German Publisher Axel Springer Just Can't Stop Suing Ad Blockers, And Attacking Its Own Readers

from the why-would-you-do-that?!? dept

As you hopefully already know, we take a bit of a different view of ad blockers around here on Techdirt, recognizing that many people have very good reasons for using them, and we have no problem if you make use of them. In fact, we give you the option of turning off the ads on Techdirt separately, whether or not you use an ad blocker. And we try to make sure that the ads on Techdirt are not horrible, annoying or dangerous (and sometimes, hopefully, they’re even useful). Most publications, however, continue to take a very antagonistic view towards their very own communities and readers, and have attacked ad blockers, sometimes blocking users from reading content if they have an ad blocker. Perhaps no publication has fought harder against ad blockers than German publishing giant Axel Springer, the same company that frequently blames Google for its own failure to adapt.

Axel Springer has been suing the makers of various ad blockers. So far, those cases have failed miserably, making Axel Springer look like a whiny, out-of-touch publication that refuses to get with the times. But, instead, it just keeps on suing. From TechCrunch:

German media giant Axel Springer, which operates top European newspapers like Bild and Die Welt, and who recently bought a controlling stake in Business Insider for $343 million, has a history of fighting back against ad-blocking software that threatens its publications? business models. Now, it?s taking that fight to mobile ad blockers, too. According to the makers of the iOS content blocker dubbed ?Blockr,? which is one of several new iOS 9 applications that allow users to block ads and other content that slows down web browsing, Axel Springer?s WELTN24 subsidiary took them to court in an attempt to stop the development and distribution of the Blockr software.

Specifically, explains the law firm representing Blockr, Axel Springer wanted to prohibit Blockr?s developers from being able to ?offer, advertise, maintain and distribute the service? which can be used today to block ads on, including the website?s mobile version.

Isn’t that nice. Rather than recognize that people don’t like your ads, you try to sue the companies serving an actual consumer need so that you can continue to piss off your readers. It’s the dinosaur strategy — rather than innovate, you sue to try to stave off the inevitable decline.

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Companies: axel springer, google

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Comments on “German Publisher Axel Springer Just Can't Stop Suing Ad Blockers, And Attacking Its Own Readers”

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William H. Taft says:

Re: Simple

I do the same. For me, ad-blocking is about mostly about security. If a website can demonstrably prove their ad are 100% “safe”, i.e. free of malware and tracking, then I would consider turning blocking off.

And for you moral authorities out there: ad-blocking is completely ethical. It is not “theft,” “stealing,” nor a “free-ride” any more so than walking past a street performer (and one than can cause harm and distress think malware).

Like it or not, websites are just digital buskers. Some web content, much like street musicians, aren’t worth a damned dime, while others are immensely invaluable. The beauty and bane of the web is there is no “filter” to separate the wheat from the chaff- and many websites are chaff.

Just because you have a blog, youtube account, etc. doesn’t mean you are entitled to make a living off of it. If what you have is good, people will come and they will pay.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Simple

For me, the issue is the tracking that ads do (which is a special subset of security). Until ads stop tracking me, I will block every one that I can.

But there’s a broader issue that I noticed when I surfed the Web without an ad blocker for the first time in many years: the Web is straight up unusable without an ad blocker in place.

William H. Taft says:

Re: Re: Re: Simple

You make an excellent point. Usability of the web without ad-blockers is almost nil. Pages grind to a halt, you have to search hard to find the 25% of the screen that’s actually content, scramble to mute a video, and so on.

If a site can’t make money unless its ads, ads, and more f#^king ads, or if the paywall model isn’t for them: innovate or die. You won’t be missed.

Klaus says:

Re: Re: Re: Need some help with German here...

I’m not quite sure what your’re getting at, but no. Apart from a reverse take-over by the Greeks a few years ago, Germany is free.

Are you talking about not being able to see certain YouTube videos because region? The problem went away for me the day I started to use VPNs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Need some help with German here...

Germany is free? exactly since when? this is a huge historic event!!!
there must be some long and spectacular videos of when the allied left in a pompous formation… and the border was redrawn … and the peace was signed…

Actually if you research about it Germany is planned to stay under occupation AT LEAST until 2035.

