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Newspaper Industry Files Federal Suit Against Ad-blocking Industry

Newspaper Industry Files Federal Suit Against Ad-blocking Industry

Alleging that certain ad blockers engage in “unfair and deceptive trade practices”

Newspapers face a range of problems from loss of public trust to loss of print readership to bankruptcy and collapse to transitioning to digital journalism.  The newspaper industry has lumbered, sometimes grudgingly, into the digital age and is still experimenting with ways to remain financially viable: web subscriptions (i.e. pay walls) and advertising are among the primary sources of online revenue.

Online advertising, however, is not as viable as it might be for the newspaper industry due, they argue, to ad-blockers, and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) has taken note.  The NAA, according to its website, is “a nonprofit organization representing nearly 2,000 newspapers and their multiplatform businesses in the United States and Canada. NAA members include daily newspapers, as well as nondailies, other print publications and online products.”

The Washington Post reports that the NAA has filed a federal suit against the ad blocking industry, “alleging that software companies which enable users to block ads are misleading the public.”

The complaint asks the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that oversees trade practices, to investigate ad blockers that offer “paid whitelisting,” – a service which charges advertisers to bypass ad-blocking software – along with services that substitute ad blockers’ own advertising for blocked ads or get around publishers’ subscription pages.

NAA’s press release has more detailed information:

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) today filed a Complaint and Request for Investigation with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that certain ad blocking technologies and related services violate Section 5 of the FTC Act as unfair and deceptive trade practices. NAA requests that the FTC investigate ad blockers that offer “paid whitelisting,” substitute ad blockers’ own advertising for blocked ads, claim that subscription services prevent publisher harm, and facilitate the evasion of metered subscription systems.

“Newspapers recognize that ad blocking technology is responding to a consumer demand, and publishers are working diligently to improve the ad experience for consumers. However, some ad blocking firms have implemented ad blocking business models that deceive consumers. These practices undercut our members’ ability to provide a satisfying customer experience because the consumer is not receiving the whole truth,” said NAA President & CEO David Chavern.

Ben Williams, head of operations and communications for popular ad-blocking software AdBlock Plus, told the Washington Post that NAA had “misconstrued the services the company offers.”

The “only part of [NAA’s allegations] that resembles reality is the part about ad blocking being a statement of consumer dissatisfaction with an ad industry that has spied on them, deceived them and, most of all, annoyed them with intrusive ads for years.”

William’s said the company only white-listed ads that adhered to specific criteria, including size requirements and not disrupting the reading experience. He disputed the allegation that Ad Block Plus offered a pay-to-play system where users weren’t told that ads they had paid to block were being let in for a fee. Users, he said, could block all ads if they chose to do so.

WaPo also notes that, much as Professor Jacobson has done here at LI, “the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have experimented with messages that gently ask readers to turn off ad-blockers — or to consider subscribing.”

Online ads run the gamut from the relatively unobtrusive (like the ads here at LI) to the incredibly annoying (pop ups, autoplays) to the potentially dangerous (malware, redirects).

The Washington Post continues:

Online advertising is part of the trade-off that defines much of the Web’s economy. Much of what users do online is offered for “free” — e-mail, social networks, web search — only because companies can track the behavior of consumers and send them targeted ads.

Advocates of ad blockers say that the ads crowding websites these days are irritating, invasive and sometimes unsafe. Ads can slow downloading time. They sometimes take over entire screens, preventing users from seeing the content they actually want to read. Meanwhile, “malvertising” attacks have put malware into people’s computers and devices by hiding in legitimate advertising.

This showdown between the newspaper industry and the ad blocker industry has been a long time coming, but it seems unlikely that it can or will be resolved satisfactorily (to either side) in courts.  The primary culprit here may be neither the newspaper nor the ad blocker but may instead be the advertisers who create ads that readers simply cannot abide and/or that are unsafe.  Readers will always find a way to block or avoid these ads . . . even if that means refusing to visit the site with the offending ad/s a second time.


