People are freaking out about Apple’s new ad blocking technology. The company plans to let iPhone users who update to iOS 9 (the new iPhone operating system) block all ads seen through the phone’s Safari web browser.
One Wall Street analyst wrote yesterday, “In a worst case scenario, this is Apple against the entire mobile publisher and advertiser ecosystem.”
At the AppNexus Thinktech conference in London yesterday, it was all everyone was talking about.
AppNexus is the giant, New York-based adtech company, and ThinkTech is the private conference it holds annually where media buyers and tech people talk off the record about their problems. I chaired a discussion between WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, Guardian deputy CEO David Pemsel and AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley: We debated Apple’s new plan, but the talk was off the record so I can’t tell you much about it, except to say people are very concerned about what Apple is trying to do.
Sorrell, you might remember, led the resistance to Microsoft’s plan in 2012 to end ad tracking in Internet Explorer. (Ultimately, Microsoft abandoned the ad business completely — and do not track in Explorer is now widely regarded as a failure.)
However, this isn’t Microsoft. This is Apple. And Apple tends not to launch products unless it is sure they will succeed.
Its Safari browser has a 25% share of all mobile web browsing, by some estimates.
The fear here is that if Apple shuts off 25% of all ads on the web, then some web publishers — and the adtech companies that serve them — will be driven out of business. Google is already losing 10% of its annual revenue to adblockers, according to PageFair, which monitors online ads. You may not like advertising, adtech people say, but if you like seeing free news and videos on the web then you have to tolerate it — because advertising foots that bill.
The funniest reaction to Apple’s plan comes from Eyeo, the maker of Adblock Plus. The background: Adblock Plus has 50 million users and it forces companies like Google and Microsoft to pay a fee to make sure Adblock doesn’t block their ads. Google has lost $US6.6 billion in revenue because so many people use Adblock Plus and the like.
Here is Eyeo head of operations Ben Williams, talking about iOS 9:
“So far very little is known about content blocking extensions, available in Safari 9 and iOS 9,” said Adblock Plus head of operations Ben Williams from developer Eyeo. “We look nervously at how powerful their block lists will be.”
Williams is nervous because if iPhone users can switch off all ads across the web simply by changing the settings on their phone, then a huge portion of Adblock’s customers will be wasting their time with Adblock.
He is not the only one who is nervous. Some people think Apple is trying to undermine the entire web — by making it harder for publishers who pay for their sites with advertising — in order to make apps more attractive. Apple has a lot of control over the app world because there are only two sources for apps: Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Apple makes money when people get their digital stuff from the App Store. It makes almost no money from the web.
APPLE IS COMING for ads. It’s coming for publishers. And, in the process, it may be gunning for the web.
The Apple ad block announcement already appears to have wiped 7% off the value of stock in Criteo, one of the major web advertising providers, according to Fortune.
The only person not freaking out is Brian Pitz, an analyst at Jefferies. He wrote this note to investors in Criteo, suggesting that everyone calm the heck down:
This will not be all-out ad blocking on Apple devices. First, the user has to be using Safari on an Apple device. Second, the user has to opt-out of ads. Third, the opt-out process will likely be granular, with individual settings to block specific types of ad formats like pop-ups, pre-rolls, and so forth. In a worst case scenario, this is Apple against the entire mobile publisher and advertiser ecosystem; not Criteo itself. If browsers start negatively impacting publishers’ abilities to monetise their mobile content, it may trigger a backlash where certain sites are “not optimised for use with Safari.”
There are two key lines there. The first is, “In a worst case scenario, this is Apple against the entire mobile publisher and advertiser ecosystem.” Which sounds pretty bad, admittedly.
But the second is, “it may trigger a backlash where certain sites are ‘not optimised for use with Safari.'”
People forget that if Apple makes too many enemies, then companies will start hobbling the web experience for Apple users. And as Apple always promises the best experience for every user, that threat might be real.