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The Newspaper Association of America (NAA), a trade organization representing over 2000 newspapers, has filed a complaint with the FTC urging it to investigate “unfair and deceptive” practices of adblockers. The opening paragraphs set the tone for the complaint. The NAA refers to adblockers as “free-riding technologies” which pose a “clear and present danger to an ecosystem that has created a vibrant, content-filled Internet for the American public.”

After raising the alarm about adblockers in general, the complaint draws attention to specific practices that it the NAA considers to be “inherently deceptive to consumers.” The first practice is paid whitelisting, and the complaint draws attention to Adblock Plus specifically on this issue. The complaint states: “Ad-blockers falsely represent to consumers that they will receive only ads that satisfy an objective ‘quality’ standard (or no ads at all) when consumers download the app or service. But in fact, consumers receive ads because the owner of Adblock Plus requires payment from advertisers or advertising platforms to pass their advertising to consumers.”

The next practice targeted by the complaint is that of replacing the blocked ads with alternative ones. It singles out the Brave browser for this practice. Brave states that it is trying to give people higher quality ads free from malware and trackers, but the NAA argues that Brave is not clear as to what constitutes “higher quality.” The NAA also raises the concern that adblockers will replace ads to spread their personal views and users may mistake those views as belonging to the publishers whose ads are being blocked.

The complaint also mentions new payment systems that some adblockers have implemented which allows users to give money to support the sites while enjoying an ad-free experience. The NAA’s main issue is that some adblockers are claiming the payments will offset the lost revenue from the blocked ads. The NAA claims this is a deceptive practice, and the FTC should prevent adblockers from making that claim.

The final practice mentioned in the complaint are systems which allow users to circumvent paywalls. It explains that some sites which require a paid subscription allow readers to access a limited number of articles for free per month. Some adblockers will prevent news outlets from identifying repeat visitors, allowing them to read an unlimited number of articles per month. The NAA considers this an anticompetitive practice which threatens the business model of many publications.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF) published a post rebutting some of the points raised by the NAA. Their biggest beef is with the NAA’s final point which argues against systems that can be used to circumvent paywalls. The EFF argues that users may have legitimate privacy concerns about being tracked across multiple visits. The post states:

Internet users have many legitimate reasons to stop websites from tracking them across multiple visits. That’s why most modern browsers include a “private” or “incognito” mode. It’s also one of the important features of the Tor network, which is designed to allow for anonymous Internet use over time.

Outlawing privacy-enhancing software simply because it might interfere with the operation of some newspapers’ metered paywalls would be profoundly anti-consumer. The FTC, which puts considerable resources into enhancing consumer privacy and encouraging the development of new privacy tools, would depart from its mission if it agreed to NAA’s request.

Regarding ad substitution, the EFF argues that users have the right to alter the appearance of web pages in any way they wish, including replacing ads. The EFF reiterates a statement originally made in 2005, “when I visit your website, and you send me a page in response, I should be able to do whatever I like to manipulate it on my end. Display it in purple, suppress images, block pop-ups, compare prices from other vendors, whatever.” However the EFF does concede that, “A browser plugin that alters the appearance of webpages in ways that users don’t understand or consent to could be just as abusive as an ad network that profits from the surreptitious collection of users’ personal information and browsing habits.”  The EFF ultimately concludes that its reasonable for the FCC to intervene if adblockers are not honest with users about how they alter web pages.

The EFF also responds to the NAA’s request that adblockers should be prevented from making claims that their payment methods offset lost revenue from blocked ads. The EFF states, “It’s reasonable and expected that the FTC will take action against statements that deceive consumers, but NAA’s examples may not rise to that level.” The post concluded that the NAA may have raised some legitimate concerns, but cautions the FTC to only take action against practices which are truly deceptive, and not to interfere with consumer choice.

Does the NAA have legitimate complaints against adblockers or are they trying to shut down acceptable practices? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • DynastyStar

    I kinda agree with the EFF on this. The first three concerns sound legitimate IF they are true(which I would guess the FTC would find out if they are), but that last one is bullshit. I don’t see a problem with them making sure to keep adblockers in check if thats all they do, rather than “bringing adblockers down”. I whitelist the sites and channels that I follow/trust(including Techraptor), and I keep the sites I don’t like or trust adblocked. If Adblock is making it so that ads pass through my adblock when I didn’t allow it, then thats something that needs to be looked into.

    ” It explains that some sites which require a paid subscription allow readers to access a limited number of articles for free per month.” Is a bullshit statement. If you’re paying a subscription, then the articles aren’t free anymore. The site could easily step around the problem by giving the consumer unlimited access for paying the subscription.

  • Garbagio Dumpsterino

    Hahaha bitch it’s shit downloaded and stored locally on my computer, just try to stop me from using one. Hint: you can’t.

    I disable it for TechRaptor, of course 🙂

  • Max

    I guess the way I’ve written is a bit unclear, but what I meant was there are sites which have subscriptions for unlimited access, but everyone else can get a limited number articles per month for free. Not that you get limited articles with the subscription.

  • BurntToShreds

    Newspaper sites should strike a deal with PageFair. Their ads are just plain banners with a picture of a product, text, price, etc. I’d love to browse a site where all I saw were simple banner ads essentially saying “Hey, here’s some stuff. Buy it maybe?”

  • lyra_asriel

    “The NAA also raises the concern that adblockers will replace ads to spread their personal views and users may mistake those views as belonging to the publishers whose ads are being blocked.”

    They’re not wrong:

  • This is honestly my fear, as a site owner. So much of our revenue comes from ads, and people don’t realize how much AdBlocker hurts the sites they visit, especially when they don’t bother to whitelist any sites they like, choosing instead to consume the content for free, and with no regard for the work put in.

