A Formulated Technology Column


AdBlock’s mysterious buyer revealed: AdBlock Plus

EXCLUSIVE — AdBlock, one of the two popular ad-blocking extensions for Chrome and Safari, announced that it has been acquired yesterday. Users who have installed the extension previously got a pop-up yesterday announcing the acquisition — without any hint of the buyer or the price it was sold for.

As the pop-up reveals, AdBlock is set to join AdBlock Plus’ Acceptable Ads program post-acquisition. A report from The Next Web states that the buyer specifically requested that they remain anonymous. However, industry sources have pointed The Michael Report in a single direction: Eyeo GmbH, the same company that owns AdBlock Plus and is behind the Acceptable Ads program as the buyer of AdBlock. 

(The fact that the buyer wants anonymity is rather disingenuous: when users install any sort of ad-blocking software, they’re trusting the company behind the software with hugeamounts of data, including their browsing history. By not disclosing the buyer, users are left in the dark about the buyer’s motivation and agenda behind the purchase, while still giving the buyer tons of their data.)

With the purchase of AdBlock, Eyeo effectively has a monopoly on the entire ad-blocking industry, with its software being used by more than 100 million people. The company also stands to dominate the entire ad-blocking industry’s profits, which is mostly based on its Acceptable Ads program.

In a nutshell, here’s how the Acceptable Ads program work: advertisers can continue to deliver their ads to users — even after they’ve installed its ad-blocking software — at a steep price. By default, when users download AdBlock Plus (and now, presumably, AdBlock), the Acceptable Ads program is enabled by default, although users can turn it off in the settings menu.

Sources said that the acquisition was a long time coming, with each side realizing the benefits: AdBlock’s creator Michael Gundlach could cash out on his creation after maintaining the extension single-handedly for years, while Eyeo could easily double their reach with the acquisition. Internal calculations showed that Eyeo would breakeven from their investment in just a few short months, which made them all the more eager to pursue the deal.

An indication of Eyeo’s hand in the deal could come from a statement from the pop-up where Gundlach indicated his company had “always shared a similar goal to AdBlock Plus, who created the acceptable ads program.”

If users wish to escape the grasps of Eyeo, but still want to download a reliable ad-blocking extension, uBlock Origin is a good option. The extension is currently being maintained by a single, independent developer, with updates being pushed out regularly.

We have reached out to Eyeo for a comment and will update when we receive a response.

Update (Oct. 3 at 4 p.m.) —

We have received the following comment from AdBlock Plus’ spokeswoman, who did not address the question of whether Eyeo has acquired AdBlock.

“We’re very happy to welcome AdBlock users to the Acceptable Ads program. We’ve also made the decision to turn over management of the Acceptable Ads program to a panel of independent experts in the future, which we think is a win for users.”