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Ad Blockers vs. YouTube: The Showdown

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Ad blocking executives claim that user reports indicate YouTube's assault on ad blockers has occurred concurrently with experiments to display more ads

The annual conference of the ad blocking tool industry was held in Amsterdam at the beginning of October. During one session, product leaders from Google gave a welcome presentation regarding changes made to allay concerns that a security update to the Chrome browser could interfere with ad zapping. Google even cosponsored the event, which was held in an open-air venue and generates almost 80% of its revenue from advertisements.

While this was going on, a different Google team was discreetly getting ready to launch the biggest strike against ad blockers since Facebook did it in 2016. Google’s YouTube unexpectedly expanded a tiny test started in May that utilises pop-up dialogues to demand that users disable their ad blockers—or lose the ability to watch films on the most popular video-sharing website in the world—as the world’s ad blocker builders came home from their conference.

“Google was very proud to present at the ad blocking conference. And the next day this ad blocker war started,” Krzysztof Modras, director of product and engineering at ad block and privacy tools developer Ghostery said.

YouTube’s crackdown appears to be effective, as seen by previously undisclosed statistics from ad blocking providers, which show that in October, hundreds of thousands of users removed their ad blockers. According to the data available, a record number of ad blockers were removed, and a record number of new ones were installed as users looked for alternatives to YouTube’s annoying pop-up ads.

According to YouTube spokesperson Christopher Lawton, ad blocks are against the platform’s terms of service. The company provides YouTube Premium, which costs $13.99 per month, for users who prefer an ad-free experience.

During an interaction with WIRED, Christopher Lawton said, “Ads support a diverse ecosystem of creators globally and allow billions to access their favourite content on YouTube. Viewers receive repeated warnings that YouTube doesn’t allow ad blockers before it cuts their access to videos, declining to provide the total number of affected users.”

Munich-based Ghostery experienced three to five times the typical daily number of both uninstalls and installs throughout much of October, Modras says, leaving usage about flat. When asked why they uninstalled the tool, more than 90% of respondents said that it didn’t work on YouTube. Users were so determined to locate a functional blocker that many of them seemed to have tried Microsoft Edge, a web browser with a much smaller market share than Chrome. The number of Ghostery installations on Edge increased by 30% in October over September.

AdGuard reports that approximately 75 million people use its ad blocking tools, with 4.5 million paying for them. Its Chrome extension typically receives 6,000 uninstallations per day. According to CTO Andrey Meshkov, those exceeded 11,000 per day from October 9 until the end of the month, peaking at roughly 52,000 on October 18.

At least half of the 120-person company’s complaints began coming in about four times per hour, with the majority pertaining to YouTube. However, similar to Ghostery, installations increased as more people sought solace, reaching roughly 60,000 installations on Chrome between October 18 and October 27. As more people learnt that AdGuard’s premium tools were unaffected by YouTube’s ban, the number of subscribers increased.

According to its product head, AdLock, another extension, saw roughly 30% more daily installations and uninstallations in October than in prior months.

Many ad blocker providers don’t directly track usage to protect users’ privacy, but Chrome’s extension store offers fundamental installation and uninstallation statistics. Users have the option to disable certain ad blockers for particular websites, as well as to not fully uninstall them. AdBlock Plus, AdBlock, and uBlock are all operated by Cologne-based Eyeo. AdBlock users can even choose which YouTube videos or creators to allow ads for. However, because of the poor tracking, it’s unclear how many perplexed YouTube users have selected any of those options.

Terry Taouss, a seasoned ad tech executive, compares consumers who use ad blockers to those who use the supermarket’s “15 or fewer items” express lanes. Even though they are controlling their own experience, they are still customers even though they are bringing in less money for the companies. He says websites like YouTube have to be cognisant of that.

Ad blocking executives claim that user reports indicate YouTube’s assault on ad blockers has occurred concurrently with experiments to display more ads. With over $22 billion in ad sales through the first nine months of this year, YouTube accounted for roughly 10% of Google’s total sales, an increase of roughly 5% over the same period last year. On YouTube, creators typically earn 45% of the revenue from short videos and 55% from longer ones. This year, premium subscriptions are expected to bring in roughly $2.7 billion in sales, according to market research firm Insider Intelligence.


