Ad blockers and the ethics of online advertising became a flash-in-the-plan topic online last week when the creator of Instapaper and co-founder of Tumblr launched a new iOS ad-blocking program called Peace. Within hours, Peace became the top app on the Paid section of the App Store and almost as quickly as it arrived, Peace disappeared again.
In his blog, Peace developer Marco Arment explained the decision to discontinue sales of his latest product:
“Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.
Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.
I still believe that ad blockers are necessary today, and I still think Ghostery is the best one, but I’ve learned over the last few crazy days that I don’t feel good making one and being the arbiter of what’s blocked.”
For a speed-friendly blocklist, Arment teamed with Ghostery, which serves two masters: first, consumers who want a browser plug-in to block third-party ads, and second, a business version that sends optional user data to large websites to better determine how the third-party ads should be placed among other technical data. Understandably, however, there are few alternatives to paid advertising in the online publishing world and those most destined to be affected by Peace and other ad blockers spoke up in kind.
No matter your stance on the issue, Apple has made one thing clear: ad blocking will, for the foreseeable future, be a decision left up to the user. And with the uptick in mobile users proceeding at a steady pace and a widespread distaste for online ads, we’re beginning to see the end times for browser ads. This begs a serious question: why would Apple, which is notoriously stingy when it comes to operating system-level changes to its mobile platforms, allow developers to block certain content from webpages?
Simple – apps.
Apple’s long since been the champion of mobile programs as content delivery avenues since they announced third-party app capabilities with the iPhone 3G. In the first week of 2015 alone, Apple users spent nearly $500 million on apps and in-app purchases. The company is banking on – and has demonstrated – the fact that users will move away from web browsers to read, watch, and conduct their day-to-day lives on mobile devices. Furthermore, data indicates that smartphones and tablets will become the default platform for most activities currently considered to be desktop or laptop-exclusive.
By allowing the banishment of ads from their mobile web browsers, Apple may be trying to funnel advertisers to its in-app advertising channel. The benefit to consumers would be immediately clear, as third-party ad servers are notoriously finicky, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. An Apple-curated ad network would presumably reduce much of the risks commonly associated with its predecessor, namely the potential for malware, dubious tracking practices, and scams.
For advertisers, the results may not be so cut-and-dried. The death of mobile-based web ads combined with an alarming rate by which ad blockers are being used in traditional desktop browsers should have advertisers running scared. However, getting smarter and more sophisticated with your strategies in this new “ad-free future” we’re about to enter can garner early results and set the precedent for years to come. Either way, the doomsday clock is ticking for those hated, malicious pop-up ads – and not a moment too soon.
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