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nordic_prince | May 29, 2016 at 3:37 pm

I use AdBlock Plus. Occasionally I run across an article on Forbes that sounds interesting; however, when I try to access t the full article, the website oh-so-helpfully requests that I disable the plugin, and then reminds me that I haven’t complied with their request, prompting me to make an account. At that point,I tell them to bug off, and decide that whatever they had wasn’t worth reading in the first place. I’m not going to sign up or fork over money just to read the occasional article or two that might be interesting. It’d probably be a different story if the publication were something where I could consistently sit down, read the thing cover to cover and get something out of it, but when it’s more miss than hit, fuggedaboudit ~

    Every once in a while, Forbes will have an article that sounds interesting, and I momentarily forget that I refuse to jump through hoops to read it (or anything). I just close the window and move on. My quality of life is in no way impaired by my not being able to read the occasional article at Forbes.

    snopercod in reply to nordic_prince. | May 30, 2016 at 7:05 am

    I’ve had the same problem with Forbes, but when I disable Add Block Plus, it still won’t let me see the article. Screw ’em…

      persecutor in reply to snopercod. | May 30, 2016 at 8:14 am

      I love how they think that we consider ads to be part of a meaningful or satisfying experience. Methinks they (websites and advertisers)are the only ones who do.

JackRussellTerrierist | May 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm

“Advocates of ad blockers say that the ads crowding websites these days are irritating, invasive and sometimes unsafe. Ads can slow downloading time. They sometimes take over entire screens, preventing users from seeing the content they actually want to read. Meanwhile, “malvertising” attacks have put malware into people’s computers and devices by hiding in legitimate advertising.”

This is the heart of the problem. The nasty, aggressive nature of some of these advertisers is so bad that they actually freeze up the pc. These ads are obnoxious as hell and to not expect blowback in the form of defeating blockers is a pipe dream. Now they’re sniveling about it. AFAIC, they made their bed by being so brutish in their tactics to begin with. What some of them are doing is take over your pc and freeze it, which is akin to a carnival barker physically grabbing you as you wander through the midway at the fair, dragging you to their game booth and telling you you’re not leaving until you fork over some play the game.

If these advertising purveyors weren’t so greedy, they’d be tolerated and that would be the end of it.

Obviously, I’m rooting for the ad blocker companies.

    Internet ads started out as little block ads like the ones that used to be in newspapers, but it wasn’t long before they were flashing and dancing, autoplaying, popping up and blocking content, and basically making using the internet a horrible nightmare. Neon flashing blocks with dancing figures with autoplay music or text inspire me not to buy the product or click the link but to make a mental note never ever to visit that site or buy that product (clicking and buying it reinforces the viability of obtrusive and annoying ads, proliferating more such horrors).

    I was incredibly joyful the day I first learned that I could block all that and go about my day without being barraged with visual vomit with every click of my mouse. But then, I was never an ad clicker to begin with.

    Ad blockers met a true need and made many websites more accessible to people like me who have a low tolerance for invasive and intrusive ads I don’t care about. I never went back to sites that took over and flashed and danced and blocked content and opened new pages and played music or voice overs. I probably haven’t been back to them since!

    Obnoxious ads and potentially dangerous and always obnoxious malware are the real turn off. I wouldn’t use Ad Blocker at all (even white listing specific sites I want to help revenue-wise) if the ads weren’t so off-putting. The NAA shouldn’t focus on ad blockers that serve a real customer need but should instead focus on the nature of internet advertising itself. If ads were all as benign and unobtrusive as those here at LI, I would get rid of Ad Blocker Plus. Until that happens, though, no way am I giving it up.

    Some sites are now set to require that you disable your ad blocker before viewing content. Um. No. I won’t expose my computer to potentially harmful and disruptive malware, etc. just to read some article I can read elsewhere. Frankly, even content that I can’t find elsewhere, I just skip in those cases.

    It seems there should be some way to target different demographics. Maybe the tweens and twenty- and even thirty-somethings who are being intentionally infantilized in our culture are attracted to flashy lights and dancing stick figures, maybe they are easily distracted by autoplay ads and random pop-ups; fine, put those on sites that cater to that demographic. Plastering them on every site is a mistake, a mistake that resulted in the ad blocker industry taking off as it has.

I pay for the computer. I pay for the software. I pay for the internet access. I will not provide free access to my equipment for advertisers. I’ve used AdBlock since the day that it came out, specifically because of pop-ups, pop-unders and malware, and I’m not about to open myself up to that for ANY newspaper or website.

