iOS 9 Safari content blockers debut to demand, denouncement & a high-profile delisting

Posted:
in iPhone edited October 2015
This week's launch of iOS 9 also marked the debut of optional content (read: mobile ad) blockers in Apple's Safari browser. The ensuing firestorm has led to a highly emotional debate over intrusive and annoying ads, versus the need for online publishers to make money in order to stay afloat.




It's impossible for any Web publication to talk about mobile ads without some inherent bias -- advertising, after all, keeps the lights on at sites like AppleInsider and countless other outlets. Without ads, frankly put, I would not have a job as the managing editor of this site. There is no purely objective way for me to write about this topic.

In recent years, advertising --?especially on some particularly egregious mobile sites --?has become increasingly bothersome. We've all experienced it: iPhone and iPad browsing has been plagued by popovers, slow loading times, and even some exploits that will unexpectedly force users from a website to the App Store, without even tapping on an ad.

Apple has decided to fight back with a one-two punch, offering third-party developers the ability to create their own content blocking plugins for Safari, and thus allowing users to download them and have a more pleasant, ad-free mobile experience. In the second prong of this attack, Apple is also delivering content from publishers --?AppleInsider included --?via iOS 9's News app.
Suffice to say that online publishers are concerned, unhappy, and downright angry with Apple about ad blockers in iOS 9. And the very livelihood of editors and writers (including yours truly) hangs in the balance.
The benefits to Apple are numerous: The company gets to provide a better experience for its users, and also in the process snub its largest competitor, and the largest online advertiser, Google. And because Safari plugins can't block ads in third-party apps, Apple wins yet again, encouraging sites to build apps from which it can collect a 30 percent cut of revenues.

The costs to online publishers from all of this are obvious as well, with the threat of severely decreased revenue if ad blockers catch on with iPhone and iPad users.

Suffice to say that online publishers are concerned, unhappy, and downright angry with Apple about ad blockers in iOS 9. And the very livelihood of editors and writers (including yours truly) hangs in the balance.

The debate over the morality of using ad blocking software, versus the arrogance of online publishers to subject their readers to copious amounts of advertisements, took a turn this week. Prominent developer Marco Arment's own ad blocking app, Peace, found its way to the top of the iOS App Store charts. But just as quickly as it rose to prominence, Peace vanished, with Arment saying publicly that he had a change of heart.




"Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn't feel good, which I didn't anticipate, but probably should have," he wrote. "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 even went as far as to block ads from Arment's own website, which drew indirect criticism from his friend, and fellow "The Deck" advertising user, John Gruber of Daring Fireball. Before he pulled the app, Arment said it would be unfair for him to make an exception for ads from the network he uses, and that Peace would apply evenly to all Web ads, not just the egregious ones.

Arment's about-face with Peace won't mean much in the long run, as there are already plenty of other ad blocking apps available for iOS 9. Nor is Apple's allowance of Safari content blockers likely to spell immediate doom for the online publishing industry.

But over time, adoption of ad blockers could continue to chip away at Web revenue. Publishers will need to either adapt, or perish.

As with most debates, the truth on this controversy lies somewhere in the middle. Mobile ads have indeed led to a subpar experience on the mobile Web, but readers who feel entitled to free content should reflect on the hard work that many websites put into their product.

I'm proud of the hard working team we have at AppleInsider. Every single day our editors tirelessly produce valuable content for our dedicated readership.

It's especially important for myself to reflect on this after the influx of Apple and technology related news in the last few weeks and months, which have seen our staff invest long hours. To say this time of year has been taxing on everyone would be an understatement.

This kind of hard work doesn't come free, which makes ads a necessary-but-unpleasant part of the Web. And if Arment's uneasiness over the ethics of ad blockers isn't shared by most end users, publishers will need to find new ways of making money, or risk going out of business entirely.
Anyone can agree that some mobile ads are exceptionally egregious and must be kept in check. But anyone who believes they are entitled to simply block ads across the board and deprive publications and their staff of advertising revenue and their very livelihood is flat-out wrong.
Changes are already afoot in online publishing. Recent months have seen consolidation in the industry, with major media companies buying up smaller properties.

Some sites have also responded to ad blockers with a more aggressive approach, displaying messages asking readers to disable their plugins, and even preventing those visitors from viewing content. Others have simply put up paywalls, charging a premium for content and severely limiting readership for an ad-free experience.

There's also been a push toward the types of ads that can't be blocked by a Safari plugin, in the form of sponsored content (or, more cynically, "advertorials"). Some websites take a more upfront approach with this content, making it clear a sponsorship is involved in the post. Other sites are less forthcoming, presenting publishers with their own moral dilemmas, and creating new headaches for readers.

