An amendment in the European Parliament’s draft of the ePrivacy Regulation could ban ad-blocker detectors – a risky move for the already fragile website hosting business.
Ad-blockers are putting a serious dent in advertising-based business models on the web. Many users use such programs, thereby gaining access to content for free without allowing online businesses to receive compensation from advertising. Sites themselves are taking action to fight back. About a third of the top 10,000 sites on the web are taking ad-blocking countermeasures – the most common one being an ad-blocker detection program that prevents the user to go on the website when the ad-blocker is on.
Given the EU rules, it’s arguable (at least as far as the European Commission and the current Article 39 are concerned) that ad-blocker detection would require a user’s prior consent. The European Parliament has backed an amendment to the ePrivacy Regulation, a forthcoming privacy law, that would require online services using targeted advertising to offer users “other fair and reasonable options” to access their services without these ads. This vague formula might pave the way to a normalisation of ad-blocker detectors and a range of coercive measures taken against freeloaders.
This proposal would prohibit online businesses from simply blocking users who use ad-blockers. So, e-businesses would be left with the option of accepting freeloaders – and losing money. They could also use non-targeted ads, who bring in less than half the revenue. Both options would likely hurt the digital start-up market in Europe. A third avenue would be to have users pay for ad-free services – a paid ad-blocker service to compensate the website providers. But it is uncertain whether customers who have become accustomed to getting the service for free would be willing to pay for it now.
The amendment might not increase privacy a great deal – private browsing and other services are already available which don’t damage the whole business model. Perhaps the Commission will come forward with an innovative idea to end the ad-blocker war. If not, this amendment risks compromising an economic model that enables most consumers, especially low-income ones, to freely access content and services.