aren’t the only problems driving more people to use ad blockers.

Forty-one percent of those polled said an apparent increase in the number of online ads has been enough to bring them to install plug-ins and extensions, whereas only 11 percent said they had no desire to decrease the numbers of ads they encounter on the Web.

“No matter your views on whose rights trump whose, the economic impact of ad blocking is real and measurable,” said Campbell Foster, Adobe’s director of product marketing. “Our goal with this research is to shed light on the effects of ad blocking so the industry can develop better solutions for content publishers, advertisers and consumers alike.”

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