AdBlock+ has 4M users in France – Why is #AdGate such a big deal?

Jan 7, 2013
Vote on Hacker News

freeboxAs Minister of the Digital Economy Fleur Pellerin gets ready to meet with Free in response to what is now being called #Adgate, many have likened Free’s ad blocker to a very popular internet extension, Adblock Plus. I was lucky enough to catch up with the guys from Adblock, who, I imagine, have been working very hard to differentiate between their extension and Free’s ISP-level ad blocking.

In talking with Job Plas, Product Manager for Adblock Plus, I found out that Adblock Plus counts 4 Million active users (users who have used the service in the last 14 days), which accounts for roughly 7.5% of the internet population in France.

Many have said that the only problem with Free’s ad blocker was that is was enabled by default, meaning that unless you knew about its existence, you wouldn’t be privy to the disappearing ads. They say that this would be similar to AdBlock Plus, but I’m inclined to disagree:

  1. This is not a new service, it’s an attack: AdBlock Plus took years of tweaking to get the service right, and they are constantly updating their adblocking software, new sources, new features, smoother experience. With what has come out by Free’s intentions behind this, it is clear that this is not a ‘beta’ product, but an attack, in which the only victims are innocent bystanders, clients.
  2. There are no Whitelists, no Blacklists - Free does not let you choose where you do and don’t see ads. I use Adblock Plus to choose which ads I see, supporting sites  I like, as well as sites that implement ads responsibly and with tact. This adblocker is 100% in the control of Free, which brings me to #3
  3. ISP’s should never change what you see: There is a separation of power, a checks and balances of sorts that needs to happen – when we hear about the Chinese government changing what results come up from Google, we are appalled  Why would you let your ISP do the same thing? The next step from blocking out the ads is replacing them, or redirecting from one website to another. Once you let an ISP tweak with your html, you open up the flood gates.

If you did the math, you’d see that AdBlock’s users in France – the number of people who actively downloaded and activated and continue to use the service knowingly – is less than the number of people who, overnight and unbeknownst to them, had their internet experience changed. Whether you think it is for the better or for the worst is not the issue – it’s not up to the ISP to decide what you see.