A recent report published in The Financial Times has revealed that a small group of major corporations, including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, is paying Eyeo, the parent company of AdBlock Plus, to be on the plug-in’s whitelist.
The whitelist, which is enabled by default but can be disabled by users, lets certain websites bypass AdBlock Plus if they meet stringent requirements set down by Eyeo. Whitelisting has been publicly known and ongoing since 2011, and over the years the number of eligible sights has grown to just over 300. Reports of companies paying to be put on the whitelist surfaced back in 2013, but no companies were named in the allegations.
Now we know that Eyeo requires monetary compensation from large whitelisted sites. The guidelines of what qualifies as large remain a question, but clearly this trio is very large indeed. The Financial Times report also fingered Taboola, a content marketing website, as a customer of AdBlock Plus. Adblock states that about 10 percent of all companies on the whitelist are paying to be there.
How much are these giants paying AdBlock Plus? No one knows the exact figure, but the percentage is reported to be “30% of the additional ad revenues” brought through the whitelist. That figure vibes with reports from 2013, which suggested companies approach by Eyeo were being asked to pay “a third of the profits generated” through unblocked ads. That’s likely a significant sum given the massive traffic these companies receive. A 2014 report found about 144 million people use ad-blocking software.
This revelation of course conjures questions about the relationship of AdBlock Plus with paying companies and the legitimacy of its “Acceptable Ads Initiative,” which sites supposedly must conform with to be included on the whitelist. While the existence of such guidelines is a welcome step, it’s hard to believe AdBlock Plus is watching Amazon, Google or Microsoft with an eagle eye given the massive revenue stream they provide. There is, at the least, an incentive for the plug-in developer to let things slide.
Eyeo was quick to respond to the report. AdBlock Plus communications manager Ben Williams told Ars Technica that “we’ve done everything short of taking out a Super Bowl ad to inform people about our Acceptable Ads initiative,” and added “it’s a little surprising that people are so surprised.”
Williams is correct that the whitelist wasn’t secretive. However, AdBlock Plus never published a list of which companies pay, or disclosed how much they pay. The appearance of three of the world’s largest technology companies is sure to shock some users, and it shows that the plug-in, which has sometimes been portrayed as a humble champion of Internet users, has an interest more than distraction-free browsing.