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Facebook is blocking ad blockers on desktop, but not on mobile
People can no longer block ads on Facebook's desktop site, but they can block brands from using customer lists to target them with ads on Facebook.
Facebook cares about consumer choice until that choice conflicts with its business.
On the one hand, Facebook doesn’t want people feeling super creeped out when they use its site or apps, so now it’s giving them a new way to control what data brands can use to target them with ads. But on the other hand it wants to ensure it makes money from the people who use its site or apps for free, so it’s not going to let them use it without seeing ads.
On Tuesday Facebook announced that it’s come up with a way to thwart ad blockers and show ads to people who visit its desktop sites with ad blockers enabled. Even though Facebook’s ad business is 84% mobile at this point, it still made $998.2 million from desktop ads in the second quarter of 2016, so today’s move is as much about protecting its money as supporting the wider digital media industry’s fight against ad blocking.
Facebook could have circumvented people blocking ads on its site by paying ad blocker providers to not block their ads, like Google does. But it’s not. Facebook has never paid ad blockers to whitelist its ads and isn’t doing so now, according to a Facebook spokeswoman. Instead it’s taking on the ad blockers directly, at least on desktop.
Facebook’s ad-blocking evasion tactic won’t extend to its mobile site because mobile web isn’t considered as much of a focus for ad blocking, said the spokeswoman. According to a study published in May 2016 by anti-ad-blocking firm PageFair, in March 2016 14 million people in North America and Europe used a mobile web browser that blocks ads by default. Right now there isn’t a way to block ads within Facebook’s mobile app (or at least not one that doesn’t reroute a device’s internet connection to a third-party server).
According to The New York Times, Facebook is blocking ad blockers by identifying how those ad blockers recognize if a piece of content is an ad and then Facebook will disguise its ads to look like normal content. “For blockers to get around these changes, Facebook said they would have to begin analyzing the content of the ads themselves, a costly and laborious process,” per the Times.
Facebook is far from the first media company to try to foil ad blockers. A number of ad-tech companies have emerged that offer publishers software that prevents people who use ad blockers from visiting their sites unless they turn off the ad blockers, pay for access or agree to be shown some ads. And industry trade group the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has even explored the possibility of suing ad blocker providers. Facebook’s entry into the fray gives cover to these companies and could pressure its competitors like Google that pay ad blocker providers to unblock its ads.
While people can no longer control whether they see any ads on Facebook’s desktop site, they are being given new controls over what kind of data advertisers can use to target them wherever Facebook can serve them ads, an olive branch of sorts to the people who use ad blockers because they feel like too-targeted ads violates their privacy.
Facebook will now show people who use its Ad Preferences tool which brands have their contact info or have added them to lists of people who have visited their sites or used their apps, and people will be able to disable those brands’ abilities to target them with ads on Facebook using that information, a targeting option Facebook calls Custom Audiences.