    My biggest fear is that people will have us whitelisted, and yet our ads still won’t be shown. I don’t trust AdBlock, not after some of the shenanigans with the lists and such. I’m also highly biased.

  • lyra_asriel

    I do believe in the absolute right for private individuals to modify their browsers any way they please and tough luck if that means blocking ads, but third parties providing browser modifications professing to do that and only that really shouldn’t be using the opportunity to promote their own agendas.

    I think that stunt was pretty offensive, as a consumer, and I can definitely see that making it look like your site is promoting something would be fucking terrifying.

  • Galbador

    If the ads wouldn’t be so annoying, stupid or offensive as hell, I would accept it. But go to a website without adblock and you get BOMBARDED with ads, that let you web browser crash or, in the worst case, your pc. I know, I say this to the most articles of butthurt companies and one-person-companies, but this is my freedom. Adblock is not forbidden and as long as ads are this annoying and offensive, I will take and use any possibility to disable them.

    The only exceptance is here on Techraptor and Niche Gamer, because the adblocks are not as big, but sadly pretty annoying. Nevertheless, it is better than on any other website, including… or better say especially on Youtube.

  • We use ads sparingly here.

  • I agree with you whole heartedly.

  • Yosharian

    They made their beds, they can get fucked in them. Ads are disruptive, annoying and 99% of the time they’re for products nobody gives a flying fuck about.

    Not to mention the malware issue, I run ublock origin for that purpose alone.

    Stop pushing shit-infested ads and malware popups in our faces and maybe we wouldn’t NEED adblockers.

  • Jesus Zamora

    The reason adblockers exist in the first damned place is that so many places went for the most annoying ad types possible – pop-up or pop-over ads, full-screen ads that require you to find a tiny X on a corner to push off, ads that play audio (sometimes with no way around them), unskippable video ads that are longer than the content, and a whole bunch of other crap that I’ve forgotten. Put bluntly, in their greed, they annoyed the ever loving hell out of consumers, when most people would have been fine with the occasional banner ad or unobtrusive, short video before video content. That’s the whole reason adblockers exist at all.

    Now it’s true that some ad blockers are essentially scams that will let through ads from providers that pay them, and that is a huge problem for everyone involved, but if not for ads becoming unbearable in the mid-2000s, we’d not be having this conversation.

    I’ll usually whitelist a site when I first go there, give it a chance, see how it uses ads, and make my decision about keeping it whitelisted from there. Honestly, I think a blocker that required users to manually blacklist a site might be best, as very few people will go through the trouble if it’s not especially bothersome. However, there are many companies that will use annoying methods to cram ads forcefully down the users’ throats, and that’s not going to fly with anyone.

  • jaygerbomb

    So if they do this, it’ll go back to the way we used to do it in the olden days – using hosts files which blacklist known ad hosting sites.

    At blockers are an effect, the cause irritating, disruptive ads, a lot which host malware/spyware.

  • Smoky_the_Bear

    They simply need to realise that their current business model may well not be sustainable. They are so set in their ways that the only way to monetise their business is with adverts.

    Here’s the thing, in an actual newspaper ads are static, largely ignorable and don’t bother you that much.
    On a website, ads can be dynamic, which means companies will of course make their adverts as unmissable and obnoxious as possible. They actually make your experience SIGNIFICANTLY worse when browsing the net, so of course people use adblockers.

    You know what, if your adverts are that obnoxious, stop me using adblocker and I’ll just refuse to visit your site at all. This is why the system needs to change away from this silly idea of clicks per minute based on number of eyeballs, 99% of who will never give the ad a second glance.
    They claim adblockers are “inherently deceptive to consumers”, it’s only necessary to use them in that manner because the ads themselves are “inherently disruptive to consumers”. Maybe the NAA needs to look inwards and instead blame the greedy marketing people who feel that their adverts are best made as obnoxious as possible, as well as the people at these newspapers responsible for making their product significantly inferior by placing the desires of said marketing people over that of their customers.

  • Smoky_the_Bear

    Pretty much this, if ad revenue is becoming an unsustainable business model, don’t blame the consumer for it, blame the marketing people who paid you for those ads for essentially ruining the internet by turning it into a jumbled mess of all the things described by the OP, and blame yourselves for allowing your product to be ruined and borderline unusable without adblockers.

    It’s pretty likely that some full page popup ad or some popover add is worth more money on a website than a small banner ad, so maybe consider this website owners….”YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELVES”, enough of you made the decision to ruin your product in exchange for more money with these obnoxious forms of adverts, of course people were going to find a way around it, the fact is, when a simple browser plugin can greatly improve the end user experience, well, maybe that’s your fault. Adblock is pretty much a necessity for browsing the internet as far as I’m concerned at this point, because unlike other forms of media, web advertising moved from being a mild inconvenience to a serious annoyance.

  • HisShadowX

    I sort of agree here in the sense certain ad block companies are receiving money just like the old REALID program Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL used to use to allow spammers to bypass spam blocks and go straight to you

  • Scruffy, the Janitor

    No. Stop doing shit journalism and I’ll consider. Theyre loud, annoying adds that get the fuck in my face when I try to read an article.

    Ahem, Techraptor and Niche Gamer aside, of course. Forbes too when I’m feeling generous.

  • Jumanji Joe

    Adblockers are bad for corp, err I mean consumers goy!!! Won’t someone please think of the children?!

  • Michael P

    You’re all good for now, I’m running AdBlock plus with TechRaptor whitelisted and I’m getting banner ads that are so unobtrusive I had to check just now to see if they were actually there.

  • Missile Lawnchair