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Internet giants wage war on pop-up ad blockers

The Google cultural hub in Paris/AFP

The Google cultural hub in Paris/AFP

Imagine being able to surf the web and watch videos online without having to swat away pesky pop-up ads?

These days you can, thanks to small programs like Adblock Plus that are available free for download and that arm your browser to defend against ads.

Flashing banner ads, “pre-roll” ads (short ads that play before a video), pop-up notices that cover the whole screen — few of them make it past ad blocking software.

In the beginning, the applications acted under the radar, and were known mainly only to young people or the really tech-savvy. But now they’re catching on.

Adblock Plus has nearly five million active users in France, with a further two million in the United Kingdom and 1.5 million in Spain.

Worldwide, they have amassed about 144 million active users, up 69 per cent in a year, according to a September report from Adobe software developer and PageFair, a company that helps publishers see which ads are being blocked.

Depending on the website, the percentage of viewers equipped with ad-blocking software ranges from 10 to 60 percent

Internet users may dream about ad-free surfing, but for advertisers and web publishers, who rely on ads to fund content, ad-blocking applications are the stuff of nightmares.

“This is no small matter; it affects all publishers. Our members have lost an estimated 20 to 40 per cent of their advertising revenue,” Laure de Lataillade, CEO of GESTE, an association of web publishers in gaming, media, music and other domains, told AFP.

The growing popularity of ad blockers comes as companies plough more and more money into internet advertising.

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A quarter of the 545 billion dollars spent on global advertising this year went on digital ads.

To protect that investment, a group of publishers in France, including Google, Microsoft and Le Figaro newspaper, have threatened legal action against the developers of ad blocking software.

In Germany, too, publishers are alarmed at the success of the anti-ad workarounds. “There have already been some companies that have lodged a formal complaint,” Oliver von Wersche, head of digital marketing at Gruner + Jahr, publishers of Stern news magazine and several other leading titles, told AFP.

‘Unauthorised access’ 

Websites, meanwhile, are experimenting with a range of strategies to placate ad-addled audiences.

French sports daily l’Equipe’s website is using a carrot-and-stick approach.

Users with ad-blocking software who attempt to watch videos receive the message: “Unauthorised access. L’Equipe.fr is funded by advertising, which allows us to offer you free content.”

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