Facebook sneaks ads past blockers, hopes you won't mind

Facebook has discovered a way to disguise its ads so adblockers can't stop them. But they're also working to offer users ways to opt out and less annoying advertising.

Eric Risberg/AP
Model maker Spencer Burns, leads a tour of Area 404, the hardware R&D lab, at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Aug. 2.

If you have an adblocker enabled, you might be surprised to see advertisements popping up on your Facebook page. 

Facebook announced Tuesday that the company has found a way to circumvent adblockers by making the HTML of the advertisements match the code of original content published to the social media site. 

But that doesn't mean 18-year-old women are going to be bombarded by advertisements for menopause medicine, or that someone with a peanut allergy will see pictures of peanut butter jars popping up in their newsfeed. Facebook also launched a mechanism by which users can set their ad preferences so they can control what content appears on their page.

"Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on," said Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform, said, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Currently, $6.2 billion of Facebook's $6.4 billion in revenue comes from advertising, according to TechCrunch.

"This isn't something that we need to do for revenue, this is something that we really believe in," Mr. Bosworth told Business Insider. "For us, it's a very principled stance on how Facebook should be delivered." 

Facebook is an example of a service that is free to users thanks to advertisements – it's how a user "pays" for the service. But users are increasingly using adblocker applications to scrub advertisements from websites.

Adblock Plus, a leading adblocking company, published a scathing blog post about Facebook's announcement titled, "Oh well, looks like Facebook just got all anti-user."

In the post, the adblocking company calls this "a dark path against user choice" and suggests that this move will alienate users.

But Facebook insists their new format and controls will "complement, rather than detract from, people's experience online." 

The company's press release goes on to explain that the new ad controls will help make the ads useful and relevant for users. For example, the statement suggests, users might see that their favorite band is coming to town. 

"I don't think the all or nothing approach that ad blockers end up taking is really the best way forward," said Bosworth who did not say how much adblockers are used on Facebook, according to USA Today. "Our approach is to find a middle ground. So instead of all or nothing, we want to partner with consumers through tools like ad preferences that allow them to work with us to see ads that are more relevant to their interests and that don't interrupt their experience."

Facebook commissioned a study by Ipsos Research to investigate why users are increasingly turning to adblockers. Here's the conclusions drawn by the study in a press release:

The rise of ad blocking is a clear signal to the ad industry that consumers are dissatisfied with their current experiences. The main reasons cited for using ad blockers include avoiding disruptive ads (69%), ads that slow down their browsing experience (58%) and security / malware risks (56%). In general, younger consumers are more open to online advertising and data collection. But across the board, if consumers are going to see ads, they prefer them to be personalized and relevant."

"This is an absolutely legitimate choice for Facebook," Randall Rothenberg, head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), told Business Insider. "If you want to use the service you're going to get ads. And these are ads that they're going to make sure that are tailored for your experience and which you have enormous amounts of control over."

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