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Facebook blocks the ad blockers, gives users new tools

Last Updated Aug 10, 2016 8:54 AM EDT

Those of you who use ad blocking software to avoid pesky advertisements on Facebook may have just hit a road block. On Tuesday, the social network outlined ways it's changing how ads load on the site for desktop users, essentially blocking ad blockers.

In a blog post Tuesday, Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook's Ads and Business Platform, acknowledged that since ads can sometimes be an annoyance, many users have resorted to ad blocking software to "stop seeing bad ads." He said the company listened to user concerns, and was responding by offering "more powerful controls" for users to have a say about which types of ads they see. At the same time, he said, "we'll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software."

Ad blockers are basically filters that block out images on web pages that come from an ad server. They have become increasingly popular among web users in recent years -- and a serious concern for online media companies whose businesses rely on ad revenue. The 2015 Reuters Institute Digital News Report found 47 percent of U.S. internet users regularly use ad blocking software. Among younger consumers, age 18 to 24, 55 percent block ads online. A 2015 report by PageFair and Adobe estimated that ad blockers cost publishers worldwide $22 billion a year.

Given that ads are an essential source of revenue for Facebook, it's not unexpected that the company would want to find a way to work around such filters and recoup some of that money. Just last month, the company reported its second-quarter revenue skyrocketed almost 60 percent to $6.4 billion. This was generated mainly from ads shown to the site's users, CNET reports.

CBS News contributor and NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson says he sees two main factors behind Facebook's decision to fight back.

"The reason they're acting now is presumably because, A) it's a big enough threat, enough users are using it that they're losing substantial money, and B) they actually think they can win," Thompson said on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday. "There's a cat-and-mouse game that goes on. Facebook changes its code to thwart the ad blockers; the ad blocking companies come back and change their code to make the ads disappear again. Facebook now presumably thinks they've figured it out and can win."

Facebook emphasized that its latest changes will give users more input into what kind of ad content they see.

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Facebook's new ad preferences.

Facebook

The site says it's making its ad preferences feature easier to use so you can select the kinds of ads you do and don't want to see when you scroll through your Facebook feed. For example, you can opt out of ads for cars, clothing or other topics that don't interest you and ask to see ads for technology, sports or other types of products and services that are more tailored to your lifestyle.

Beyond this, Facebook says it will allow users to avoid ads from companies that have basically tried to spam them.

"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," Bosworth's blog post said. "These improvements are designed to give people even more control over how their data informs the ads they see."

Thompson said the ad blocking wars are likely to continue unless digital publishers and advertisers can find ways to make online ads less unpleasant for consumers.

"Ads can be annoying. They cover the whole screen, they pop up, they flash in, they cover what you want to read," he said. "The ideal world you would live in would be, the advertisers come up with ads that the users like ... where the users are happy and it makes the experience of being on the site better." He pointed to the example of print magazines where readers actually enjoy looking at some of the ads.

"Possibly," he added, "Facebook's move will move us in that direction."

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    Brian Mastroianni covers science and technology for CBSNews.com