Ad blockers hit back after culture secretary calls them a ‘modern day protection racket’

Both industry bodies and ad blockers have reacted to comments yesterday (2 March) by culture secretary John Whittingdale, who referred to ad blocking as a ‘modern-day protection racket’.

In a speech at the Oxford Media Convention, Whittingdale said ad blockers could kill off the newspaper and music industries as he vowed to set up a round table involving major publishers, social media brands and ad blocking companies to “address” the problem.

Whittingdale said: “If people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist and that’s as true for the latest piece of journalism as it is for the new album from Muse.”

“Ten years ago, the music and film industries faced a threat to their very existence from online copyright infringement by illegal file-sharing or pirate sites, ad blockers represent the same threat.

He said that despite the advertising industry’s “prided” self-regulation, the government will help “if necessary”.

“My natural political instinct is that self-regulation and co-operation is the key to resolving these challenges, and I know the digital sector prides itself on doing just that. But government stands ready to help in any way we can,” he added.

Ad Blocker Plus, which has more than 60 million active global users, says although it welcomes Whittingdale’s calls for co-operation, he is failing to respect the views of the general public.

“Ad blocking is a consumer reaction expressing unambiguous disapproval of online advertising, which grew from a hobby project in 2006 to the phenomenon it is today. As ads have become more intrusive, increasing amounts of consumers have opted in to ad blocking,” says a spokeswoman for Ad Blocker Plus.

“We were the first ad blocker to allow advertisements through if they meet specific standards designed to better the consumer’s online experience; now others have implemented the idea. This idea is far from perfect – indeed, in an effort to improve it, we will soon hand over control to an independent board – but it is moving in the pro-user direction of compromise.

“When even the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the industry’s leading lobbyist, admit that they have “messed up,” it’s clear that the industry needs to improve and accept we’re not going away.”

The Internet Advertising Bureau’s latest Ad Blocking Report, conducted by YouGov, revealed that 22% of British adults online are currently using ad blocking software – a rise from 18% in October.

The highest level of ad blocking occurs among 18-24 year olds (47%) – a clear concern for marketers looking toward the future.

And following Whittingdale’s remarks, Alex Kozloff, the IAB’s acting marketing and communications director, told Marketing Week: “Although many in the industry do consider them in the same light as the culture secretary, until there’s a legal case, we don’t think they can be classified as such.

“However, their business models are certainly difficult to accept.”