Ads will still appear on Facebook’s desktop site for the social network’s users who employ ad blocking software.

Facebook Inc. is taking on ad blocking technology by making its ads indistinguishable from organic content on its desktop site.

At the same time, Facebook is making it easier for users to opt out of ad targeting categories and the Custom Audience lists created by advertisers. Facebook’s Custom Audiences tool lets retailers and other advertisers use non-Facebook information to target its customers on Facebook, Instagram and the Audience Network, its mobile ad network.

The change means ad blockers won’t be able to identify and block retailers’ desktop Facebook ads. Finding a way to work around ad blockers is important because 45 million U.S. consumers, or 16% of the U.S. online population, took steps to block digital ads from loading on their desktop and mobile screens in the second quarter of 2015, according to a 2015 report by analytics vendor PageFair Ltd. and Adobe Systems Inc.

The lion’s share of Facebook’s revenue stemming from advertising—advertising accounted for 96.9% of Facebook’s revenue in the second quarter, for example.  Facebook acknowledged the potential threat of ad blockers in a U.S. Securities and Exchange filing earlier this year when it noted, “These technologies have had an adverse effect on our financial results and, if such technologies continue to proliferate, in particular with respect to mobile platforms, our future financial results may be harmed.”

Now Facebook is fighting back. The social network today posted a message at the top of desktop users’ news feeds that notes that ad blockers will no longer work. Facebook also provided a link to its Ad Preferences setting enabling consumers to block ads from specific retailers and other businesses.


“If you don’t want to see ads about a certain interest like travel or cats, you can remove the interest from your ad preferences,” Facebook writes in a blog post. “We also heard that people want to be able to stop seeing ads from businesses or organizations who have added them to their customer lists, and so we are adding tools that allow people to do this. These improvements are designed to give people even more control over how their data informs the ads they see.”

Facebook has long argued that the more relevant ads are, the less likely they are to disturb consumers. “When they’re relevant and well-made, ads can be useful, helping us find new products and services and introducing us to new experiences—like an ad that shows you your favorite band is coming to town or an amazing airline deal to a tropical vacation,” Facebook writes. “But because ads don’t always work this way, many people have started avoiding certain websites or apps, or using ad blocking software, to stop seeing bad ads. These have been the best options to date.”

Today’s move positions Facebook as a proponent for publishers, leading the charge against ad blocking, says Mark Bauman, CEO of ReviveAds, which is an ad block prevention tool. “For retail advertisers, this is a call to action of sorts,” he says. “This announcement is as much about blocking ad blocking as it is about making ads more relevant. It’s making it easier for consumers to choose which specific ads they want to see by allowing them to opt out of ad targeting categories and Custom Audience customer lists uploaded by advertisers. Retail advertisers that utilize Facebook will now be charged with making a legitimate connection with their customers or face being blocked entirely. The pressure is now on.”

The social network points to an Ipsos Mori survey it commissioned that found the main reasons consumers use ad blocking is to avoid disruptive ads (69%), avoid ads that slow their browsing experience (58%) and work around security and malware risks (56%). Facebook argues that if its ads can avoid those potential pitfalls, consumers won’t mind them. The survey also finds that 79% of consumers say they should be able to opt out of seeing ads on specific topics, like Facebook’s Ad Preferences center allows.

However, some privacy advocates suggest that Facebook’s ad-blocking workaround is problematic. “If one of the options [in the Ad Preferences Center] let consumers see no ads, that might be acceptable,” says John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “But that’s not an option. I’m inclined to think it should be. A number of things Facebook does are more about creating the illusion that consumers have control. But I’m not sure whether they really do.” 


The move, for now, will not impact mobile advertising on the social network, which accounted for 84% of the social network’s advertising revenue in the second quarter