Violynne (profile) says:

…and who recently bought a controlling stake in Business Insider for $343 million…
Well, this certainly explains things.

Might as well scratch off BI as a reading source.

I’ve lost 4 in the past two months for being assholes:
-Ars Technica, with its bullshit “You WILL obey” page-destroying ad.

-Cheat Sheet, fun little site until it now demands an email address to view its contents (and we all know how that will pan out).

-IMDB, which I’m currently working out with Amazon. For some reason, the site constantly resets its connection over VPN. A loss I’m not fond of.

-Business Insider, the Fox News of “business”. Always fun to read garbage until the horror sets in others won’t read the articles as anything but truth. Recently, it also changed its page to require “ad watching” before moving on.

I always said Corporate America would ruin the internet. I should have said “Corporate Global”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Some people really need to accept that adblockers are simply the latest evolution of pop up blockers. Remember those? Pop up ads that got so annoying that a feature of tool bars like Google’s was popup blocking? So annoying that eventually “turn off pop ups” became a setting in browsers often turned on by default?

Yeah. Advertising companies apparently did not learn their lessons there. The lessons being that if you make ads too annoying people will seek to block them. And as malicious ads begin to try and outright dupe people, and install malicious software on user’s computers, browser makers will cheerfully give their users a helping hand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I saw the other day that someone had created a Google Chrome extension to allow you to right-click on a page element and remove it.
IIRC the extension was called “Fuck it”. The developer was suffering from a level of frustration when they named it.
Not sure how searchable that’ll be…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

There’s also the all-powerful right click, Inspect Element, right click, Delete Node in Firefox and all of its clones.

A note about Blockr: on mobile there’s another extremely good reason for using an ad blocker and that’s to avoid expending some of your tiny budget of expensive and cripplingly-capped mobile data on useless bloated ads, sparing more for the content you’re interested in.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

is there something like a paywall blocker?

Go to article, slam into paywall, cut+paste story title/headline into search engine, click on most reasonable looking link. That usually gets me past any paywall to the story I originally wanted to read. It only takes a few seconds. If it doesn’t work for a site, you didn’t really need to bother with that site anyway, and you and they can happily ignore each other in the future. Then (ideally) they join the dinosaurs and the planet has one less overly self-important a-hole to worry about.

madasahatter (profile) says:


First rule of ads – they are annoying, bandwidth hogging videos
Second rule of ads – they are used to pay the bills
Third rule of ads – Many are malware vectors

I use an ad blocker because of rules 1 and 3. I do not want someone streaming a video ad and too many ad networks do not attempt to police the ads. I blame the advertising industry for these stupidities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ads

This pretty much. Most people don’t object to ads in principal, as they know they help make ends meet for websites.

What they object to is page load times being greatly increased by having to load a ton of code for ads. Page load times being increased by ads loading content hosted elsewhere. Page load times being increased by trying to load ads hosted on ad servers with overloaded servers and bandwidth. They object to distracting animated ads and sound playing ads. They object to flash based ads, and ads that cover the page when loaded so that you have to hit a close button to load the page you’re there to see. They especially object to these things on mobile devices, where loading ads chews into data plans and battery life, and closing obtrusive ads covering pages is more difficult with the lack of precision on a touch screen. To say nothing of the way ads like to abuse features to automatically launch the app store page for whatever app they’re pushing. To say nothing of the ads that actively try and stab you in the bad and infect your machine or scam you.

Basically people are fine with ads, right up until ads start screaming and waving at them to get their attention, and keep them from what they’re actively trying to look at.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Ads


And also ads at the top of the page that are rigged somehow to load synchronously, so until the ad loads the rest of the page below it stays blank — they were doing that dirty trick back in 1997.

The next frontier needs to be dealing with those jerkass site designs that use CSS to make all of the text white-on-white or cover most of the screen with a nag overlay, which some script then undoes, all to punish/nag NoScript users. Dealing with that will probably take creating a “sandboxed JS” mode in NoScript, in which scripts can modify the DOM (except by loading elements into it from third-party domains) and document.load in response to mouse clicks but everything else doesn’t work (especially, anything that touches or tries to send the browser to a third party domain, or that attempts to invoke Flash or other plugins). Annoying things like NoScript nag overlays and making every link be to “href=# onClick=document.load…” to punish script-blockers would work like you weren’t using NoScript but the malicious stuff that tries to send you to a Neutrino EK landing page wouldn’t run.

