Prof. Ben Shiller is presenting his research on ad blocking at Harvard Business School this week, and at MIT in December. The research was completed while visiting Harvard Business School during his sabbatical this semester.
Prof. Shiller’s research, with Joel Waldfogel, employs data on both traffic and the share of visitors blocking advertisements at roughly 2500 websites. Using changes in traffic as a measure of changes in quality, they find that websites with a substantial fraction of ads blocked declined in quality relative to other websites, presumably because those sites had relatively less ad revenue to reinvest in producing high-quality content. This implies a potential “web browser’s dilemma” (like a prisoner’s dilemma) – while installing ad blockers may help individual users, it may lead to quality changes which may harm consumers on balance.