The Evolution of Ad Blocking

Before we dive into the evolution of ad blocking, first let’s start with taking a look at what is the ad blocking? According to Wikipedia, the ad blocking or ad filtering is a type of software (or less commonly, a computer hardware device), that can remove or alter advertising content from a webpage, website, or a mobile app. Ad blockers are available for a range of computer platforms, including desktop and laptop computers, tablet computers and smartphones. A variety of methods have been used for blocking advertisements. The benefits of this software are wide-ranging and the use of ad blocking software is increasing. However, many media owners and publishers rely on advertising to fund the free content that they provide to users. Some have taken counter-measures against users who block ads on the sites they visit, for example Forbes.

Now it’s time for the evolution timeline. The starting point of an ad blocking software is surprisingly humble. Henrik Aasted Sorensen originally wrote the source code for Adblock. It was the most popular and widely used extension dated back in 2002. However, where he started was as humble as just a thing he did to distract himself from university work.

« I suppose some people expect Adblock to have been created in a fit of anti-capitalist rage, or as an idealistic effort to return the internet to its less commercial roots, » Sørensen said. « What actually happened is I was supposed to be cramming for an upcoming exam at university [in Copenhagen, where he studied internet technology and computer science.] As a procrastination project, I decided to try out the relatively new possibility of creating extensions for the Phoenix browser — which is the browser that eventually got renamed Firefox. The idea was primarily to try out a new development environment and move a bit out of my development comfort zone.”

At the moment, there was an existing extension to remove ads, however it was only based on an image size. Sørensen then figured out that it would be better and more efficient to filter ads according to their address of the image, because ads tend to be centralized at specific address. The original Adblock just hide the ads from the webpage, it did not actually prevent ads from being downloaded.

Despite of the limited functionality, Sørensen launched the source code to the public and it became an immediate success. « I remember it as a runaway success from day one, which caught me quite by surprise. One thing that stands out as funny in retrospect is how giddy it made me when Adblock got a front page mention on a website that dealt with Mozilla technology. Of course, Adblock has been mentioned in far bigger publications since then, » Sørensen said.

After he finished his studies and began working full-time, Sørensen abandoned his involvement in the project and his excitement in seeing Adblock flourished. The owner of the code had been changed hands to hands for years, until 2006, when Wladimir Palant, the Adblock Plus co-founder, picked up the code and rewrote the code to be assured that the ads were completely blocked from being downloaded at all, not just blocked from view. The original code were modified almost completely, little of the original one remained today.

No matter how successful and profitable the Adblock Plus is, the original creator Sørensen said he has never made any money from his original Adblock code. However, the owner of Adblock Plus, the Germany-based company, Eyeo, earns millions of dollars by doing business with big name companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Eyeo charged those companies with huge fees to get their ads white-listed. Some of the acceptable ads will be appeared to Adblock Plus users. Adblock Plus also calculated and charged 30% of the additional ad revenues they would have made were the ads unblocked to those companies. On the other hand, PageFair estimated that Google will lost $6.6 billion in global revenue to ad blockers in 2016.

Ben Williams, Adblock Plus operations and community manager, has previously told Business Insider that only about 10% of the partner companies actually pay for their ads to be unblocked on the white-list and the fees are depended on the company’s size.  Sørensen comments on Adblock Plus and other ad blockers that runs similar white-listing strategy have “a fine line to walk. « It won’t require much more than a tiny misstep before the endeavor is labeled as simple extortion. Had I still been involved, I would not have chosen that direction, earning money from Adblock never really entered into the equation for me while I was involved. I’m a huge fan of the open source movement and I benefit from it on a daily basis in my work. On the other hand, you could argue that I dropped out of the development, and that anyone who picked up the mantle is allowed to make that decision for themselves, » Sørensen said.

Now that we learned about where did it all started, the yearly timeline of the evolution of ad blocking is here. After the Danish developer, Henrik Aasted Sørensen builded the first widely used ad blocking extension in 2002, the boom in internet pop-ups advertisement declined dratiscally in 2004. The enormous number of ads that popped up in separated windows of the web browser were seen as the most intrusive and most obnoxious features on the internet. Later, major companies, Time Warner’s AOL unit, Google and Yahoo launched software that blocked those annoying pop-up advertisements from opening. And soon the reach of those ads were reduced sharply.

After Wladimir Palant had developed Adblock Plus from the original source code of Sørensen. The Adblock Plus has been the most downloaded and used ad block extension since its creation in 2006. It is an open source project that blocking annoying ads on the web as we know it.

Later in 2009, the use of Adblock Plus increased continually. Wladimir Palant said that the reason behind Adblock Plus was to give control back to internet users by allowing them to be able to choose and block annoying ads by their own choice. He also presented an approach to fair blocking.

Wladimir Palant then launched Adblock Plus as a Chrome Extension in 2010. And the consequences of supporting only one browser has limited the Adblock Plus’ options enormously. As in that moment, Internet Explorer was the dominant browser, however, it did not give a hand enough to the usable extension support. And by creating an ad blocker extension for the Internet Explorer would be very complicated. On the other hand, Google Chrome supported JavaScript-only extensions, which Palant believed that he could more or less reuse his Adblock Plus source code.

Global adblock users reported to be grow 30% from 30 million to 39 million in 2012. This exponential growth rate was demographically clustered in Poland, Greece, Sweden and Denmark, all of them have more than 20% growth rate in ad blocking. Number of Adblock Plus global download reached 77 million in 2013, a 35% growth from last year. According to PageFair, adblock users characteristics were found as typically young, tech-savvy and more likely to be male.

As the same time with the rise of Google Chrome, the Adblock also grow together with the penetration rate nearly doubled to be 70% in June 2014. A report of PageFair said the millennial users drove the adblock usage, 41% of the adblock users was 18-29 years old.

After Apple users complained that the ads tracked them, slowed down web browsers’ speed and were extremely annoying, Apple then enabled ad-blocking apps through its new mobile operating system, iOS 9 in 2015. In less than 48 hours, ad-blocking applications, for example, Peace, Purify and Crystal had been ranked so high in the Apple’s App Store top chart.

The online advertising companies must have been shaking in 2016, when a report from Global Web Index showed that 37% of internet users have blocked online ads on their mobile device over the last month. Moreover, 42% of who have not blocked the ads said that they are definitely interested. This will resulted in more than 80% of blockers, which definitely leave a huge impact on online advertising revenue.

And that was the Evolution of Ad Blockers that we use today, from how it was originated to the one that we installed today. I would like to give more information about the AdBlock Plus (ABP) since it is the most well known and used among ad blockers. It is available for Firefox, Chrome and Opera. Its handy and effective features that contributed to its success are quick set up, loading preset filter lists that allow users to quickly block most of the annoying online ads, along with the option to filter malicious software. Moreover, it offers savvy internet users to be able to choose additional block lists, customized filters, or even whitelist their favorite websites. AdBlock Plus also covers the mobile version with two different offerings for both Android and iOS users. For iOS users, the seamlessly advertisement blocking on Safari is the integration between the AdBlock Plus application and the content blocker system in Apple’s mobile OS. While the AdBlock Browser provides Android users with a Firefox-based Android browser that automatically block any of the advertisings.


Vayada Leelasiwaporn

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