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Newspaper industry asks FTC to investigate “deceptive” adblockers

The Newspaper Association of America is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate adblockers' "deceptive" and "unlawful" practices.

Fearing that online publishers may be on the losing side of their battle with commercial adblockers, the newspaper publishing industry is now seeking relief from the US government.

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA), an industry group representing 2000 newspapers, filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the consumer watchdog to investigate adblocker companies’ “deceptive” and “unlawful” practices.

The NAA is not alleging that adblockers themselves are illegal – rather, it says that adblocker companies make misleading claims about their products, a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Specifically, the NAA says in its complaint, adblocker companies mislead consumers by positioning their products as a way to block “bad ads” based on opaque rules for acceptable ads, when in fact adblocker companies like Adblock Plus allow some advertisements to be displayed if the advertiser pays Adblock Plus a fee.

Other profit-making adblockers, such as Brave, make money by blocking some “bad ads” and replacing them with ads from advertisers that pay to be on an advertising network of “clean ads.”

The NAA complaint also requests an investigation of subscription services such as Flattr that share some of its fees with publishers.

According to the NAA, these subscription services make a “deceptive assertion” that “nominal subscription prices will recover millions of dollars in lost advertising revenue.”

Finally, the complaint asks the FTC to investigate adblockers that allow users to get around paywalls and metered subscription services that only permit users to access a certain number of free articles per month.

NAA President and CEO David Chavern said in a press release that adblockers are “responding to a consumer demand,” but the practices of adblocking companies undercut news organizations’ efforts to improve the ad experience because “the consumer is not receiving the whole truth.”

Some publishers have tried lawsuits against adblockers, and still more have required users to turn off their adblockers to access content.

Critics say that adblocker companies that charge advertisers to participate in acceptable ads programs are a “protection racket.”

Yet adblockers are increasingly popular with users who are fed up with some of the ad industry’s more intrusive and annoying tactics (such as pop-unders, pop-overs and autoplaying videos).

Adblocker users are also concerned about invasive tracking by online ads and the risk of malvertising.

The NAA argues that more than half of adblocker consumers are willing to turn off their adblockers to access content, but that can be risky: earlier this year, a security researcher reported being served malicious advertising on after disabling his adblocker.


The fact this was not initiated by consumers but instead by the NAA should tell you all you need to know about this desperate move. The NAA would do consumers well by better vetting of the sketchy sources of ad revenue that they subject their readership to.


I’ve stopped reading three sites recently as they forced me to turn off my adblocker to read their content. Looking at the blocked ad count, all three sites were all over 25 each. Sorry, but I’m not willing to push my luck with 25 ads that could potentially be malicious. I found the content I wanted to read about on other sites, one of which I’ve since whitelisted. These advertisers are idiots, rather than fight the adblockers, why not focus on changing their ad habits so people wouldn’t have to use adblockers in the first place.


Actually you raise an interesting scenario. With increasingly large numbers of people using ad-blockers I’d say the window for existing sites switching to better ads (or at least better ads supplied by an ad network) is either very narrow or closed.

Anyone who has an ad-blocker isn’t going to see the better ads that might make them feel they don’t need an ad-blocker any more.

Web ads have been dying since the web was invented. I remember Jakob Nielsen talking about banner blindness waaay back.


First time on the Internet? I’ve been on-line since 77, mostly military, as that’s all that really existed back then, but have seen it grow into what we have today. Ad’s have always been a problem. If users want free data, then they pay for it by ads. Typical business model. I’ve seen more ads in the last 6 months than, I think, for ever, so it’s not slowing. The curious part, is that the generated ads are for many items I’ve purchased and showing me the ad for the device or ‘thing’ that I’ve already purchased is a waste… I’m sure that will get ‘fine tuned’ as it moves forward. As long as money is generated, there will be ads. The other options is subscription.


The most annoying, for me, are ads (and email) from a company I use to book lodging for my frequent road trips. The service is excellent; it’s simple, easy to use, almost instantaneous, and usually gives me the absolute best price available for lodging wherever I’m going – but not always. At one lodging facility I like, and use, in Mexico, booking a room thru the web service gives a rate of ~$41/day but the same room, booked directly with the motel, is only $25 and that’s one heckuva commission.

