How Publishers Are Blocking Ad Blockers

Anti-adblocking technology may be publishers' best weapon as they confront the problem.

On an internet without advertisements, the banner ad seemed more than a little out of place.

Rendering on a website within the latest version of Google Chrome, the ad defied logic, displaying even though the red logo of AdBlock — one of the world's most popular ad-blocking extensions — lit up in the browser's top right-hand corner, indicating it was live and humming.

The ad didn't show up by accident. Nor was its appearance due to some glitch in AdBlock software. It loaded because it was protected from ad blockers thanks to a relatively new technology, one that gives publishers a chance to fight back against a force that, if widely adopted, could threaten their business.

"As long as there's a technical solution that will work, I prefer going that route," the publisher of the ad-block-defying website, who declined to be named in this story, told BuzzFeed News.

Though it's difficult to get an accurate read on its size, ad blocking has recently emerged as a major threat to the online media industry — at least in the minds of those counting the dollars. The introduction of ad blocking technology to Apple's iOS 9 operating system earlier this month set off alarm bells, leading some to worry that the mobile ad revenue flowing to the publishing industry might soon be at risk.

Ad blocking is the talk of Advertising Week, a convention held in New York City this week. It's viewed as such a pressing issue that the Interactive Advertising Bureau scheduled a last-minute press conference to discuss it. But unlike a number of the digital advertising industry's most serious problems — such as fraud and the selling of unviewed ads — the ad-blocking issue appears solvable.

"From a technical perspective, AdBlock is defeated," Matt Adkisson, president of SourcePoint, an anti-ad-blocking technology company, said in an interview. SourcePoint, the company that served the AdBlock-defying ad mentioned above, has been been in business for a year and claims to have served hundreds of millions of ads on behalf of nearly 100 clients.

SourcePoint is a one of a handful of new companies developing software to slip ads past ad blockers. Its technology works largely by detecting the ad-serving URLs and calls that trigger ad blockers and cloaking them or concealing them. "We replicate all these calls in a way that ad block cannot see them," said Adkisson.

A point worth noting: Though the publisher of the website mentioned earlier is serving up ads that confound ad blockers, he's also serving up fewer of them. He doesn't want to upset his ad block-using visitors too much. "Right now, if I give them a better ad experience, it's kind of what they're saying they're after," he said.

For the publishers who turn to it, anti-ad-blocking technology does come with a caveat: It makes ad delivery harder to measure, since the process of cloaking ads strips away much of the tracking functionality found in traditional digital advertising. But Adkisson said there are workarounds that can bring some of that functionality back. And, importantly, the technology doesn't change the way a website renders to someone without ad blocking, so the limitations on measurement don't apply across the board.

Though it may not be perfect, this technological solution to ad blocking may give publishers a chance to fight back in a meaningful way, especially since it can work across desktop and mobile — including on iOS 9. Should the technology be widely adopted, it's possible it could help web publishers avert the end-of-days scenario some fear might unfold.