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Adblock Plus, Facebook in ‘cat-and-mouse game’ over ad blocking

This file photo taken on May 10, 2012 shows a view of an Apple iPhone displaying the Facebook app's splash screen in front of the login page in Washington, DC.

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

For companies that make money from online advertising, attempts to circumvent ad-blocking software amount to a "cat-and-mouse game," according to one of the companies that makes that software.

On Thursday, just two days after Facebook announced it would be blocking ad blockers on its desktop site, Adblock Plus published a blog post saying that users could update their filters in its program to block ads on the social network once again. On Tuesday, Facebook said that its desktop website would change the coding around its ads in order to make it more difficult for ad blockers to detect which parts of a page are ads. But Adblock now says it has gotten around the new codes.

In a blog post, Adblock spokesperson Ben Williams wrote that "this sort of back-and-forth battle between the open source ad-blocking community and circumventers has been going on since ad blocking was invented," and that it is possible Facebook would come up with its own fix soon.

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The fact that the world's largest social media company has entered the fight is a strong indication of just how big a concern ad blockers have become for the industry. In Canada, 17 per cent of people have installed ad blockers on their desktop computers, according to a study released in May by the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada (IAB) and comScore. Globally, roughly 200 million people use ad blockers, according to a study last year from Pagefair and Adobe; nearly quadruple the number who used such software in 2013.

With 1.03 billion daily active users accessing Facebook via mobile devices, mobile advertising now accounts for 84 per cent of Facebook's advertising revenue. The company is going after ad blockers on desktop however, because mobile ad blockers are not effective in Facebook's mobile apps for the social network and Instagram, a spokesperson said. Desktop ads still account for enough revenue that Facebook judged such a move to be worth the investment.

Also on Tuesday, Facebook said it would be updating its "ad preferences" tool to give people more control over how ads are targeted to them.

On Thursday Facebook claimed that Adblock's new filters were concerning because they would also block some non-advertising content on the site.

"This isn't a good experience for people and we plan to address the issue," a Facebook spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "Ad blockers are a blunt instrument, which is why we've instead focused on building tools like Ad Preferences to put control in people's hands."

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