Worse is all the sites that punish JS blockers by hosting images on Instagram. I’ve found that those images generally won’t display if you don’t enable scripts for a) the site you’re on, b) Instagram, and c) one or more sites with names like!). Yes, that last looks exactly like the kinds of names sometimes used for malware domains. One assumes it’s a cloud storage provider, and whitelisting scripts from it will whitelist the Instagram scripts that you want working and any other scripts that happen to have gotten sorted into the same cloud storage hash bucket. Some of which could well be malicious, and linked from some URL you might one day blunder into. And all of this because someone either a) does not understand how to use the src=”foo.jpg” attribute of the img tag or b) is being deliberately obstructive to script-blocking users. a) is incompetence and b) is bordering on criminal negligence since the main reason to use NoScript is security, not ad-dodging. Making things that could work without JS gratuitously fail without JS, particularly in a way that takes more effort than having it work would (“href=# onClick=” comes to mind again here) amounts to demanding that end users disable some of their security or be denied useful features, such as site navigation, where there is no technical reason the feature can’t be provided without the reduction in security. That type of behavior is evil, not to put too fine a point on it.

Now I’m just waiting for them to come up with a “smart TV” that includes a popup blocker. I am sick of having the action in my favorite shows (and often opening credits or even subtitles for foreign speech) covered up by giant cartoon full moon, a distracting dancing Burger King logo, a cartoon bottle of shampoo, or some other fucking ad. I’d hoped the opening credits thing would lead to the Screen Actors’ Guild suing and turning these popups into a very brief fad, but no such luck. Apparently the SAG has been bought off. If I get ahold of cheap enough uncapped broadband before a popup-blocking TV comes on the market I’ll be torrenting everything from then on, and likely never looking back afterward…

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ads

and c) one or more sites with names like!). Yes, that last looks exactly like the kinds of names sometimes used for malware domains. One assumes it’s a cloud storage provider, and whitelisting scripts from it will whitelist the Instagram scripts that you want working and any other scripts that happen to have gotten sorted into the same cloud storage hash bucket. Some of which could well be malicious, and linked from some URL you might one day blunder into.

If you’re going to whitelist those, do it temporarily to reduce your risk.

John Cressman (profile) says:


The fact is, many businesses rely on ad models to support their costs, these ad blockers threaten that business model… so it’s no wonder that they fight back.

I think they’re wrong to attack an ad blocker, but let’s face it… if you start taking away ad revenue, you take away the money that goes to support the business.

So don’t be surprised when services and businesses that depended on that model start to stop offering those free services.

That’s the way the world works… this whole “get everything for free” mentality will eventually cause a fundamental shift in the topology of the web.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Ads

This whole “get everything for free” mentality is what caused this problem in the first place. Websites wanted more money, so they put in more ads. Advertisers wanted more money, so they made more annoying ads. Hackers wanted free money, so they made malicious ads.

People didn’t have a problem with ads at the beginning. We’ve been trained by TV and radio… And in magazines and movies and at ball games, on buses and milk cartons and T-shirts and bananas and written on the sky (but not in dreams) that advertisements are a thing that we should accept. It’s not until they got bad that people started fighting back.

This entitlement mentality (that’s the word you’re looking for) goes both ways.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Ads

“So don’t be surprised when services and businesses that depended on that model start to stop offering those free services.”

I don’t have a problem with that. I remember back when ads were very rare and most Internet services were free and better than most are now. In many ways, a return to those days would be a great improvement.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Ads

The fact is, many businesses rely on ad models to support their costs …

Yes, they do and there’s no problem with that. Their problem is when they insist on enforcing everyone to accept that model, and that’s their self-inflicted problem, not mine. If they don’t want to talk to me, they don’t have to, just as I don’t have to listen to them and they’ve no right to force me to listen, because come on! No-one has ever had the right to not be ignored, and objecting to me ignoring you is an unreasonable assumption on your part. Sorry ad people, you’re doin’ it wrong.