The launch of iOS 9 and support for ad blockers feels like a missed opportunity for Apple to have attempted to find some much needed middle ground.

Anyone can agree that some mobile ads are exceptionally egregious and must be kept in check. But anyone who believes they are entitled to simply block ads across the board and deprive publications and their staff of advertising revenue and their very livelihood is flat-out wrong.

Finding that middle ground, where ads are present but not damaging to the user experience, is going to take time and effort, and quite frankly an overhaul of the entire online advertising industry. It's going to be difficult and painful, and it's likely that some sites won't survive the transition.

As consumers, we look to Apple to solve our problems --?sometimes ones we didn't even know we had. This time around, Apple has made no real effort to offer publishers and users an amicable solution. iOS 9 offers no real compromises on this issue.

Retina iPad mini review


To be fair, that's not Apple's obligation. In the end, it will fall on publishers to create content users want to read, and to find new and different ways to monetize that content.

At AppleInsider, we can do better. I'm proud that our mobile site is very light on ads and extremely responsive. I'm also proud that our mobile app offers both non-intrusive iAd banners and an optional subscription service for an ad-free experience, allowing us to experiment with new and alternative revenue opportunities. But our desktop site needs work, and our team knows this.

It's a work in progress, and some changes have already been made recently behind the scenes. But in the end, we want to make sure that advertisements achieve an appropriate balance --?supporting the site and allowing us to keep our paid staff, while also being respectful to you, the reader.

In the end, true peace on this issue won't come from a third-party app, or even a mediator like Apple. Publishers and readers will need to find their own peace -- common ground where content is valued and readers are respected. I'm confident we'll get there.

I thank you for reading and supporting AppleInsider and being a part of our vibrant, passionate community.
«13456722

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 422
    I think that most reasonable people will happily settle for a quid pro quo and truce if these same online publishers didn't swamp us with the crappy, creepy (as in tracking us), Flashy, in-your-face, intrusive ads that recipients are paying for via the receiver-pays data plans in countries like the U.S.

    You reap what you sow.

    Add: What are the recommendations for ad blockers for iOS?
  • Reply 2 of 422
    asciiascii Posts: 5,445member
    I don't run an ad-blocker and never have. I think asking me to consider this product or that is a small price to pay for free reading material. There's nothing wrong with people simply asking you to consider their product after all.

    However, that's not all the advertisers ask of you these days. They also track you, and that poisons the well for me. It changes my opinion of online ads from something that, while annoying at times, is essentially benign, to something more sinister. Tracking is something the police should do to crooks, it's not something ordinary people should have done to them.

    And that I think is what has prompted Apple's response. New technology enables new things (as it always has) and the advertisers have gone too far. I have not installed iOS 9 yet, but if the News app lets me read AI, while viewing ads, but tightly controlled ads with no tracking, I would be a happy man.

    p.s. kudos to the author for being open about his position and discussing it, instead of just not mentioning it, which was another option he had.
  • Reply 3 of 422
    Tough. If web publishers wouldn't clutter up their sites with relentless ads-after-ads and web "kick outs" (ie you go to a site and it kicks you to some random game in the App Store) I'd hazzard a guess that people would be more than willing to put up with an ad here and there.

    As it stands now I'll use things like AdBlock and others and do so happily sans remorse.

    I will however add that the ads I see here a fairly minimal and I have AdBlock turned off as a result.
  • Reply 4 of 422
    The best kind of ads, I think, from a reader's perspective, were the early versions of Google's text-only Adsense ads in the mid-2000s - informative, non-intrusive and didn't take up much computing resources.
  • Reply 5 of 422

    Your article, just like Nilay Patel's on The Verge, misses one important point. I do not mind ads (unless they are completely unacceptable, like Flash, auto-playing audio etc.).

     

    But I do mind tracking and behavioral analysis. Give me ads without that, and I am more than willing to watch them. If there would be some .org outfit that maintains a list of non-tracking etc. ad engines, I would not mind white-listing those in general, or buy an ad blocker that generally ignores these. But, there isn't.

     

    Most site owners make the comparison to print and tv ads, hiding the fact that these are not at all the same. No print or tv ad tracks where I was before, were I go next, how long I look at it, how fast I scroll etc. The comparison is just plain wrong.

     

    I know that publishers are not to blame, but the pressure on the ad networks and their software can only come from them.

