When iOS 9 was officially released on September 16, an already-burgeoning industry quickly went into overdrive.
That industry is ad blocking – something publishers claim will cost them $22 billion in lost revenue this year alone.
Whether or not you buy into those numbers, the launch of iOS9 won’t help the cause of cash-strapped publishers trying to monetise content in traditional ways – by selling advertising around it.
Apple’s iOS 9 doesn’t actually contain ad blocking functionality: rather it contains a tool that lets third-party developers create blockers which run as extensions to the Safari browser on mobile devices.
It didn’t take long for developers to take advantage of the new tool – third-party blockers Purify and Peace quickly scaled the paid apps charts. Peace became the top paid app for the entire United States.
“Web advertising and behavioural tracking are out of control. They’re unacceptably creepy, bloated, annoying, and insecure, and they’re getting worse at an alarming pace,” Peace creator Marco Arment – who also created iOS app Instapaper - said.
“Just as browsers added pop-up blockers to protect us from that abusive annoyance, new browser-level countermeasures are needed to protect us from today’s web abuses.
“And we shouldn’t feel guilty about this.”
Those words would come back to haunt Arment, so much so that he pulled Peace from the App Store at the peak of its popularity – and only two days after its launch.
“Peace has been the number one paid app in the US App Store for about 36 hours. It’s a massive achievement that should be the highlight of my professional career,” he wrote.
“Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have.
“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.”
Arment’s change of tune caught many off-guard. (He isn’t keeping the money he made from the wildly popular app – after some to-ing and fro-ing, Apple has agreed to refund customers that downloaded it).
However, it is but a blip in the market. Other apps quickly emerged to take the place of Peace. Within days there were at least 15 apps available.
Publishers – and others that derive revenue from advertising – have been quick to decry the sudden widespread adoption of blockers.
An article in Forbes magazine questioned whether iOS-enabled blockers are enabling a new form of piracy whereby people consume content while depriving the creator of revenue.
Others chose to make this statement in different ways.
A Chrome extension called Ethical Ad Blocker appeared which blocks websites that contain ads.
Rather than just block the ads on the page, it blocks the entire thing, telling users it “would be unethical to view" an ad-supported site if they disagree with the business model.
“This extension provides a 100 percent guaranteed ethical ad blocking experience,” creator and internet artist Darius Kazemi said.
“The conundrum at hand: users don't want to see ads, but content providers can't give away content for free.
“The solution is simple: if a website has ads, the user simply should not be able to see it. This way, the user doesn't experience ads, but they also don't leech free content.