Jason Carter
Ad Wars

An Irish startup thinks it can stop you from blocking online ads

The digital ad wars are heating up.

APPLE TENDS NOT to launch new products unless it is confident they will succeed.

That is why the news and media publishing industry is so terrified of the coming update to the Safari web browser on iPhone, which will reportedly contain an adblock option for users.

Safari is roughly 25% of all internet browsers and the nightmare scenario for website owners would be if all those users discovered just how much better and faster the web is once you block all the ads.

With iPhone and Apple users suddenly not seeing ads, many publishers could go out of business.

Billions in revenue depend on the speed at which content loads when users click on it. About 144 million people use Adblock, and 41% of users aged 18 to 29 have tried it. Those users have wiped about 10% off Google’s revenues, or $6 billion.

But publishers are not without weapons to fight Apple or other adblock software, like Adblock Plus.

Enter PageFair

One of those weapons is PageFair, a Dublin-based anti-adblock startup that provides publishers with technology that measures and defeats adblockers.

The company has 12 employees and about $1 million (€915,000) in venture capital investment funding.

It originally started in 2012 as an adblock analytics company, helping publishers understand how much money they were losing whenever readers showed up with adblock software on their browsers.

But as time went by, it became clear that publishers needed more than just information about how much money they were losing. They needed tools to defeat people using software that essentially prevents their web sites from fully loading.

“The typical person who installs Adblock now isn’t a geek using Firefox, it’s someone who is 18-19 years old and sitting in class, and is told by a friend to Google ‘Adblock’ and install it, it’s great,” CEO Sean Blanchfield told Business Insider.

They’re installing it because they watch a lot of YouTube and they get annoyed with these unskippable 40-second pre-roll ads in front of 30 seconds of content.”

Blanchfield PageFair CEO Sean Blanchfield LinkedIn LinkedIn

No cookies for Apple

Blanchfield says he noticed last year that Apple begun sending signals that it wasn’t interested in helping ad tech firms track users and serve them ads.

“In July last year we noticed a company called Disconnect, they are an extension, much like Adblock, for Chrome. A San Francisco company. Their focus is privacy, user privacy and behavioural tracking.

“People install them basically to block cookies. As a side-effect they have to block most ads, because most ads use cookies.

“In any case, in July last year they launched mobile versions on Android and on iOS, and they weren’t approved for the Play Store, Google blocked them.

But Apple put them through (into the App Store). And I spoke to them after, and they felt pretty confident that they had been given the approval to proceed essentially blocking ads. That’s not their core mission but it’s an essential piece.”

PageFair’s solution is to scrambles the ads and deliver them in a way that adblock software can’t “see”.

“So a programme like Adblock Plus can’t recognise it,” Blanchfield said.

Bypassing Safari’s ad block preferences

And will this work even against Apple’s new preference option for Safari? ”Yes.”

But doesn’t it slow down speed at which a page loads ads?  ”No, it’s still instantaneous.”

What we do is asynchronous, the page loads anyway, we detect when the usual advertising has failed to load, and only then do we go off and recover it. It takes milliseconds. And we don’t block the loading of the page.”

The product will be deployed with launch clients in the next few months.

Blanchfield says web clients are very, very interested. The company has revenue run-rate of roughly $1 million annually right now, but Blanchfield says it’s growing rapidly and will be a large multiple of that by the end of the year. It even opened an office in New York recently.

READ: Ben & Jerry’s millionaire co-founder is ploughing some cash into Ireland >

READ: How one inventor turned an idea for ‘space-age Play-Doh’ into a million-euro company >

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Business Insider
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