The topic of ad blocking has picked up a lot of steam since Apple launched the functionality to block browser ads in iOS9. We took this opportunity to sit down with Tim Schumacher, Co-Founder and Chairman of Eyeo GmbH. The name may not sound extremely familiar, but Eyeo is behind the World's most widely used desktop ad blocker, Adblock Plus. The company recently brought its ad blocking solution to mobile and, given our position, we were curious to ask Tim about his views on the consequences of ad blocking for the mobile advertising ecosystem. We were also intrigued by Eyeo's "Acceptable Ads" initiative, which works with various industry stakeholders to whitelist ad formats that are non-intrusive and relevant to users.
In the end, it's all about user control...
Tim Schumacher cofounded and was the longtime CEO of the publicly traded company Sedo AG (sedo.com), which currently has revenues of 130m euros per year and maintains approximately 350 employees. Since 2012 he has dedicated his professional career to the German start-up scene, acting both as business angel and mentor for young companies with economic potential. His current start-ups, among others, are Eyeo/Adblock Plus, Aklamio, Stuffle and Ecosia.
Can you briefly present Eyeo, its founding history, and its business model?
With the help of an international community of volunteers, we develop open source software that millions of people use every day to have a better online experience. Our solutions such as Adblock Plus, which, with over 400 million downloads is the most popular add-on/extension ever, put users in control over the kind of content they see online. Beyond that we have developed ad blocking solutions for Android and iOS users, and are always looking for new ways to encourage positive, informative advertising and privacy protection practices.
We are an international team, about half of whom work in the main Cologne office and the other half remotely. Eyeo was founded in 2011 by Till Faida, Wladimir Palant and myself.
Eyeo’s Adblock Plus recently launched several mobile products; can you tell us which purpose they serve?
We have three products for giving users more control over their mobile surfing experience.
Adblock Browser for Android and Adblock Browser for iOS, as well as Adblock Plus for iOS have in common that they make surfing faster and more efficient, as ads are blocked. Users thus save a significant amount of data plan and battery life. Also we have found pages to load considerably faster and enjoy a more enhanced privacy. Since lots of nasty stuff like malware and tracking can hide behind ads. In fact, according to a new report, “malvertising” tripled in the last year. Users can decide if they want to whitelist their favorite sites or if they want to use the filter lists maintained by our open source community.
What is your “Acceptable Ads” initiative? How does it apply to mobile?
Acceptable Ads is a set of criteria that defines which ad formats are reasonable and non-intrusive. Websites or advertisers who serve ads that abide by these criteria can apply to have some or all of their ads whitelisted. Acceptable Ads is an open process where every applicant is publicly listed in a forum, and where anyone can see exactly which ads are being whitelisted and can provide feedback and criticism. The same criteria apply to mobile.
Now, given the rapid evolution of online advertising technology, Adblock Plus has developed and updated the Acceptable Ads criteria by involving developers, publishers and even advertisers in the process. However, the final criteria determination was done by Adblock Plus. The new independent review board will eventually take 100% control of what the new criteria updates (and all future criteria) will be. The board is slated to be in place by 2016.
Do you support a common whitelist across all ad blocking providers?
We use Easylist, which is maintained through the users on our forum.
Do you think native ads are the solution to advertising’s woes, especially on mobile?
Yes, native ads are a good first step towards better advertising, as long as they are clearly labeled as ads.
How do you respond to people asserting that ads are financing the Internet and ad blockers are effectively killing free content?
We’re on the way of finding a compromise between users and publishers, and for this reason we developed Acceptable Ads. We’re very aware of the fact that ads support the ecosystem of the Internet. We have always said that a better Internet is a place where better, contextual advertising can live in harmony with complete user control.
A better Internet means pushing the equilibrium and disrupting the status quo of terrible ads. Now that we’ve disrupted the status quo of bad ads, we’re ready to help shape an Internet with better ads and additional monetization methods – along with users, advertisers, developers and publishers. Acceptable ads are the web’s next version, where the user is in total control.
Do you think the general panic induced by iOS 9’s ad blocking feature is justified? How will it impact our industry, both on the demand and supply side? Who will benefit most from it and who has the most to lose?
Apple’s move is just further validation of the fact that users are demanding ad blocking. To answer your question, it is the users who benefit most from this feature.
What do you think is the rationale behind Apple’s move with iOS 9 ad blocking capabilities? Is it only a way to throw sand into Google’s wheels?
It seems as if Apple is looking for a way to make surfing on the mobile web a better experience for the users, thereby allowing ad blocking capabilities. Other motives are purely speculative and you’d need to ask Apple on their stance for more information.
How will the market for mobile ad blockers evolve? Do you see them eventually also being capable of blocking in-app ads (e.g. through a VPN)?
Our thanks go to Tim for his time!