Action was the order of the day at the IAB’s ‘Ad blocking: The state of the Nation’ seminar last week. Determined to pin down the trickiest challenge ever to face the industry, the bureau gathered together ad tech providers, media giants and specialist lawyers for a definitive discussion on ad blocking. So, what was the verdict, and is a solution in sight?

The current state of state of ad blocking

According to the IAB’s latest Ad Blocking Report, 22% of UK adults are currently using ad blockers — an increase of 4% since October. Yet despite rising adoption, users are open to compromise; 45% would be less likely to block ads if they were not interruptive and 54% would switch off their ad blockers for select websites. Indeed, one in six has already done so when prevented from accessing content.

It seems that restricting access to content is making an impact, but while such practices may encourage users to occasionally switch off their blockers, the IAB feels a lasting solution must address ad quality. This sentiment was echoed during presentations from Google and Teads, which argued that slow page load times and irritating interstitial ad formats must be eradicated to prevent an increase in mobile ad blocking adoption.

Could a charter end the chaos?

Last year, the IAB launched its LEAN ad programme (light, encrypted, ad choice supported, non-invasive ads) in a bid to provide a better user experience and halt ad blocking. But now the bureau is getting serious about implementation and has created a good advertising practice charter that asks all members of the ecosystem to sign. The pledge will attempt to redraw the lines of the content value exchange by creating less intrusive ads, while making it clear that users cannot expect to block ads and access content for free. There will also be a significant level of government consultation to increase national awareness of the issue.

The legalities of ad blocking

A panel of specialists set the record straight on several questions, starting with confirmation that legal action against ad blockers is not likely to result in victory as consumers’ right to block is set to be enshrined by new net neutrality legislation. Advertisers also received a stern warning about circumvention — the panel advised that intercepting and storing digital files sent by users to detect ad blocking software, and force ads through, is in breach of web regulations. Alternative methods, such as a clause that specifies acceptance of ads as a condition of accessing publisher websites was suggested as one of many safer routes.

This guidance was particularly pertinent to the partnership between Three and ad blocker Shine, which intends to block ads from the mobile network. The panel agreed that if Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is used to view and block ads before they reach users Three and Shine would need prior permission from all parties — users, advertisers and publishers. As it is unlikely that permission will be obtained – Three and Shine may not be such an immediate threat to the industry after all.

So, despite the steady increase in adoption, the IAB does have a plan of action to meet the challenge with better ads, industry-wide participation, and a clearer value exchange. What happens next is up to the digital advertising ecosystem.