  • Reply 6 of 422
    I do not understand how by removing ads I'm costing them money because I never buy stuff from them ever. All they do is make money for Verizon and att because I was forced to down load videos. If they made their ads less intrusive I'd be able to browse more and see more of their ads but because I limit my browsing so as to not use up my bandwidth I see less of their commercials. So they did it to themselves in their zeal to get in my face.
  • Reply 7 of 422

    Where is the EULA to sign when visiting these sites that asks me if I accept the tracking cookies for ad companies to track my every move across the web?

    Where is my refund on data charges for downloading ads I don't want to see?

    Websites have built this steaming pile of crap ad based internet and now they'll have to adapt. Thank-you Apple for giving the power back to us.

  • Reply 8 of 422

    Marco's about face means a lot... I will no longer support sites that use the very simple and elegant ad company The Deck.

     

    The great (and worst) thing about the internet is that everything gets regurgitated over and over again, and no single blog or site is worth anything anymore. Marco just shot another hole.

  • Reply 9 of 422
    I installed Crystal today but I'm the kind of person who resents being advertised to in any way. I never click on ads and I totally zone them out on a website as non-content. I skip through ads on my DVR and when I listen to podcasts. I probably wouldn't even have bothered with an ad blocker on iOS if it wasn't for those douche bag sites that fill the screen with more ads then content and then generate false clicks when I try to scroll past them. Otherwise it's not really going to affect my ad views because most of the links I chase are from the Facebook app or the Feedly app (like right now)
  • Reply 10 of 422
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by pistis View Post



    I do not understand how by removing ads I'm costing them money because I never buy stuff from them ever. All they do is make money for Verizon and att because I was forced to down load videos. If they made their ads less intrusive I'd be able to browse more and see more of their ads but because I limit my browsing so as to not use up my bandwidth I see less of their commercials. So they did it to themselves in their zeal to get in my face.

    Clicks. They show you an ad and they get a certain percentage via tracking. You use a block program and that ad goes away as does revenue.

  • Reply 11 of 422
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Lord Amhran View Post

     

    Clicks. They show you an ad and they get a certain percentage via tracking. You use a block program and that ad goes away as does revenue.


     

    It's not clicks... it's about impressions.. that is to say, how many times the ad is made visible... clicking on an ad is worth an order of magnitude more money.

  • Reply 12 of 422
    You wanted a middle ground from Apple? Well, Apple implemented a feature called "Do not track me" a while back and most sites ignored it and forced cookies/analytics upon us. Maybe had advertisers and websites played nice and listened to what their users were asking of them things would not have escalated to where we now are. You (plural you, i.e. websites/advertisers) ignored Apple's olive branch, don't whine now that there is no "middle" ground option left. Content-blockers will be turned on, on my computer. Sorry if that costs you your job.
  • Reply 13 of 422

    There have been a lot of articles about ad blockers in the last couple of days.  All of them take a very narrow view on advertising.  It is presented as if advertising-sponsored content is free to the user, but that is false.  Aside from the cost of bandwidth and time, customers still pay for the content.  

     

    Publishers are paid by advertisers, advertisers are paid by corporations who want to promote their product or brand, and the corporations pay for the advertising by increasing the price for the product.  As consumers of both the products of the corporations that advertise online and the content that is sponsored by the ads, we do in fact pay for the content.  

     

    Of course this payment is indirect and someone who consumed content online but buys white label products in the store is getting the content for free, while someone who does not consume online content but buys brand name products in the store pays for content without consuming it.

     

    The debate about expecting consumers of online content not to block ads could be extended to the expectation for consumers of online content not to buy white label product.  If no one would buy brand name product, then there would not any ads and there would not be a revenue model for publishers.

     

    For an industry that is known for thinking outside the box, this debate is surprisingly limited.  The advertising revenue model is at least a 100 years old.  Paywalls have failed in the past, but several companies are now successfully charging for online content.  Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and Showtime all offer subscriptions for commercial free content.  Hulu now offers a commercial free version of the service as well.  The same models are getting popular for music.  

     

    It may be time to give a paid content model for publishing another try.  Maybe in a freemium model where customer either accept the ads or pay a premium for an ad free experience.  I signed up for the commercial free tier of Hulu the second it was announced and I would consider paying for online articles if it was easy to pay a fair amount for commercial free content

  • Reply 14 of 422

    Just installed Purify content blocker. To me the sites seemed to load faster in Peace....Dammit.....Rest in Peace.

    Someone needs to take up the Peace mantle and license the Ghostery database the way Marco did. His app worked VERY well.

  • Reply 15 of 422
    I think that most reasonable people will happily settle for a quid pro quo and truce if these same online publishers didn't swamp us with the crappy, creepy (as in tracking us), Flashy, in-your-face, intrusive ads that recipients are paying for via the receiver-pays data plans in countries like the U.S.

    You reap what you sow.