They’re just hurting themselves. Burying their heads in the sand isn’t hurting me in the least.

JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ads

I don’t have a problem with Resonable Ad’s. There’s a few sights I’ve whitelisted. The problem is a Ton of Ad’s. Big Windows that pop up, block everything and pain to remove. The Tracking of a user form place to place after they leave. What does that have to do with showing a Ad to a person?

Who does me looking at something on Amazon, I’m now seeing at have the places I visited? If I wanted it, I would have already gotten it when i was actually at Amazon. When you make a person Web browser have to grab content from 50 different places just to show your page, no thanks, Block, Bloc, Block!!!

JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: Ads

Then put a paywall up and see who pays.

The fact is they did it to themselves. You know how many places your Web browser is going to just to display a web page? A crapload of them. Then when you leave, tracking where you’re going off to. No thanks.

What do you think a DVR does for TV? Skip Commercials. 100% legal to do. Guess what, other ways were found to help make money like Product Placement directly into the programming. Every time I see the Surface Whipped out once again in a TV show, that’s Product placement.

Don’t like the Ad blockers on your site, Block them. In can be done. You’re problem is solved. No more free loaders, right!!! I’ve moved onto somewhere else and so no longer your freeloader. Have at it.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are so many sites on the internet that no one site has a monopoly that somewhere else doesn’t have near the same material. Requirements that I disable NoScript, turn off the ad blocker, and jump through hoops, to see your content quite frankly isn’t worth it.

Used to be highly active at ARSTechnia years ago. The day they started demanding everyone turn off the ad blockers was the day I left them. No need to go back. I’ll do the same for any other site I have less interest in.

steell (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I use uBlock, AdBlock Plus, NoScript, and Privacy Badger, and view Ars Technica with no problems and no ads.

I pay for sites that I visit frequently via their Donate buttons. I read online fiction series and contribute more than the new cost of a paperback book if I like reading the story and return for future installments.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I use uBlock, AdBlock Plus, NoScript, and Privacy Badger, and view Ars Technica with no problems and no ads.

I think he’s not talking about technical issues, but this:

Which is why I stopped going there as well. Used to visit almost every day. The kicker for me was when an editor said something to the effect that a reader who doesn’t view ads may as well not even exist as far as they’re concerned. In other words, the members of the Ars community are viewed by the staff as just advertisement consumers. I don’t want to be a member of such a community.

Anonymous Coward says: want to destroy the best security there is?

I am not kidding here. Even with antivirus and antimalware, the junk that somehow finds it’s way to peoples computers is staggering. I work in IT and the single best thing I can do as security is to install an adblocker.
Let’s face it, internet ads hasn’t really changed much since the big blinking banners that declared you to be the 1000000 visitor in the 90’s.
Every time you click a seemingly legitimate ad, you are taking a risk. The only thing to do is an opt-in system like an adblocker.
If legit ads are caught in this then do not blame the developers of a wonderful and very nessasary tool, but blame the people who have caused this to become the first add-on people install in every browser.
I would like to take a deep look at this bozo’s computer if he doesn’t use adblocker, because either it is probably full of crap or he only uses the internet for checking the weather.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: want to destroy the best security there is?

Some people click on ads. Some people even click on ads that should be too “out there” for anyone to click on.
Then there are the fake download buttons where you google a program or file, enter a site that says “download here” on big green buttons 10 different places on the page. You and I might know what to look for, but people who aren’t savey on the internet, easily click the wrong thing.
Then there is also the big on page popups that can show or delayed ads that is timed to show just when you reach the bottom and are about to click the “download” or “next page” link.
This is not mentioning what are in the ads themselves.
It is easy to fall for a trap when the enviroment is filled with hidden dangers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: want to destroy the best security there is?

Just to be clear, I am not referring to ads that just want you to spend money, but ads that lure with free signups(usually spam), wrong files(Malware or spyware), the right file just repacked with extra goodies (Malware/spyware/Virus) or just simply pageclicks to someone you don’t support.

Kenpachi (profile) says:

Die Welt Die!