But that’s not what this is about. That booking company floods me with ads for discounted lodging EVERYWHERE, places I have no intention of visiting, ever, for various reasons, e.g., it would be a bit difficult to ride a bike (motorcycle) to, say, Paris, France, or Milano, Italy, yet those destinations are pushed on an almost daily basis. It’s as if the booking company think I’m looking for places to go and free to do so at any moment, at every moment.

Relief is just a click away, as in DELETE.

More On-Topic re a reply to jkwilborn’s post, Amazon and eBay are particularly fond of offering, say, parts for a Suzuki motorcycle (never owned one, don’t want one) because I bought parts for a Honda or Kawasaki or BMW. It’s as if their marketing machine says, “Hey! Motorcycle parts are motorcycle parts and he bought spark plugs for a BMW so he must want spark plugs for all the other makes, too!”

It’s goofy, but again, relief is only a click away.


You want to know how to make your consumers mad? This is how you make your consumers mad. We like our adblockers. Find another revenue model.


They will find another revenue, or go under and you’ll lose the site. I guess that’s acceptable. Nothings for free. How is that add-blocker making it’s money (I’m sure it wasn’t written for free), so are you just paying someone else?


Interesting that they’re trotting out that argument about AdBlock Plus again; AdBlock Plus does indeed have an “acceptable ads” policy. Users of the software can choose to accept these ads or not, their choice, along with a number of other categories. For the most part, users choose to allow the curated ads because so far, they haven’t contained malicious content or ended up degrading the browsing experience.

But it’s going to be hard to claim deceptive trade practices when AdBlock Plus is free to use, and the end user gets to decide what is allowed through and what isn’t.

There are definitely some block lists out there that are deceptive, but the examples the NAA is using contain a lot of deceptive complaints, not examples of trade fraud.


I would not disagree that advertising is a necessity. It always has been to support the news media among others. However, it is the dominance of promotional material over editorial content that creates an issue as well as what others have mentioned, the nefarious content that is so often encountered in the publishers quest to increase revenue.

Make website publishers accountable for damage created by their content, including the third party provider element and perhaps we will see something remotely useful to us and safe to view.


Unblock your malicious ads you say?
How about no?
I’ll find the media repost somewhere else.

There needs to be a legal accountability for advertisers, websites, and the person buying the adspace.

Enforcement needs to be swift and painful with a fine of $5000 per infection should be motivational for advertisers to vet the ads published.

If the person buying the ad is knowingly or unknowingly shipping malicious code, they must accept the full legal consequences of their actions. With that, each person buying the ad must prove their ad has no malicious code.


This is a bad move for the ad industry, and they know it, but they can’t see any other move so they’re moving ahead.
In the best case scenario- that is, one where they win and manage to get “deceptive” adblockers blocked, it’s a Pyrrhic victory- they’ve won the battle, but will lose the war when everyone switches to blocking everything indiscriminately.


If we can use TIVO to skip TV commercials, then Ad Blockers are legal. The advertisements are not being altered, they are simply being skipped.


“..asks the FTC to investigate adblockers that allow users to get around paywalls and metered subscription services that only permit users to access a certain number of free articles per month.”

I wasn’t aware of this–yet I’m unsurprised–but it’s a crappy thing to do. Some sites have tried to make a compromise in retaining au gratis readership and allow some content without a pay model. Yes I know they hope to gain you as a subscriber–just like the NS free blog that hopes to sell me an edge device–and if the content is worthwhile, people will pay.

The ambiguity of digital “existence” once again allows greed to supplant common sense while defining theft.

In the middle of this article showing a desperate newsprint industry flailing against progress is a allusion to selfish people taking more than they deserve and further bleeding dry what will eventually bleed out anyway.

If you like the song, buy the album.

If you use the app, contribute a donation.

On that note…I’ll put my money where my mouth is.
John, shoot me an email so I can send you a Sam Adams.


We need to counterattack!!! “Consumer asks FTC to investigate “deceptive” ads.”
When they fix that problem maybe I’ll disable adblock, or maybe not…


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