It looks like Apple is jumping on the ad blocking bandwagon -- which is about to cause a major headache for digital publishers

Tim CookGetty Images/Stephen LamApple CEO Tim Cook.

It looks as though Apple is about to allow its users to block ads from their iPhones and iPads.

As NiemanLab reports, Apple’s developer documentation detailing “What’s New in Safari” (Apple’s internet browser) highlights the change. The document (which you find read in full here) reads: “The new Safari release brings Content Blocking Safari Extensions to iOS. Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”

Business Insider has contacted Apple for clarification as to whether this means it will allow developers to build ad blocking apps and browser extensions. We’ll update this article once we hear back. However, sources within the ad blocking community, and other news outlets such as the Financial Times and The Next Web, have interpreted the update to mean Apple will be allowing users to block ads in some form.

If this is the case, that’s a huge blow for online publishers, many of whom rely on advertising for the majority of their revenue, and to create content that readers can consume for free.

Apple allowing ad blocking for the first time is another step towards ad blocking becoming mainstream. The number of people with ad blockers installed worldwide grew 70% year on year to 144 million in 2014 and is expected to rise a further 50% this year, according to PageFair and Adobe.

Previously ad blocking companies have found it difficult to build for mobile. One of the reasons one of the most popular ad blockers, Adblock Plus, recently created its own Android browser is because its previous Android browser extension was removed from the Play Store (Google’s app store) by Google for violating rules on interfering with other apps’ functionality. And Adblock Plus’s operations and communications manager Ben Williams told Business Insider last month that previously, iOS had been “harder to develop on,” describing it as a “walled garden that’s more difficult to get an API.” Not so any more, it seems.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has recently launched attacks against Silicon Valley technology companies that collect data about users in order to serve them ads. In a speech earlier this month, Cook — fairly obviously taking a swipe at Facebook and Google — said:

Our privacy is being attacked on multiple fronts. I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetise it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.

However, Cook has been criticised for being “disingenuous” in this argument. Apple itself has a division that is in the business of serving ads: iAd. True, it’s a tiny part of its business, generating just $US487 million last year, or 0.3% of Apple’s total revenue, according to eMarketer.

But it could be about to become a lot more important to Apple. At its big developers’ conference earlier this week, Apple announced a Flipboard-style News app as part of the iOS9 update that’s coming later this year. Publishers including The New York Times, Wired, and ESPN have signed up as launch partners.

Publishers can choose to earn 100% of the revenue from the ads they sell, or 70% if Apple’s iAd sells the ads for them. As NiemanLab points out, it’s likely all but the biggest publishers will rely on Apple to do the ad selling on their behalf.

A cynic could infer that, by allowing ad blocking, Apple is hoping that it can shift news and magazine consumption away from the browser and directly into its app, where it has a chance of monetizing the content. It’s a stretch — most people don’t necessarily fire up a news app each morning; they get their content from Facebook, Twitter, search, WhatsApp and so on — but until Apple provides further clarification on exactly what its “content blocking Safari extensions” have actually been designed for, publishers are on high alert.

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