“We don't want war” - an interview with Adblock Plus director Ben Williams
Advertising on the Internet - a terribly controversial issue. She enrages, imposes, climbs from everywhere, she doesn’t want to see her ever again in her life. But advertising will be lost, and those things for which we love the Internet will be gone.
With the advent of ad blockers, everything seems to have fallen out. Some say that going to good sites with the included adblock is almost like piracy. The law is not prohibited, but morally unacceptable. Others say that publishers themselves spoil everything with their greed and banners under each paragraph. Still others say, adbloki kill free content, fourth - that adbloki keep advertisers in their fists and do not give impudent.
This is a big controversy, where everyone seems to be right until it becomes completely categorical. Between the hammer and the anvil themselves were the creators of the blockers. We are withfillpackart talked with Ben Williams, director of Adblock Plus, and tried to find out how they deal with moral contradictions and why they are taking an increasingly centrist position.
Ben Williams, Eyeo Operations Director, Adblock Plus Developer Company
- (Phil) Which browser is the hardest to support right now?
- In principle, with none there is no particular difficulty, and over time it becomes only easier. I remember when we first started working with Firefox, we didn’t support Safari at all. And now the main problem is not in browsers.
The most difficult is mobile platforms. Of course, you can make an ad blocker for any browser, but most people use the ones on the phone by default. And many of them do not allow to put extensions in general.
The second problem is that people want to block ads in two applications - on Facebook and Youtube (in Russia back on VK). But this is impossible, because the Stores will not miss such a blocker.
- And how do you plan to solve this?
“Well ... it's a tough question, we haven't decided yet.” But we are trying.
First, we have our own browser for Android and iOS. Secondly - we made an application that works in conjunction with Safari. And third, we work with companies that will embed Adblock Plus into their mobile products. For example, in some browsers blocking will be included directly in the settings - not as an extension, but as an option. But all this concerns only browsers.
To block ads in applications, you need a big change. Now we just can not get into the App Store and Play Store with such a thing. The Play Store threw us out in 2013, and since then has not let us back. This is really a big problem, but it is only in the people who run the stores. I hope they ever realize that users want to block ads in applications.
- (Phil) Performance - a sensitive question for you?
- This is extremely important. It so happened that Adblock Plus has a very technically savvy audience, so be sure to think about speed, memory usage. Still, the audience understands such things. I can not yet tell, but soon we will make a big announcement about the speed of our application. I hope we can significantly increase it.
- (Phil) Can you tell me why you need machine learning?
- With the filing of our engineer Oleksandr Paraska, we began to look towards blocking with the help of artificial intelligence. The idea is that with the help of image recognition, the blocker will be able to understand on which picture the advertisement is and on which picture it is not. For example, he will see the Facebook feed and notice the “sponsored” tag - in 90 percent of cases it really will be advertising.
The hardest thing with an AI is to train it correctly. It is necessary to feed a lot of advertising so that it becomes better and better until it is as accurate as a clock. With AI, filters and lists of page elements will not be needed by the blocker. Perhaps it will become even more accurate, because he himself will understand where the advertisement is and where it is not. But this, of course, is still far away.
- What will you do when advertising evolves into something else? Not just banners, but something more deeply integrated.
- This is already happening. Native advertising was a trend a couple of years ago, among advertisers it was constantly discussed.
But I do not think that advertising will be sewn into the content so deeply that you will not notice it. In addition, in most countries, regulators prohibit it. If Facebook removes the Sponsored tag, in America they will definitely have problems with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
It is more interesting to see how advertising campaigns are now being conducted through inflationators. Stars, celebrities from the Internet promote products and do not say that they are supported for this financially. Such advertising is unethical, but it can not be blocked.
- (Phil) You have no arms race with advertising exchanges?
- Yes, there are third-party companies that offer technology to bypass the ad blocker. They trick him, and advertising makes its way to the people who have blocked it. We have a whole team that helps users in this race. Users complain to us, we fix. All this is the technical side of the game.
Big publishers usually do not use such tools, because they understand that brazenly pushing through advertising is not a good idea, their audience will be extremely dissatisfied.
So, I do not think that the technologies of circumventing blockers have a future.
- Now everyone wants to personalize ads, show only relevant things. You did not think to somehow contribute to this trend?
I believe that there can be a benefit in relevant advertising, but there is also a downside - users are not warned that information is being collected about them. And people are worried about their personal data. Look at the scandals around Facebook, on the GDPR. There is a whole system where cars spy on people to learn about their preferences and show them ads. And most of the data is useless, they give nothing. In addition to the discontent of those who collect it.
I think in the future, when data collection will work correctly and anonymously - so that the data cannot be associated with a particular person - advertising will become useful and will work better.
- Is it difficult to hire people to develop browser extensions?
- Hiring is very, very successful. We have talented recruiters, and we hire people from all over the world, because we let work from wherever we want - from Moscow, Australia, San Francisco - from anywhere.
The ability to select employees from all over the world makes it easier, despite the fact that we have very high requirements.
- Is it difficult to work with an international team?
