IAB CEO Delivers Fire-and-Brimstone Speech Against For-Profit Ad Blockers

Trade Org to Start Scoring Advertisers, Publishers Against LEAN Principles

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'This is about for-profit ad blockers,' said IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg at the trade org's Annual Leadership Meeting.
'This is about for-profit ad blockers,' said IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg at the trade org's Annual Leadership Meeting. Credit: Tim Peterson

If anyone expected Randall Rothenberg, President-CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, to extend an olive branch to the for-profit ad-blocking companies, they were mistaken.

Although the IAB has said that a poor online experience for consumers has facilitated the rise of ad blocking, it has decried companies such as Eyeo that seek revenue from some publishers to let them serve ads on their own sites. In a fire-and-brimstone speech to open the IAB's Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, Calif., on Monday morning, Mr. Rothenberg not only held that position but dug in.

For-profit ad blockers "are stealing from publishers, subverting freedom of the press, operating a business model predicated on censorship of content and ultimately forcing consumers to pay more money for less and less diverse information," Mr. Rothenberg said. The full transcript of his prepared remarks is available here.

Mr. Rothenberg specifically called out ad-blocking companies like Eyeo and Brave Software, which released a web browser last week that blocks third-party tracking and ad serving -- but aims to replace blocked ads with ones it will provide. Those companies are different from other ad-blocking providers such as Ghostery, whose business model doesn't depend on the ads it blocks or lets pass. Instead it asks consumers to opt in to being tracked by the company so it can relay that data in anonymized form to advertisers and publishers. "This is about for-profit ad blockers," Mr. Rothenberg said.

That difference is why the IAB barred Eyeo from attending this week's conference but is hosting two talks with Ghostery CEO Scott Meyer. Mr. Rothenberg also clarified that the IAB never disinvited Eyeo, as the company had complained. "We never invited them in the first place," he said. "They registered for this event online. When we found out, we cancelled their registration and reversed their credit card billing."

Not all of the words Mr. Rothenberg reserved for Eyeo and its ilk were so castigating. He also had a few complimentary ones. "The ad-block profiteers have done this industry a favor," he said. In particular the rise of ad blocking has forced the industry to look itself in the mirror and realize how ugly the online experience has sometimes become, he said. Ad blocking, many have concluded, is symptomatic of the prevalence of unwelcome consumer tracking and ads that slow down page loading by making too many calls to behind-the-scenes ad servers, among other complaints.

The IAB has resolved to slim down digital advertising's bloat. Following last year's announcement of the LEAN principles that aim to make ads lighter, safer, more privacy-friendly and less annoying, Mr. Rothenberg said the organization will introduce a public scoring system so that "all publishers, all advertisers and all agencies will be able to measure their activities against rational, reasonable and consumer-friendly performance benchmarks."

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