Apple has shipped the new update to its iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 9, which lets users block the ads they see on their phones. It is not a coincidence that the No.1 paid app in the App Store yesterday, “Peace,” is an ad-blocker. Another ad-blocker, “Crystal,” was at No.4.
People want to strip the ads from the web.
Apple’s intention here is to make the web better for users. Pages load faster, and are less distracting, if they have no ads.
But, as the tech writer John Gruber points out, Apple’s dominance in the mobile app/web world has given it a sort of “veto power” over the web, he wrote:
… I think this is more or less what is happening, whether the web community likes it or not, because this largely seems to describe Safari/WebKit’s approach to moving forward — and Safari, because of iOS in particular — effectively gives Apple veto power over new web technologies.
He’s not referring directly to ads. The point he’s making is that because Apple has the ability to support, or not support, certain functions and types of software inside its apps, it can leverage those choices against people who publish stuff on the web. In the case of advertising, the new ad-block feature in iOS 9 can prevent ads from being shown on the web and in apps to anyone using an iPhone.
This could go badly for the web as a whole.
If you’re a publisher you’re likely to see an incoming rush of iPhone users in the next few weeks who are viewing your web pages but not the ads that pay for them. Your revenue is going to go down as a result. Smaller, less sophisticated publishers could be driven out of business, for no reason other than they’re publishing in a format that Apple’s operating software now discriminates against.
Gruber complained about this on Twitter yesterday because his blog uses an adtech partner called The Deck to supply it with ads. The Deck runs only small, inconspicuous ads targeted at creative types, in limited formats. It’s one of the least-offensive ad formats out there. Ironically, the Peace ad-blocker app is made by one of Gruber’s friends, Marco Arment. Realising that he was now disrupting Gruber’s revenues, Arment published a post of his own, one day after he launched Peace, to explain why he thought that was OK. Even more ironically, Arment also uses The Deck to display ads on his own site.
The kerfuffle illustrated one of the key contradictions in the ad-blocking debate: Everyone wants to block bad advertising on the web. But no one can agree what bad advertising looks like. Or rather, everyone agrees that the other guy’s ads are bad — mine are totally fine!
People who favour ad-blocking are generally in denial about the function of ads on the web. Yes, they can be annoying. But news and videos — all those cool things you love, and read everyday — they don’t come from nowhere. They’re not free. Someone has to pay for them. Until recently, publishers thought they had come up with a pretty good compromise: We’ll give you everything for free, if you let us run ads next to it. (Disclosure: This, obviously, is how Business Insider works.)
Free, apparently, is not cheap enough for the ad-block crowd.
Apple doesn’t care about the web. It gets no revenue from the web. It gets all its revenue from devices and apps. Apple wants publishers to prioritise apps over the web, and maybe use its iAd app advertising system, too. This would be good if the iPhone/iPad ecosystem offered publishers a large enough audience that would let them grow their revenues beyond those coming from the web, but it doesn’t. Only about 20% of phones on the planet are iPhones. The rest are Android or other brands.
Apple also polices its App Store, using its own editorial standards. It doesn’t allow pornography, for instance. Or swearing in music on its Beats 1 radio station. Nine Inch Nails, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Dazed & Confused and the political cartoonist Mark Fiore have all had their content censored at Apple’s behest, in the App Store.
The great thing about the web is that anyone can publish whatever they want on it, and you can see it from any device you like. That is not true of the Apple App Store.
If the ad-blocking industry gets its way, revenue and funding will be drained out of the web and rechanneled into apps. All that great, searchable, surfable news and content you’re getting from the web — for free! — will be gone.
So it’s worth thinking about whether losing freedom — and the revenues — that the web has created, and shifting all that activity into app stores controlled by only two companies (Apple and Google) is really going to be a good thing.
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