Adblock Plus has already defeated Facebook's new ad blocking restrictions

Adblock Plus

Facebook's plan to stop ad blockers has already been foiled. Adblock Plus has found a way to strip ads from Facebook, even when they're served up in Facebook's new ad blocker-proof format. Anyone with a fully updated version of Adblock Plus should once again be able to avoid ads in Facebook's sidebar and News Feed.

The method may be flawed, however: Facebook says that in its attempt to remove ads, Adblock Plus is also removing regular posts. "We're disappointed that ad blocking companies are punishing people on Facebook as these new attempts don't just block ads but also posts from friends and Pages," a Facebook spokesperson said. "This isn't a good experience for people and we plan to address the issue."

Imperfect as it may be, the release of a new ad blocker is still bad news for Facebook, which rolled out its supposedly unblockable ads just two days ago. It's entirely possible that Facebook has additional measures it can take to subvert ad blockers or that it expected that this type of back-and-forth battle will ensue. But the fact that Adblock Plus responded in two days' time doesn't bode well; Facebook wants to display ads, but it's hard to imagine it wants to devote resources to outsmarting a browser extension every 48 hours.

Adblock Plus is already being clear that it's ready for battle. "This sort of back-and-forth battle between the open-source ad-blocking community and circumventers has been going on since ad blocking was invented; so it’s very possible that Facebook will write some code that will render the filter useless — at any time," Adblock Plus' Ben Williams writes in a blog post. "If that happens, the ad-blocking community will likely find another workaround, then Facebook might circumvent again, etc."

To circumvent ad blockers in the first place, Facebook removed code that explicitly identified ads, making them appear more like regular Facebook posts (it was a behind-the-scenes change; users still saw a "sponsored" disclosure). But apparently it didn't go far enough. Williams tells The Verge that beating the system again "was just a matter of finding the non-standard indicators they began using" and then filtering them out. But he added, "I would stress, though, that this is a cat-and-mouse game; so their next circumvention might come at any time."

Facebook said on Tuesday that it felt comfortable circumventing ad blockers because its ads weren't annoying and it was giving users increased control over what types of ads they see. Behind all of that, of course, is the fact that Facebook can't exist without ads, which are far and away its primary source of revenue. It's a pretty reasonable argument, given that Facebook is a free and optional service. But some people using ad blockers say that they're necessary to maintain their privacy online, since ads, including Facebook's, can track your interests around the web.

"Ad blockers are a blunt instrument," Facebook's spokesperson said, "which is why we've instead focused on building tools like ad preferences to put control in people's hands."

Update August 11th, 1:10PM ET: This story has been updated to include comment from Facebook.


"Facebook said on Tuesday that it felt comfortable circumventing ad blockers because its ads weren’t annoying…"

Clearly, Facebook and its users (myself included in that) have vastly different thresholds for when something is "annoying". No, the ads are not pop-ups or anything like that, but they’re still mostly clutter. For a lot of people, clutter is annoying enough.

But you don’t need to pay a monthly fee for using Facebook. I think "clutter" is better than paying $9/month.

True, but the issue is not so much the fact that they’re putting in ads but rather how they do it. I don’t think that most people would mind if they were small and off to the side, unlike what is shown in the main article photo. But having a huge ad in the middle of the main feed as well as relatively large ads on the side as well? There’s no need for them to do that. They’re still intrusive.

And it’s not like they’ll start losing money. They already make so much money off data mining what we post, what we link, etc. that adverts are probably just an added bonus.

They already make so much money off data mining what we post, what we link, etc. that adverts are probably just an added bonus.

Ummmm, no. The data mining is what makes their ads valuble. No ads makes data mining useless.

The data itself has the monetary value and could be sold. Ads are above and beyond it.

I’m not sure that I understand. How could the data be sold? Sell what exactly to whom? I’m asking that because I work in advertising (Adwords and facebook ads), maybe I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

So Facebook knows a lot about you. It knows your likes, your dislikes, if you prefer blondes or brunettes, your political leanings, your activity and general online presence. It’s able to slot you into groups, label you, because of this. This data becomes a demographic, and companies pay for demographic information to drive their own targeted marketing. So instead of selling ad space for X number of users, they sell the data itself.

I’m sorry, it doesn’t work like that at all. The demographic data by itself is kind of useless, definitely not a multi billion business. It is nice to have it and to do nice slides in powerpoint but that is about it. Without actually being able to target the specific users you need with the advertising, I, as an advertiser, wouldn’t pay a dime just for nice demographics pies.

