Publishers have become accustomed to having ad revenue blocked, but an increasing number of ad blocking solutions are now diverting that income to their own accounts rather than just blocking ads.
The techniques used are not new. The concept of “ad injection”, hijacking ad space before it is displayed has been a profitable model for malware for some time. What is new is users choosing to install such software.
Why do users allow this to happen?
These browsers and browser extensions typically market themselves based on two advantages to the end user. The first is that they promise to share a proportion of the revenue that they generate by reselling the hijacked ad space. The second is that they promise privacy by not allowing ad technologies like cookie tracking.
With ad blockers already having broken the traditional value exchange of ads paying for the content users consume, these advantages can appear to have no drawback to the casual user. Of course, it is the publisher who pays the real price.
How do these platforms justify hijacking publisher ad space?
Brave is a Chromium based browser positioned as being privacy centric. It blocks ads by default and gives users an option to show ads from Brave’s network in their place. Users choosing this option earn tokens for doing so. Brave talk in aspirational terms of creating a new funding model for the web and offer publishers access to a “Brave Rewards” programme that allows Brave users who block their ads to leave tips for their favourite sites. Whilst some notable publishers have signed up for this, it clearly lacks appeal to many.
Gener8, who position themselves as “A browser extension that pays you to see ads” are even more upfront and are bordering on being proud of diverting revenue from content producers. Their homepage proudly states “Brands pay money to show you adverts online. Usually, this money goes to the website that displayed the ad. But when you use Gener8, you receive tokens every time you see an ad.” Even ignoring concerns from users that no-one is getting paid, the proposition is clearly “you get paid, publishers don’t”.
What will these new ad injection models mean for publishers?
Overall, users’ adoption of these new “ad injection” models is relatively low. However, if the combined impact of these models do increase, this will undoubtedly further erode away publisher revenues. The installation of ad blockers is beginning to level out, but the question is whether the introduction of these new models will increase adoption rates. If so, it is likely that publishers will look to earn revenue in other unethical ways, such as receiving free products in exchange for a positive review, which will obviously harm the neutrality of content. Alternatively, users can expect to see more publishers adopting a subscription-based approach to sharing content, as publishers such as The New York Times have started doing already.