A German court has ruled that the popular ad blocking tool Adblock Plus is legal to use, following a complaint from a group of publishers who want the add-on banned.
Adblock Plus does just what it says on the tin: when you install the extension in your browser, it blocks all ads from displaying on web pages and in online videos. The German publishers wanted to ban the tool from blocking ads on their websites, which are - like many other sites - partly funded by advertising. After a four month trial, the court disagreed and said the software was indeed legal.
In a blog post about the court case, Ben Williams from Adblock Plus said it was an "obvious consumer right" to be able to control your own screen and protect your privacy from advertising platforms. He also called on companies to respond to the ruling by developing "new forms of non-intrusive ads that are actually useful and welcomed by users".
The legal dispute follows revelations that Adblock Plus allows some adverts to be shown if they meet certain standards. The "acceptable ads" program means you'll still see some adverts if you have Adblock Plus installed, if they've been approved by the software maker. However, reports revealed that Adblock Plus was charging some companies, including Google and Microsoft, to be included in the list, which effectively means they have to pay for their adverts to be shown. Adblock's parent Eyeo has since said that it only makes the largest, wealthiest firms pay to support the system, and dosen't charge smaller sites; either way, all 'whitelisted' ads must meet the "acceptable ads" criteria -a company can't simply buy its way in.
If you are a fan of Adblock Plus, or you like the sound of it, the good news is that you'll soon be able to install it on your iPhone or iPad, as well as in your Desktop browser. The company is currently working to extend its software to Apple devices, but rather than make an add-on to install on Safari or another mobile browser, it will be launching its own browser that includes the blocking system. There's already an Adblock Plus app for Android, but Google has banned it from Play store.
How will it affect you ?
The German court ruling sets a precedent that will make it more difficult for publishers to fight against Adblock Plus, and the company hopes it may dissuade advertisers from taking legal action. However, it still faces other legal challenges in Germany.
As more and more people use ad-blocking tools, it may spur publishers to use less intrusive advertising - indeed, that's what Adblock Plus is trying to encourage with its "acceptable ads" program. Whether that will be enough to get web users to turn off the add-on remains to be seen.
Still, if you've ever worried that using an ad blocker is tantamount to 'stealing' web content, because you're getting free while depriving sites of ad revenue, you can now use Adblock Plus without impunity because the German court says it's perfectly legal.
What do we think ?
We support the German court's decision: why should publishers dictate what we see on our computers and moble devices ? Ad blockers are popular because ads have become increasingly intrusive, obsrtucting content on pages and unexpectedly playing loud music or videos. Of course, publishers need a way to make money online, but driving us to distraction with slow- loading pages and adverts that are difficult to close isn't going to win them fans.
Also, as web usage shifts to mobile devices, so too does adverting - how many times have you been unable to view a page because an ad is filling your screen ? With Adblock Plus set to launch on the iPhone, here's hoping that companies respond by making their ads less intrusive and annoying.