I visited that website, just to test my shields, and the site displays in all its lame glory, no warnings, no threats of impending doom for blocking ads… o.O

Ffox 42.0 + uBlock Origin 1.37 beta 4 + No JavaScript allowed whatsoever(courtesy of NoScript)

Ohh the blessing of having a full featured HTML firewall instead of just an ad blocker…

Also, and are just a few of the 3rd party domains you connect to when visiting that toxic website.

Just a couple of clicks in Privacy Badger and uBlockO and boilá: entire domains banned forever.

And that website still works like a charm, not that I give two fucks anyway

Anonymous Coward says:

Video ads

Let’s be blunt: Many ads are annoying and intrusive. I recently had no ad blocker on my work computer because I figured it was my company’s bandwidth and it’d be a way to support the sites I’ve frequented.

Then one site introduced auto-playing video ads. The ads will make my machine totally lock up for 10 minutes. This is a development machine, with 8 cores and 16 GB RAM. All of this, brought to its knees by a few video ads.

Flash isn’t installed and NoScript’s blocking of didn’t work either.

So in went AdBlock Plus… but I’ll add an exception for Techirt.

Moral of the story: piss off people and they’ll make the problem go away. They’ll block the ads or they’ll find a new site. In either case: you’re the loser, not the user.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hell, it’s like if NBC had sued Zenith for inventing the remote control, after which people mostly quit watching TV commercials in favor of spending three minutes checking if the Habs were beating the Penguins. It’s like if the NAB had sued General Electric because people often went to the refrigerator to get a drink instead of staying in front of the set when ads came on. It’s like if Universal Pictures had sued Sony for marketing a VCR that could be used to fastforward over the … oh, wait.

JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ya, Channel surfing. That’s avoiding watching commercials on TV. They wised up when most would have their commercials at the same time, so no matter where you went, there were commercials playing. Then came the VHS player, where you could skip. Mine had a Auto Skip feature. It would record, then rewind and go though and mark where the commercials were and then when i played it, it would Auto Skip them. Then came the DVR and I was a early adopter of TIVO, back then in 1999.

Still you didn’t go to CBS, and when you were done, go to NBC and have CBS still tracking you!!! That’s what’s going on with the Internet these days. The tracking I hate the worse. The Amazon Ads of something I may have looked at on Amazon, showing up on half the places I visit, really annoying!!! The Pop up’s blocking what you’re trying to read with a delay before you can click them off.

Anonymous Coward says:

Speaking of TV popup-blocking...

…is it an antitrust violation if the companies in a market conspire not to raise prices simultaneously but to cut corners on quality simultaneously?

I ask because between those infuriating dancing animated burger logos (which I’ve run into too) and this week’s rash of inexplicable, occasionless pre-emptions that have hit virtually every single show I watch, I’m starting to wonder if the major television networks are intentionally conspiring to degrade the quality of their broadcast service so as to drive viewers to watch via paid platforms like Netflix instead.

Come to think of it, wouldn’t conspiring with your competitors to make the customer’s only options for watching show X be either a degraded-with-ad-logos, often-randomly-shuffled-around-or-canceled broadcast or else watch via a service with extra fees or even pay-per-view pricing, amount to not only a conspiracy to lower quality, but a stealth price-hike as well?

After all, the price of a “reliably-scheduled, dancing-burger-less viewing” of hourlong dramas will have been raised from nothing (if you receive by antenna) to at least $7.99/mo (Netflix), not by a natural increase in their costs but by a deliberate decision by five nominally-competing businesses to all dilute the quality of their over-the-air broadcasts simultaneously. They all started doing the dancing-burger-type shit at the same time two years ago, and as of this week they all seem to be shuffling and dumping most of their regular broadcasts and airing nothing but the television equivalent of pink slime (twenty-year-old nonblockbuster movies, random documentary-ish things, and other such schedule-filler junk normally reserved for filling the gaps left by cancellations).

Add in the rumors that the next Star Trek series will have only its pilot episode aired, after which you’ll have to use a paid streaming service to see it, and it sure looks like they’re colluding to jack up prices by effectively killing off the free over-the-air broadcast as a viable way to watch one’s shows…

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