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Senator asks FTC to investigate questionable ad blocking practices

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You’re not the only one concerned that ad blocking companies may have taken customers for a ride by whitelisting advertisers willing to pay. Senator Ron Wyden has sent a letter to the FTC asking the regulator to investigate ad blocking companies over “unfair, deceptive and anti-competitive” practices, including implementing whitelists without giving users a choice. When AdBlock was sold to an unnamed buyer and joined Adblock Plus’ Acceptable Ads whitelist program, it “likely” broke federal law by automatically changing privacy terms without obtaining the necessary explicit permission.

Wyden also called on the FTC to require greater transparency from ad blockers, including disclosures of whitelist payments in both the ads themselves as well as to people downloading or installing blockers. This will help people “evaluate and compare” ad blockers to see which ones live up to their billing, Wyden said.

We’ve asked Adblock Plus’ parent, Eyeo, for comment. The FTC has confirmed receiving the letter, but hasn’t said what it intends to do.

There’s no guarantee the FTC will take action, but complaints about whitelisting have circulated for years. Wyden explained that companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Verizon (Engadget’s parent company) have long paid “millions of dollars” to bypass ad blockers, partly negating the point — why run the tools when you’re still going to see ads from companies with deep pockets? This won’t force ad blocker companies to stop all sales pitches, but it could help you switch to a more effective solution.

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