Thank you. While Tony’s specific comment seems rational and thought through (albeit somewhat incorrect), the general misinformation propogated about how web companies "sell" their users to advertisers is frustrating for me (also in the digital/marketing industry but on the fringes of what you do)

That being said a lot of people do find some of Facebook’s policies to be frustrating – like retargeting any visitors that doesn’t have an account on other sites, among others. So some of people’s concerns or frustrations can be valid too.

I’m in the same boat, I’m not a fan of Facebook. I know Google is more scrutinized at the moment, but I consider them overall a more honest business than Facebook. Make no mistake, both of them sit on a huge pile of sensitive and private data, which is in itself a potential danger and I agree that they must be always under scrutiny by governments (that shouldn’t translate though in stupid decisions and discriminatory regulations or protectionism). Anyhow, the bright side is that both of them actually are very focused in securing the data so it doesn’t get in the wrong hands, although some people think otherwise based on half-baked news.
As for advertisers which usually are in the discussion as the buyers of the Google and Facebook data, that is definitely false. As an advertiser, I’ve never encountered such data and even if I did, I wouldn’t touch any individual data, I would run away as fast as I could. Aggregated demographics are valuable just when you can actually place ads to the targeted audience and measure the results. Both of these are the responsibility of Facebook and Google advertising systems and it will remain that way.

You get the demographic charts to show how effective your ads have been.
You say you want to target white, middle-class Republican voting males living in New England and you get back that you hit X number in that demographic. You don’t know that you hit Bill Joe and Fred specifically (But Google/Facebook do) .
Where it gets really messy is small target areas where companies can do extra research themselves or pay someone to do it to narrow it down. In my particular line of business I can usually identify individuals or, failing that, a small group

I’m aware of that, it was more an ironic comment I made. Tony was saying something else: that facebook wouldn’t need to place ads on the website, it would just need to sell demographics to advertisers, because that’s where the money is.
Demographics studies are fine when you’re entering a business or launch a new product and you need to have an idea to whom you’re going to sell (if you don’t already know) and prepare your marketing strategy. But this kind of research could be (and is) easily made without any help from Facebook or Google.
At the end of the day, you would want to have the highest return on investment possible. Targeted advertising with good ways to measure the performance/ROI is what advertisers are looking for.

I’m sorry. It definitely does work like that. It’s called partner data sharing, and it’s worth millions upon millions of dollars. Know who does it all the time? Banks and credit card companies. You’re focused on the defined demographic category that gets built, when it’s actually the actual names and contact details within that which are shared.

The fault? These come with opt-out clauses, but most don’t ever exercise it.

It’s called partner data sharing, and it’s worth millions upon millions of dollars.

Which is basically a sliver of facebook operational costs. That’s basically zero dollars for facebook relatively speaking. And let’s be clear, "partner data sharing" is very limited in what they are legally allowed to offer.

The place where ad money actually is (TV, Billboard, facebook) are 99% of where the advertising money is.

Oh? I didn’t quantify it, so you don’t know what was meant; nor do you know the exact revenue stream unless you happen to be their CFO.

Billboards are cheap advertising, by the way. The money is in the data itself.

Facebook and Google selling your data would probably be the last approach. And it would be fucking worse than ads. Do you want people calling you every time to sell you something or do you prefer an ad on your news feed? Your arguments aren’t well tought out. It doesnt work like that.
By the way, Banks do that but they still mainly earn their money from different activities and they still earn less than Facebook.

Checked your spam box in Gmail lately?

And banks earn less than Facebook? Tell me more about my industry… Mine made 16 billion more than Facebook.

Checked your spam box in Gmail lately?

Yea and I can tell you most of those are random things that have nothing to do with me. Spam ads haven’t changed in 20 years.

Tell me more about my industry

Sure, the vast majority of banking revenue comes from things that don’t have anything to do with data sharing.

Cite your own sources then. Common sense (just by looking at what firms who buy data do with it) says it’s relatively worthless.

Billboard may be cheap, but advertising campaigns using that type of advertising (where a brand is trying to create interest) are still more expensive and valuable.

The value of companies like Facebook and Google is that they know information that no one else does. They don’t sell that data to anyone because It would devalue the company. It would be like if Apple sold its OS to other OEMs.

Exactly. Google/Facebook make money by owning the data about you, they arent going to sell it.

You mean like that period of time they allowed Mac clones?

Very curious when that was the case

Wrong example lol.

I’m pretty sure they CAN’T sell your data to anyone.

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