    Add: What are the recommendations for ad blockers for iOS?

    Crystal caused issues for me on some sites, and didn't have a whitelist. I haven't tried another one yet.
  • Reply 16 of 422
    I must admit this was a decent article. It's also one of the very few Apple Insider articles that didn't have any egregious typos, grammatical errors, or other of various types of mistakes that proof reading can solve. But there's part of the problem: quality of content and effort to behave like a professional. It's sorely lacking in the current print magazines (here's looking at you, Future Publishing), which obviously eliminated proof reader employment and production time time in order to compete with instant publishing of the Internet and eliminate jobs... and that's saying nothing of how utterly awful the "free" Internet is. If web publishers across the board were actually interested in their content, they'd possibly put a bit more effort into it and that would make it more worthwhile to deal with unobtrusive ads. But ads aren't unobtrusive, which now takes me to my final and key point:

    Yet another sob story from the "capitalists" (specifically marketing warfare people) that saw a medium, invaded it, corrupted and hijacked it, and utterly ruined that medium for everyone but themselves. The Internet has gone from being an incredibly useful information utility, to being an incredibly slow, convoluted, obfuscated disaster of distraction and wasted bandwidth (and time).

    Let me clarify: ad blocking tools are an invention to service a necessity.

    Clarification of clarification:

    They did it to themselves!!!!

    If this leads to new pay sites with quality, curated content, and ads that aren't a burden to the reader and their Internet devices, then maybe we can finally move into some kind of maturity for this medium, after the unregulated free-for-all that went from "great free content for everyone" to "horrible and near useless for everyone but ad impression counters".

    While we're at it, let's do the same with software and instill some damned warranty laws (in the USA there's nothing at all).

    Computers have been a Wild West of unrestrained abuse. While the corporations were busy complaining about intellectual property theft by their own customers, they were doing everything in their power to avoid having any and all accountability for their own behaviors. Capitalism has, historically and contemporaneously, repeatedly shown that it requires regulation in order to restrict it from abuses without end. There's no self-regulation. Ultimately, the people and/or their governments have to step in and say "actually, that's not ethical". The irony here is how capitalists abuse and destroy the system and then have the audacity to tell us that WE are "morally reprehensible" by attempting to take back a little of the sanity they destroyed.
  • Reply 17 of 422
    Stop trying to make it a moral issue. It's an economic issue.

    I'm under no obligation, moral or otherwise, to make YOUR business plan succeed. If you can't make it work, do something else productive.

    In America (and other ultra-capitalist countries), it's dog-eat-dog, devil take the hindmost-competitive. Eat some dog or go to the devil.

    Only partly :-)
  • Reply 18 of 422

    There have been a lot of articles about ad blockers in the last couple of days.  All of them just focus on the part of advertising where the user interacts with the ads.  It is presented as if advertising-sponsored content is free to the user, but that is false.  Aside from the cost of bandwidth and time, customers still pay for the content.  

     

    Publishers are paid by advertisers, advertisers are paid by corporations who want to promote their product or brand, and the corporations pay for the advertising by increasing the price for the product.  As consumers of both the products of the corporations that advertise online and the content that is sponsored by the ads, we do in fact pay for the content.  

     

    Of course this payment is indirect and someone who consumed content online but buys white label products in the store is getting the content for free, while someone who does not consume online content but buys brand name products in the store pays for content without consuming it.

     

    The debate about expecting consumers of online content not to block ads could be extended to the expectation for consumers of online content not to buy white label product.  If no one would buy brand name product, then there would not any ads and there would not be a revenue model for publishers.

     

    For an industry that is known for thinking outside the box, this debate is surprisingly limited.  The advertising revenue model is at least a century old.  Paywalls have failed in the past, but several companies are now successfully charging for online content.  Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and Showtime all offer subscriptions for commercial free content.  Hulu now offers a commercial free version of the service as well.  The same models are getting popular for music.  

     

    It may be time to give a paid content model for publishing another try.  Maybe in a freemium model where customers either accept the ads or pay a premium for an ad free experience.  I signed up for the commercial free tier of Hulu the second it was announced and I would consider paying for online articles if it was easy to pay a fair amount for commercial free content

  • Reply 19 of 422
    Data. Bandwidth. Speed. That's what ad blockers mean to me

    I read Appleinsider every day and am surprised how much data is consumed by doing so.

    Approximate ads are fine. However, don't automatically take me somewhere I don't want to go. Reading an article should not eat up megabytes of data. And no, it's not images which do so.
  • Reply 20 of 422
    Whiners. A**holes being recognized as A**holes. WTF did you expect? Clean up your own act before whining.
Sign In or Register to comment.