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Opera pulls trigger on baked-in ad blocker

Gregg Keizer | May 5, 2016
First of the Top 5 browsers to integrate an ad blocker.

Opera Software today released a production version of its flagship desktop browser with an integrated ad blocker, along with a similarly armed version of its Opera Mini for Android.

In March, Opera revealed plans to bake an ad-blocker into its browsers when it shipped a developer preview of the desktop Opera that included the technology. Rival browser makers, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla, do not scrub pages of their ads themselves, but instead have taken a path of least resistance by supporting third-party ad-blocking extensions.

Today, Opera again argued that it's included an ad blocker because customers want a faster browser. "We do this because we want to provide people with the fastest browsers in the market," asserted Opera CEO Lars Boilesen in a statement. "Our speed test shows that online ads slow down the browsing experience."

But in March, Krystian Kolondra, who leads Opera's engineering, said that the Norwegian-made browser was integrating a blocker not only to accelerate rendering -- an obvious result of dropping any page content -- but also for evangelical reasons.

"The [ad] industry should be making sure that ads are not ruining the user experience," said Kolondra in a March 10 interview. He also noted ad industry claims that it is working on creating ad types that are less intrusive and come with a smaller rendering penalty, but wondered, "Where are those better ads? If we could accelerate this change, there wouldn't be a need for ad blocking."

The increase in browser-based ad blocking has raised the temperature of a long-running dispute between some users and many privacy advocates on one hand, and online advertisers on the other. The former cite the overwhelming number of ads on many sites and the tracking those ads perform, while the latter -- and the content publishers and service providers that rely on ad dollars -- claim that blockers are stealing money out of their pockets.

Like the vast majority of commercial websites, Computerworld generates some of its revenue through ads.

Browser makers, Kolondra argued, had the right to insert themselves in the conversation because of the slow load speed of some websites. "It's quite obvious that users care about speed," Kolondra said, in defending the integrated ad blocker.

Even so, Opera "doesn't want to be in the ad-blocking business," Kolondra said. "We definitely don't want to create a living out of whitelisting."

The impact of Opera's decision is unlikely to be significant, as its desktop user share has remained below the 2% bar since mid-2011. According to metrics vendor Net Applications, Opera accounted for 1.9% of all browsers used in April. Opera Mini had a stronger following, with an estimated share of about 6% of the mobile browser market.


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