There are a couple of websites that I visit regularly where I do drop a few bucks in the tip jar now and then, but none of them are owned by major corporations, who write off the cost of that website as a business expense anyway.

    MrMichael in reply to Granny. | May 29, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Thank you for supporting Legal and College Insurrection! So few of the people who visit this site… a place where Professor Jacobson pays for the site, the bandwidth to get it out to us, the privately run servers to keep it’s content safe and always available, and I assume a small stipend to his contributors like Mr. Slippers, here. If more people like you contributed generously to the site (see the right sidebar for easy options!) then the advertising would not be necessary.

    But the income IS necessary… and if it doesn’t come from contributors like you, then the ads will have to suffice. The Professor does a valiant job keeping the worst kinds of ads out of his ‘ad feed’… but I’m sure he can’t afford to pay for it all out of his pocket.

    I’ve been a big fan of this site for years… and my Ad-Blocking software has an option to disable it for every site I visit and support… and I turn it off for a few… including Legal and College Insurrection.

    dunce1239 in reply to Granny. | May 29, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    I clicked the article just so i could say exactly what you just posted. Amen.

One of the features of the desktop version of AddBlock Plus that is missing from the Firefox android mobile version is Element Hiding Rules. This lack makes ABP almost useless with many screen blocking adds.

I have found that most adds on a smartphone to be sufficiently obnoxious that there are sites I will not visit.

Between the ads and the drivel which comprises news publications, there’s little point in visiting the sites.

I’ve generally disabled the blocker for those sites (like LI) requesting it, and leave it off if their ads aren’t intrusive.

Let’s not forget, though, that people didn’t turn first to pop-up blockers & now ad-blockers out of spite. Ads had become progressively intrusive, disrupting the reading of content.

Don’t blame the reader for protecting himself from offensive content; blame the offenders, not the victims.

I went without an adblocker for years, attempting first to use the preferences on my browser. But, various websites, especially the news websites got around my preferences and foisted their annoying, intrusive, loud ads on me. First they started to make me watch their own video instead of the video I clicked on, then when i turned that nonsense off, they started using autoplay. I hate autoplay, because I am sometimes in public, and I do not want to be rude to people nearby. I use Adblocker Plus, now, with only a few whitelisted domains.

I particularly hate pop-ups, autoplay, targeted ads and anything that blinks or moves.

Another thing I hate is going to a website to download a piece of software, and suddenly finding that I have also downloaded something that f*&&King changes my browser for the purpose of adding *&^&&* advertising! Do you hear, me, ADOBE? If I want Chrome, or Yahoo or that godforsaken BING, I jolly well know where to get it for myself. I particularly hate the fact that I STILL have remnants of BING on my computer after several hours of cleaning up their trash.

    DaveGinOly in reply to Valerie. | May 29, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    I don’t like autoplay videos of any kind, including the content I’m at the site to see. I will open multiple windows of stories as I review a news source’s main page. When videos start playing in them, I have to track them down and mute them so I can hear the one I’m focusing on at the time. Some can’t even be muted! (Most obnoxious.) I just close those pages, and I usually don’t go back.

I use Privacy Badger to also block tracking attempts.

My position has always been that this is my computer, my bandwidth, my antivirus software, my ad-blocker, my electricity. Besides being intrusive, ads which take up more than a minimal amount of processing power — such as displaying a link — are a theft of my compute power, and waste of my time as they traverse the internet reporting to their servers and waiting for unwanted content to shove down my throat.

When I get the requests to turn off my ad blocker, I close the tab, and go on to a site that respects my preferences. If a site has content that I value, such as LI, I add it to my whitelist, if their ads are not too annoying.

If I was going to summarize, in one word, newspapers suing over unfair and deceptive actions in one word, it would be irony.

Here is the deal newspaper people. Your primary function is to bring eyeballs to advertisements. It is not to change the world or make bathrooms safe for perverts. When you spend 40 years going out of your way to insult and mock over half of your potential customers, you have to expect a reduction in revenue. You don’t have to have an MBA to figure that out.

