This week, the internet has been abuzz with scary stories about iOS 9’s newfound love affair with content blockers and for good reason. I am not going to try and persuade anyone reading this to turn off an adblocker if they have one in use, not only can I spend my time better, but I respect people’s freedom to do what they want, even if I wholeheartedly disagree with it. I will say this however, advertising keeps your favorite websites alive, whether you like this or not it is a fact. If we take adblocking to its logical extreme it’s basically asking people to provide enjoyable content for free. Nobody is going to deny that ads have gotten out of control and hungry, loud flash-fuelled ads aren’t fun for anyone, but to block ads indiscriminately just because you can is quite frankly a little foolish. Does anyone really expect the time and effort, not to mention the server running costs, development hours and testing of games and apps to appear out of thin air for something users don’t have to pay for? If something is free, then surely there has to be some sort of compromise, and ads are that compromise. Given the opportunity of free drinks, would you make a big fuss over which beer or alcoholic beverage it was because you didn’t like how it was presented? Doubtful.
Either way, as I said, I’m not going to try and persuade anyone to stop using an adblocker, besides I’m probably preaching to the wrong crowd. Instead, let’s talk about how Apple’s recent love affair with adblockers in iOS 9 has absolutely nothing to do with your user experience or your data cap. Apple seriously could not care any less about how good an experience you have on the internet outside of anything hosted at apple.com. Instead, their newfound focus on adblockers is simply to take a bite out of Google’s revenues. Google is a company that pretty much relies on advertising around the web to keep moving, to keep on showing up and to be kept in sight. Apple, on the other hand, make their money selling overpriced devices that just happen to connect to the internet. Apple does not have a hand in your network’s data cap, Apple does not have a big presence in the online services world, Apple does not need ads to be successful online. As such, the Cupertino company has taken to helping a cottage industry of adblockers take the fight to Google, and these adblockers have already skyrocketed to the top of the App Store charts.
As Nilay Patel from the Verge has recently pointed out, adblocking might not be a big deal now, but if the upward trend of adoption on every platform continues, things will become difficult for sites that rely primarily on ad revenue. Content around the Internet doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, and while there’s definitely the whole “vote with your wallet” mentality to be considered here, ads have allowed users to get free access to all sorts of content for decades now. Alternative revenue sources do exist, and we try our hand by suggesting Amazon products and deals for example, but how many of us would genuinely sign up to a subscription model to read or view content on our favorite sites? Hardly any of us, instead, we’d just go elsewhere! If one site moves to a paywall model, then another is more than likely to freely take its place, and this is exactly the catch 22 that ads online have presented us with; users hate ads, but are generally unwilling to pay for said content in the first place. Nobody can win here, except maybe firms like Eyeo who run Adblockplus.
Adblockplus is a firm that constantly tries to portray their product – which is open source, yay! – as something that isn’t against blocking ads outright, but rather video ads, animations, tracking ads and anything that isn’t just ineffective text ads. The company has a department called “Acceptable Ads Relations” and any site looking to get at least some revenue out of adblockplus users can do so by agreeing to criteria – easily found on their website, to their credit. These ads are enabled by default, and adblockplus users need to turn them off in order to block everything. This is good of them, to encourage at least some sort of compromise between content creators and consumers, but charging big players like Google, Amazon and Microsoft massive fees to whitelist their ads just because they can is frankly greedy and hardly what they promise their users in the first place.
Either way, adblocking will continue and it’ll probably only grow with these few weeks being a big spike in adoption. I’m sure that blocking ads today will probably force advertisers to realise they’ve been serving up crud for the past decade, but in the meantime revenues will fall as a result in more users using this sort of software, that’s just a fact. I guess I should be happy that there’s very few iOS browsers spending time here, right?