The landscape of technologies around adblocking

What type of adblocker do you use? Which lists have you subscribed to? Maybe you don’t even know. Visit AdBack diagnostic page to find out.

Now everyone knows adblockers, these softwares blocking ads on websites. They are accused of endangering the sites’ revenues. But we are less aware of the way those blockers work.

There are different types of adblockers. Some of them are blocking at the network level. This is true for antiviruses, corporate firewalls, VPN (Virtual Private Network) and DNS (Domain Name System). The most common types of adblockers are installed as browser extensions or apps on mobile. This is the case with AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, uBlock, Ghostery…
These softwares are based on lists indexing all the elements to block. Lists are actually a series of detailed rules. In order to determine which elements should be blocked adblockers are calling these lists when the webpage is being loaded.

These rules concern all types of elements. They obviously block ads but also tracking tools, analytics (such as Google Analytics or Xiti), conversion pixels of campaigns, etc.

What does it look like? Like this:

This is an extract of the AdBlock Plus whitelist. Every list contains tens of thousands rules each. Lists are open source and maintained by an active community of users who complete them with new rules day by day.

There are different types of lists: blocking lists, exception lists and custom lists.

  • Blocking lists index all elements to be blocked. There are many of them, including the famous EasyList, and its derivative for each language. Other lists allow to block all types of trackers or anti-adblock softwares.
  • Exception lists, and particularly the famous AdBlock Plus whitelist, index “acceptable ads” to be let through adblocker filters. To appear on this list, ads have to respect a certain number of criteria. Some companies have to pay a licence to AdBlock Plus to be on this list.
  • Custom lists are those you can personalize yourself. You can, for example, whitelist those sites you want to support. You can do so by turning off your adblocker on pages of this domain. If you are an advanced adblocker user, you can also add your own blocking rules.

The adblocking phenomenon has expanded very quickly. The problem with adblockers is once they are installed, they block ads on every website by default, including the sites striving to respect user experience with not too many ads.

So, other tools have emerged to help publishers regaining control over their revenues. They are often called “anti-adblock”. But in fact their objective is to re-establish a dialogue between publishers and adblocker users. Initially their main function was to detect the use of an adblocker and to display an educational message explaining the importance of ads and asking for deactivation.

Today, some of those tools are also proposing to monetize adblocker users. Some offer complex analytics and profiling options to better understand this specific audience and to propose the most adapted monetization solution.

Others propose to display ads to adblocker users by encrypting publishers’ direct campaigns or by bringing additional ad sources. In order to measure the performance of campaigns on adblocker users some even propose to encrypt conversion and tracking pixels blocked by certain adblockers.

To better understand the organization of this growing ecosystem around adblockers, have a look at this landscape!

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