Ah, a little trip down Memory Lane …

It was actually LI which alerted me to the existence of AdBlocker, when I read a complaint here about its pervasive use. I gave it a shot, and, mirabile dictu, it worked. In particular, it eliminated the absurd block of clickbait ads which appeared dead-center on every LI page. The pics accompanying those ads had become increasing annoying, moving from the merely outrageous to the patently disgusting, but I thought they were just more of those unavoidable trials of modern life. Well, how ’bout that; software can be a force for good as well as a force for evil, after all. It’s certainly done wonders for loading times with my default browser, Opera.

Drudge often sends me to sites which want me to turn off AdBlock. To date, I’ve never even felt tempted to do so.

Ad composers are failing to keep up with technology. The modern fad in flatscreen monitors is a wide aspect ratio, quite different from the almost-square ratio we all used not so long ago. So most of the useful webpage area is confined to the central half of the screen. If ads appeared off on either margin, they’d still be visible, but wouldn’t get the targeted viewers anywhere near so peeved.

Someone needs to develop a micro payment scheme. Some way to pay instantly (re: impulsively) an small fee to read someone’s site pages for a set length of time.

Subscriber fees are usually too high. This is due to the fact that not everyday will a site have content of interest to the payee. And the Ads don’t work because advertisers believe enough is never enough. They will jam ads in on top of ads. They don’t care and neither do a lot of site owners care whether their viewers come back or not.

So the award will go to whoever can develop a quick,cheap and painless way to essentially drop 10 – 25 cents down to essentially pick up the “newspaper” and read the article that caught your eye and then read others. If You find you’re picking that “newspaper” up a lot then you might be interested in a subscription.

You have to make it easy for people to give you their money. Setting high fees with no way to know if you will even be interested in what they offer that month is not easy. Making someone wait for ads to load and fend off ads that are intrusive isn’t easy.

Micro payments would be easy. (and paypal is NOT the answer due to their high fees for processing that’s where the rub is, the processing of the payments.)

I have been using adblocker plus because adds had been making my web browser unusable. One website I was using had annoying popup telling me I was using an adblocker and asked that I disable it. I whitelisted the site and I still kept getting the pop up about me using an adblocker.

Shortly after reading this article I decided to disable adblocker. Within 5 minutes I was looking at one of my frequent web sites that I considered trustworthy. A tab opened on my browser asking me to download an update for Adobe Flash. Of course, it was a trojan. Happily, my browser warned me that the message was suspicious. I opened a virtual sandbox for the trojan. Once it was downloaded into the virtual sandbox, Malwarebytes software quickly flagged it as a trojan.

So, I am turning my adblocker back on.

In America I thought that we had a freedom of choice. That would include the freedom to choose what car I drive, what house or apartment I live in, what college to go to, what food to buy, and, up until now, what ads I would want to watch. Who gives anyone else the right to force me to view their ads? Perhaps the papers should realize that if people are forced to do something like look at intrusive ads that keep popping up all the tie, then they will stop going to those sites. The free market is a wonderful ting; too bad it’s being taken from us one law at a time.

Active content by the website plus all the ads make it almost impossible to use a single processor PC anymore. It requires more patience than I have to wait on a page to load. So I use fast, multi-processor computers and Adguard.

The news outfits deny their bias, but their writing is prejudicial. How many news stories of any significance do you read that DO NOT contain phrasings such as “Some think that ‘a’ might lead to ‘b'”; “Studies show that ‘xyz’ is a possible result”; “Under current law, ‘abc’ is something that could happen.”

The newspapers have spent the past 20 years turning themselves into an advertising and advocacy agents for the progressive cause; they have spent 20 years making themselves increasingly irrelevant. Now they complain about not being treated as relevant? Pardon me, you purported journalists, but I find it highly amusing to see you hoist on your own petard.

News sites, especially newspapers, seem to be the worst for invasive ads. They are especially bad for Firefox. Until I started using adblocker, Firefox would routinely lock up. Now it doesn’t. It doesn’t stop all the the autoplay ads, but it certainly keeps them down to an acceptable roar. And, if Forbes and other sites want me to disable AdBlock, they miss any income they might have gotten from my visit.

People loved reading newspapers, for the news. They stopped buying them when they became propaganda rags for the left.

The cure for newspapers is simple: become newspapers again instead of propaganda.

I have never in my life clicked on an ad except by accident trying to leave the site or turn off the ad.

Far as I am concerned the newspapers can take a long walk. And keep going.