Over the years, a number of surveys and estimates have indicated that approximately one or three out of every five internet users use ad blockers when browsing. In charge of Eyeo’s ad blockers, Matthew Maier, claims that polls indicate most users aren’t wholly opposed to advertisements. However, advertisements that are bothersome, excessively frequent, or last longer than six seconds without providing a “skip” option irritate them. He claims that when users feel they have crossed the line, that is when problems arise, but he won’t provide any usage statistics for Eyeo.

Ad block developers claim that YouTube’s test has impacted users who are using Chrome on laptops and desktops to access the website. Those who watch YouTube videos embedded on other websites, use the YouTube mobile site, or use the YouTube TV apps which are unaffected. According to Lawton of YouTube, warnings show up whether or not users are utilising Incognito mode or are logged into the service.

Furthermore, rather than focusing on any particular extensions, Ghostery’s Modras claims that YouTube appears to trigger the warnings when it recognises certain open source filtering rules that many ad blockers use to identify ads. He says YouTube’s technology is similar to code Google created in 2017 for a programme called Funding Choices, which allows news and other websites to identify ad blockers.

In private Slack groups and discussions on GitHub projects, ad sleuths who discover methods to identify ads and engineers adept at blocking them are devoting a lot of effort to figuring out how to get past YouTube’s blocker blockade. However, because YouTube isn’t entangling every user in its dragnet, progress has been impeded. Only a small percentage of the developers have been successful in triggering the alert themselves; these individuals may be the only ad blockers in the world who rejoice when YouTube eventually finds them.

Google and the ad blocking sector have a tense working relationship. Unlike Apple’s App Store, the Google Play mobile app store has prohibited ad blockers for approximately ten years. However, Chrome has given them a fair amount of operating latitude, as per Google’s statement that it supports an open internet where users can be secure and private. Many ad blocking tools come with features that shield users from being tracked online in addition to ad filtering. According to the makers of ad blockers, frustration with YouTube has long been a major factor in the downloads of their products.

Users went in all different directions in October when they encountered YouTube’s demands to turn off the blockers. Online forums reveal that some people suggest services like, an open source YouTube clone that employs workarounds to play videos from the platform without advertisements. On its website, Newpipe states that it does not gather usage information.

Ad blockers are starting to adjust. Recently, Hankuper, the Slovakian company that makes the less well-known blocker AdLock, released a new version for Windows that it claims YouTube hasn’t noticed. The fix will be pushed to versions for macOS, Android, and iOS if users find that to be the case, according to Kostiantyn Shebanov, the product head and business development manager at Hankuper.

Modras of Ghostery is concerned about what will happen if Google intensifies its campaign against blockers. When users disable these tools, they lose their protection against online threats, and the more sophisticated blocking strategies that businesses like this are compelled to implement may create inadvertent security flaws. According to him, there is a greater degree of risk involved the more powerful they must become to overcome obstacles.

There might be legal consequences as well. According to Modras, developers are not allowed to attempt to get around publisher-thwarting measures against ad blockers in Europe. However, he thinks it’s acceptable to block advertisements if the blocker does so before a warning appears.

Though attempts have been made by publishers, advertisers, and ad blockers to find a middle ground on less problematic ad formats that ad blockers would let through, a truce appears unlikely in the near future. Nonetheless, divergent perspectives on user preferences and competing commercial interests have resulted in a patchwork of unique advertising experiences. Eyeo is in favour of the Acceptable Ads Committee, and Google adheres to its standards when running YouTube. Both companies are members of the Coalition for Better Ads.

According to Eyeo’s Maier, YouTube eventually wants to follow other websites that have committed to only running ‘acceptable ads.’ These are ads that Eyeo’s blockers and browsers like Opera do not obstruct for their estimated 300 million users, as stated by the Acceptable Ads Committee.

“AdGuard’s Meshkov doesn’t expect an end to hostilities anytime soon. I could hardly see them being ready to do any ads that can be deemed acceptable. They are making their ads more and more annoying with every update,” Maier said.

Every time that occurs, the industry of ad blockers adjusts, driving up the cost of campaigns such as Google’s. According to developers, Facebook seemed to give up following its 2016 assault because it was using too many internal resources to keep up with the blockers.

Although it reduces the platform’s engineering load, YouTube’s strategy of identifying blockers and placing the burden on users to disable them rather than deploying code to do so is nonetheless noteworthy, according to Meshkov.

“This game will continue, and there will be moments where people will be able to use YouTube without any annoying stuff going on, maybe even most of the time. But even if you see ads 20% of the time, that won’t be a good experience. In the worst case, come next year’s industry conference, ad blockers could be the ones conceding to Google,” Meshkov said.

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