The Ad Industry Is Finally Promising To Make Online Ads Less Terrible

"We messed up," says executive from the Internet Advertising Bureau.
The advertising industry is looking for new ways to prevent frustrated consumers from blocking their ads.
The advertising industry is looking for new ways to prevent frustrated consumers from blocking their ads.

The impact of Apple’s ad blocking technology on the future of the Internet came faster than we might have expected. On Thursday, the Internet Advertising Bureau acknowledged it had failed Internet users, pursuing automation and optimization that made money but that ultimately cost the industry consumer loyalty.

“We messed up,” wrote Scott Cunningham, senior vice president of technology and ad operations at the Internet Advertising Bureau, the industry organization that represents over 650 different organizations, including many of the biggest global media outlets. "As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.”

The explosion in ad-blocking apps over the last month has shown how much pent-up consumer demand there was for removing ugly, invasive, memory-hogging and insecure ads from our mobile devices and computers. 

While ad-supported publishers depend upon advertising revenue -- including The Huffington Post and its parent company, AOL, which makes advertising technology -- the consumer experience on today's Internet is often dreadful. Right now, in fact, you may be annoyed by the ads that overlay or surround this story.

Beyond frustration about busy pages, however, ads can eat up limited data plans and drain precious battery life -- or, even worse, “malvertising” can infect unprotected devices with viruses and rootkits, which can give unauthorized users remote access to your computer.

Now, the ad industry’s tech lab is promising to do better, developing "L.E.A.N.” ads for hundreds of IAB member companies around world. L.E.A.N. stands for "Light, Encrypted, Ad choice-supported, Non-invasive” ads.  

But it's unclear whether the industry can successfully deliver ads that require less bandwidth, are more secure and actually honor our choices about what kinds of ads we want to see and where.

If the ad industry doesn’t succeed, the odds are good that more consumers will use ad blocking technology to block all ads, which could be disastrous for online publishers and media companies -- particularly smaller, independent media outlets

A study released in August by Adobe and PageFair, an Ireland-based firm that tries to recover ad-blocked revenue, estimated that almost 200 million people worldwide have installed ad blocking software in their Web browsers, which could cost publishers $22 billion in 2015 alone

There's also another factor driving this response from consumers: Facebook, Google and Apple are developing their own approaches to hosting "Instant Articles" and news inside their own platforms and sharing revenue with news organizations (including HuffPost), moving some media output away from the open Web entirely. 

Here’s hoping we all find a better balance between the needs of commerce and content, and creators and readers, soon.

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