- The word is hard does not fit. I would say it is a challenge, and quite interesting. We strive to make the team international, diverse and inclusive. I think it should be at the level of culture. Since you decided to take a team of different people with different backgrounds, then you need to be open.
When people from different countries work together, there are misunderstandings in communication. Things that are easy to solve face to face can be misunderstood when there are thousands of miles between people. Therefore, we try to reduce misunderstandings to a minimum. For example, we collect all the people in the office in Cologne. Usually twice a year - in the summer and on New Year's holidays. We spend the whole week together, learning to work in a team.
- You require developers to share your beliefs about ad blocking.
- The mission of our company, it is the first - to give users the tools to control fair-profitable Internet (Fair profitable web).
The second is to give resources like Habr, or journalists making great content, a chance to make more money. Therefore, in our blocker there is an option - to skip the part of advertising that meets the standards of "permissible advertising." Full blocking is not a solution.
And I understand that not everyone will agree with our position. But I think, working with us, you have to share the mission, to believe that users can control the Internet. And of course, I must believe that not all advertising is bad. If you do not believe, but you come to work with us, you simply will not be happy. It’s probably easier to go work somewhere else.
That is, it is important to share a mission, but opinions around it can be anything. We are constantly arguing inside how to interpret it. It's like a law - he has a lot of interpretations.
- And what is your position in the struggle of publishers and ad blockers?
“We're trying to help publishers ... no, not like this.” We are trying to improve the exchange of value between blocker users and publishers. The idea of fair exchange is that the user says: “I am ready to give you attention, to see your advertisement, in exchange for the content that you produce for me”.
Now this exchange has collapsed. The Internet is so intrusive advertising that people block everything.
We feel that from complete blocking we must move in the direction of filtration. We are trying to contact the publishers as much as possible, trying to convey that they can reclaim users who have a blocker installed. And on the other hand, we are trying to convey to users what value sharing is.
We do not want war. It will not lead to anything good.
- (Phil) Do you have ethical issues with other companies?
- In the past there were companies that wanted to deal with us. In Germany, we were sued six times, but we always won. And now, blocking is mainstream, everyone understands what it is, and there are no more such problems.
- (Phil) Do you advertise your products on the Internet?
- Yes. We have launched several campaigns, we hope they are not annoying. But if you use the blocker, then the ad blocker will be blocked. Ironically, but nothing can be done. We have to advertise in social networks, because it is almost impossible to grow there organically, you have to pay for coverage.
So - yes, we advertise. This is the only way to search for new users. But you will not know about it if you are already our user.
- My cant, but I do not really understand how you earn.
- As I already mentioned, the blockers do not hide some advertising. This system was invented by us, and it became the industry standard. Previously, everyone blocked everything, but now they block selectively.
When we started blocking only a part, it was a real technical challenge — unblock the right ad, make sure it was really visible and prove it to the publisher, show various metrics.
And when we did it, we realized that for large advertisers we work almost like an exchange of advertising places, something like SSP. Therefore, we decided to charge for such a service.
- Perhaps my opinion is not the most popular, but such an idea sounds like blackmail or extortion, like “pay us or we will kill your business.”
- Well, yes, people used to say so often. In fact, everything is completely different. In the beginning, as I said, everything was blocked. But when the “white list” appeared, we, one can say, changed our shoes on the fly. And having done this, they realized that we would finally benefit.
I could understand your opinion, if we immediately, as soon as we launched the blocker, told everyone: “in order not to fall under the blocking, you must meet our standards and pay.” But this was not the case. We scored millions of users and risked losing them all, changing the way we worked.
We passed back, opened access to our user base and allowed the publishers to return lost profits, while not going against the wishes of users.
- And now there is a "permissible advertisement", that is, your idea is moderation of advertising?
- Right. But the main thing is that we do not determine what kind of advertising is permissible. This is decided by a third-party non-profit organization, which is called the Ad Hoc Advertising Committee.
People have been searching for locking solutions for years. But for me it has always been extremely clear - the users of the blocker do not want to hide everything. 77 percent say they prefer to filter ads. 83 percent want to block only aggressive advertising. That is, people do not want to block everything. You just need to find how to show them what they do not mind seeing.
This is our approach - to make advertising better for our users.
- I have slightly different numbers. In a survey on Habré, 44 percent said that they are blocking absolutely everything.
Screen survey, which conducted ragequit (and my personal position on the topic)
Well, it all depends on how to put the question, right? Mark Twain said: "there is a lie, there is a blatant lie, and there are statistics." In disputes, all always give their numbers. And yes, I understand that they are all honest.
But in our case it is not even statistics, it is the actual number of users. Our figures are public, and it is clear from them that only eight percent use full blocking of all advertising.
82 percent of people are happy with the blocker, because they have set everything up as they like.
- You probably also see how many payvol became around. Don't you think it's the blocker’s fault?
No, I think payvol is just one of the ways publishers can monetize content.
- What do you think about state censorship? For example, systems that in theory could filter content online. Cut out allusions of drugs and all extremism. Would you be interested in doing this?
Very simple question. We are not interested in censorship.