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Ad-blockers are a Mafia-style 'protection racket' – UK's Minister of Fun

Culture Sec tries to bang some sense into admen

UK Culture Minister John Whittingdale compared ad-blocking software to “a modern day protection racket” in his Oxford Media Convention keynote yesterday.

But a study of the full text shows he would prefer to bang some sense into the ad industry, rather than shake down individuals using content filters in their web browsers.

The Minister of Fun's appeal to make ads less annoying took up as much space as his excoriation of the economic impact of ad blockers, but were hardly reported at all.

“Some of the ad-blocking companies are drawing up their own rules of acceptable advertising or offering to white list providers in return for payment. Many see such practices as akin to a modern day protection racket,” said Whittingdale.

More than one in five Britons now use an ad-blocker, up significantly from 15 per cent last summer.

Mobile ads have significantly degraded the user experience - and that’s just safe ads. Publishers including The Economist have even inadvertently served up malware.

Whittingdale’s “protection racket” comparison refers to ad blocking software companies to whitelist ads from publishers — but only if they pay. One example is Eyeo’s “acceptable ads” programme. Eyeo markets Adblock Plus.

Eyeo’s paying customers include Google, Microsoft and Amazon, and the notorious clickbait ad network Taboola. German publisher Axel Springer has called the practice anti-competitive and says it's imposing a gatekeeper’s tax on the advertising industry.

Whittingdale appeared sympathetic to the publishers - but also to end users who have to suffer intrusive ads.

“Quite simply – if people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist,” he said. Most people get this, he added.

“We need the whole advertising sector to be smarter. If we can avoid the intrusive ads that consumers dislike, then I believe there should be a decrease in the use of ad-blockers,” he said.

Whittingdale commented that he was personally against regulation but wanted representatives to sort it out between themselves. That’s code for “we’ll legislate if you don’t”, and the inference is that ads must get less intrusive.

“Government stands ready to help in any way we can - as long as this does not erode consumer choice," he said. Which he didn't have to - consumer choice clearly means being able to apply whatever end-user filtering you want. Doesn't it? ®

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