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Ad Tech Vet Ben Barokas Launches Sourcepoint to Block Ad Blockers

One sign that ad blocking may be moving from a niche activity to the mainstream: Investors think that ad block blockers could be a good business.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Ad-blocking software for Web surfers isn’t new. But there’s a growing chorus of people who insist that ad blockers are no longer a niche group, but a large subset of Internet users — and big enough to hurt Web publishers that depend on ad revenue.

Here’s another voice making that argument: Ad tech veteran Ben Barokas, who has created a new company to block ad blockers.

Sourcepoint, which is launching today, promises that it can restore ads removed by blocking software like Adblock Plus — or, alternately, insert new ads, or offers to buy subscriptions to the websites ad-blocked users are visiting.

“Ad blocking is a binary solution to a very nuanced problem,” said Barokas. “We need to work with publishers, work with users, and ultimately to work with advertisers to bring transparency back to the equation.”

Barokas won’t explain how his software is able to block ad-blocking software, but he’s not the only one offering a solution. Pagefair, for instance, says it can defeat ad blockers as well.

Barokas’ entry into the field is worth noting because of his advertising business bonafides. He founded and ran AdMeld, an ad optimization service that Google bought for $400 million in 2011. Spark Capital and Foundry Group, which previously invested in AdMeld, have led a $10 million A round in Sourcepoint; other backers include Greycroft and Accel.

For now, Sourcepoint will offer its software to publishers for free. Barokas says that he may eventually take a cut of the revenue from the ads he recovers. He also says he might take a cut of subscriptions a site sells to users who are willing to pay to see something without ads. That assumes, of course, that people who download anti-ad software are willing to pay to see stuff they’re used to seeing for free.

Also unknown: How big a problem ad blocking really is for Web publishers. For a long time, the biggest group of people who used ad blocking software were people with an ideological opposition to ads, and who were willing to download specialized software to do so.

And some publishers say they still haven’t encountered real problems from ad-blocking users. Others say the software is increasingly used by mainstream Web surfers, including Millennials who realize it’s quite easy to Google “Adblock,” click on a couple buttons and move on with their day.

Last fall Pagefair — which admittedly has its own ad-blocking business to promote — counted 144 million users worldwide with ad-blocking software. That’s about 5 percent of the Web, by their estimates. And Pagefair CEO Sean Blanchfield thinks that number has increased by 50 percent since then.

Another sign that ad blocking could be getting much bigger soon: Apple’s new guidelines for its iOS 9 software give developers the go-ahead to create “content blocking” software that would work on the mobile version of Apple’s Safari browser. Up until now ad blocking generally hasn’t worked on mainstream mobile browsers, and while Apple won’t comment on the new rules, it hasn’t dissuaded anyone from reporting that they give ad blockers the go-ahead for the first time.

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