Given the open hostility between the IAB and ad blocking firms of late – with IAB US chief Randall Rothenburg recently calling out Ad Block Plus as an “old-fashioned extortion racket” – you might be surprised to hear one side directly comparing itself to the other.
But during an Ad Week Europe panel today, Adblock Plus comms officer Ben Williams did just that, saying: "What we're doing is a very similar thing to LEAN."
LEAN is the IAB initiative launched last year as part of its efforts to help advertisers tackle the blocker problem, through guidelines which encourage lighter, non-intrusive advertising. According to Williams, this is exactly what the company's controversial 'Acceptable Ads' whitelisting program is intended to achieve – streamline the kinds of ads that users do see.
Williams talked about the origins of Adblock Plus' approach to whitelisting, which he says began with founder Wladimir Palant's concerns about "killing the free internet" in light of the popularity of the ad blocking plugin back in the mid-'00s.
"We didn't set up whitelisting to make money, but because we felt ad blocking had developed in the wrong way," said Williams. "So we pivoted our business."
Williams pointed out that, despite the bigger players on its whitelist having to pay for the privilege, they still have to abide by the same criteria as anyone else. "Our users are very vocal," he said. "If it weren't that way, we wouldn't have survived."
This parity, he claimed, was the motivation behind the introduction of an independent committee to decide the Acceptable Ads criteria, due to be formed later this year. "It's the next step to responsible ad blocking," said Williams.