Publishers detecting and circumventing users of ad blockers could now be “named and shamed”, as part of a movement spurred on by online privacy activist Alexander Hanff.  

The founder and CEO of Think Privacy launched a website on May 2 which allows anyone to report sites deemed to be in breach of the newly laid-out European ePrivacy Directive, which states that it’s illegal to access information on a computer without prior consent.

That ‘information’, Hanff claims, includes detecting whether a user has ad blockers installed.

“If you visit a web site and see a message asking you to turn off your ad blocker, there is a high chance that web site is breaking the law,” he comments on the site, adding that Think Privacy will investigate each reported case and “take appropriate legal action against them”, if necessary.

Some of the sites recommending users turn off their ad blockers, such as German tabloid Bild and even The Guardian, although only the publishers without user consent risk being caught on the wrong side of the law.

Squeeze on revenue

Although Hanff has claimed on Twitter that he still has to manually verify each report, this latest development in the ad-blocking story leaves many wondering exactly what recourse is left for publishers finding their revenues under ever greater threat from the display industry’s biggest foe.

“It seems publishers just can’t get a break these days,” commented Charlie Ashe, head of digital strategy at ad tech company Ve Interactive.

“Not only are they having their revenues squeezed by the meteoric rise of ad-blocker use, but their efforts to curb the damage are now being attacked by privacy regulators.

Publishers are facing a dilemma and the current situation is unsustainable, argues Ashe: “In some ways this isn’t surprising: technology to counter ad blocking is a growing area of innovation, and so it’s inevitable that some of these technologies will run afoul of regulation.”

Ashe claims that the industry is not going to “beat the tech” behind ad blockers, advising once again that publishers look to the long-term causes behind the widespread use of the software.

With “data-hungry, flashy video ads” now widely considered intrusive to the user’s browsing experience, it’s paramount that publishers and advertisers continue to work together on a solution to increase ad quality and to communicate that the current situation is unsustainable.

“At the end of the day, the end-users are the ones who decide whether to use an ad blocker, so the truly sustainable solution is a preventative one: to stop them from seeing the need for an ad blocker in the first place,” concludes Ashe.