Circumventing Ad Blockers – What The ‘EasyBlog’ Post Means For Publishers

23 October 2015 by Martin Delaney

ABCRecently, a blog post was published by an administrator of the ad blocker filter list ‘EasyList’ that is directly aimed at Yavli. The post is titled ‘Issues with Yavli Advertising’.

For those who are not familiar, EasyList is a very long list of ad servers and ad code that the major ad blocking extensions use by default to filter ads from webpages.

The post details the actions that are being put in place by the EasyList filter administrators against publishers that use our ad blocker circumvention technology.

Namely, the filter administrators are implementing a blanket rule that blocks third-party scripts. This is instead of the usual ‘blacklist’ approach, which blocks only the specific content identified on filter lists.

Third-party scripts that are needed for regular website functionality (except ad delivery), such as editorial content and images, are ‘whitelisted’ (allowed through) by the filter administrators. Analytical software, such as Google Analytics, is not being whitelisted.

What this means is, Google Analytics, and other similar services, will not be able to measure and record ad blocking visitors accessing websites with such blocks targeted at them.

Publishers that are still using our ‘beta’ Version 1 ad blocker circumvention technology will need to upgrade to our Version 2 technology immediately if they wish to continue serving sponsored content recommendations to ad blocker users. Version 1 will no longer work. This is because it utilizes a third-party ‘domain switching’ technique that gets blocked with a blanket third-party script block in place.

This fundamental weakness in our Version 1 technology is something that we identified early on, and it is the reason we developed, and subsequently released, our Version 2 circumvention technology this summer.

Our Version 2 technology loads content first-party, so it is not affected by blanket third-party blocks. It also has a number of other features baked in to prevent other forms of blocking.

Despite this, blanket third-party blocks are still being applied by the filter administrators against publishers using our Version 2 technology – even though these blanket rules do not block the sponsored content recommendations served by our Version 2 technology.

We deem this to be a form of penalty inflicted by the filter administrators. In another words, if a publisher chooses to circumvent ad blocking software then they lose the ‘privilege’ to measure their ad blocking audience via Google Analytics, or other similar third-party services.

Although publishers that use our circumvention technology have been the primary target of these blocks to date, there are a number of other publishers who have also had blanket third-party blocks placed against them by the filter administrators. These publishers all repeatedly deployed their own ad blocker circumvention techniques, independent of Yavli.

Therefore, publishers that decide to pursue a strategy of circumvention, or virtually any strategy that re-inserts advertising back into ad blocker user experiences outside of the ‘Acceptable Ads’ program, will likely lose the ability to measure their ad blocking audience via third-party services such as Google Analytics.

In order to restore this measurement, alternative technologies will need to be used. We have actually developed our own, which publishers can use, that works well.

It should be noted that even without blanket third-party blocks in place, not all ad blocking traffic is able to be measured with traditional third-party services such as Google Analytics.

Users of the major ad blockers (e.g. AdBlock & AdBlock Plus) can choose to subscribe to special filter lists that block these scripts, while a number of the less popular ad blockers block the scripts by default. Overall, this currently represents the minority of ad blocker users.

Another factor that publishers should take into consideration, if they choose to pursue a circumvention strategy, is the addition of new third-party scripts to the page – particularly scripts that deploy core, non-advertising, functionality. Any new third-party script that is introduced to a website with a blanket third-party block in place will be blocked by default for ad blocker users (unless it has been whitelisted).

Updated 15th January 2016.