There is an ongoing and escalating battle between internet users, internet advertisers, and apps which the former can use to block the latter. The use of ad blockers is growing rapidly and that puts a dent in in revenue for advertiser and publisher.
Who’s to blame for this mess? The answer is simple and straightforward. Everyone involved and there are many culprits. My list won’t be in order of magnitude or responsibility. Let me do it alphabetically.
Advertisers – The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) puts the blame on, well, advertisers, and rightly so.
We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.
What caused the oversight? Greed. Online advertising uses technology to track user behavior in ways that could not be fathomed in print or broadcast advertising. Advertisers overindulged and the end results was obvious but ignored.
The villagers revolted.
Publishers – Website publishers are to blame for part of the problem, too, and probably for the aforementioned reason. Greed. A publisher could sign up to one or more ad networks which would plunk advertising all over, under, behind, and on top of content, and get a check each month. More ads meant more money; user experience be damned.
Users – Yes, those of us who use the internet have become addicted to free content despite knowing there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Advertising greases the wheels of internet commerce and our responsibility was to accept the ads and tracking in exchange for free content. That model is broken and part of the responsibility lies with users.
Google is one of the largest and most important of the offenders, providing internet users with free services in exchange for tracking, harvesting, and selling personal data to advertisers. Gmail and Google may not have a price tag but they have a cost.
For years users have paid little attention to the data gathering going on behind the scenes of most websites, and were happy to ignore advertising to keep the content flowing. Greed, indeed. What we should have done years ago was to rise up in revolt and visit only those websites which respected the user experience. We did not respond appropriately to the growing menace and now the advertising monster has pillaged the village.
Today, websites with less than 100k of text content may weigh 5MB or more thanks to advertising and tracking mechanisms embedded into the webpage. For a growing number of internet users that is no longer an acceptable arrangement, implied or otherwise; hence the revolt.
But a revolt does not a revolution make.
What can be done? Ad blockers help the user but not the publisher or advertiser. Trust, once lost, is not easily regained. Both advertisers and publishers have lost the trust of the internet user. The revolution will not change the world. There will always be advertisers, publishers, technologists, and users, but their greed and inability to get along has made the internet a less pleasant place to travel.