Ad blockers riseas pitches annoy website users

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ad blockers riseas pitches annoy website users.

Ever since Apple let slip in June that the latest version of its operating system for iPhones and iPads would enable ad blocking, the discussion of the looming apocalypse for ad-dependent publishers has been impossible to avoid — unless you’ve installed ad-blocking-discussion-blocking software, of course.And lo, on the day of the ninth release, the Lord Cook did cry ‘havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of flamewars, and permitted ad blockers in iOS; and there was much rejoicing, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth, because freaking everyone had a strong opinion on the subject.

APPLE-ORIENTED ad blocker Crystal has already been a big hit with its App Store download, but it’s now about to make a whole bunch more revenue through a sponsored whitelist. A study released in August showing the growing use of ad blockers on computer Web browsers also fanned the flames, but the fear that the practice is about to engulf the much-faster-growing mobile world is most intense. The app’s UK based designer, Dean Murphy is already said to have netted $75,000 according to the Wall Street Journal, with over 100,000 downloads in its first week. Now the adblockalypse would appear to be upon us, with iOS 9 installed on more than half of Apple mobile devices and an ad-blocker called Crystal atop the paid-download list in Apple’s App Store. Most people nowadays probably understand that in relation to, say, social networking services, if the service is “free” then the users (or, more precisely, their personal data) are the product.

Fortune‘s Dan Primack was so outraged he informed Apple: “I’m seriously thinking of robbing your store at the local mall.” Marco Ament introduced his ad blocker Peace with the announcement: “Web advertising and behavioral tracking are out of control. Overall, 600,000 ad-blocking apps were downloaded during the first week of iOS 9, the first to allow such apps, leading to concerns that the lack of ad views may lead to a demonetisation of the web, which in turn could lead to paywalls like those offered by The Sun and The Times becoming commonplace.

This has brought some drama: Marco Arment, developer of an even faster-selling ad-blocking app than Crystal, abruptly pulled it from the App Store, saying that while ad blockers “do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.” Humor, too: the Onion actually devoted one of its American Voices person-on-the-street columns to Arment’s decision. All this might help users navigate, but it also threatens the livelihood of websites and publishers that depend heavily on advertising revenue — companies like Google, Hulu and The New York Times.

People who buy advertising, the brands, find themselves falling victim to ever more audacious fraud, while facing a media landscape which is so fragmented that it’s barely even possible any more to reach a mass audience. Jackson, as usual, saw further ahead than most, predicting a move to harder-to-block server-side ad networks that are even worse for privacy: Well — ads matter to people.

The ‘block it unless we deem it acceptable’ method has been used by Adblock Plus for some time, with high-profile clients including Google, Microsoft and Amazon taking the opportunity to let their missives through the net. One part of that cost comes from surreptitious tracking of your browsing habits by outfits that sell that information to advertisers. (If this is news to you just install the Ghostery browser extension to see who’s monitoring your browsing.) The other cost comes from ads that are placed on a webpage either directly by the site owner or as the outcome of a real-time auction that goes on in the depths of the internet. Meanwhile, as more and more ad-blocking apps appear on the iOS App Store, the designer of Peace decided that he felt guilty about his creation and discontinued it, offering refunds to purchasers. We rarely find respite now from the onslaught of constant messaging: everywhere we turn, from our phones to our built urban environment, is plastered either physically or digitally with increasingly intrusive advertising. Some want them better targeted, so they’re more relevant; some are horrified at the notion of their privacy being ransacked so that advertisers can better learn the emotional buttons that might make them spend money more irrationally; but nobody doesn’t care.

They are also subverting the ones out there to make sure they get paid for delivering news and entertainment. “It is possible to be too alarmist about ad blockers, but it’s a very real phenomenon,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. And when we want to focus our attention on something, we find doing so more difficult than ever, thanks to the constant stream of distractions being targeted at us across all media. That’s partly because the iOS change targets the Safari browser; the majority of users who consume media on smartphones via social networks and other apps aren’t affected. Apple has fired the first salvo by showing that it is more interested in you using its apps, which generate revenue for it, rather than the mobile internet, which generates money for ad companies. Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, says that any company seeking to avoid their filters must abide by their “acceptable ads” policy. “This service cannot be completely taken over by volunteers nor be sponsored through donations, as it happens with common filter lists….Therefore, a few very large entities who take part in the Acceptable Ads initiative compensate Eyeo for its service.

One set of winners, in this war as in so many others, are the arms merchants – the ad tech entrepreneurs who are forcing both brands and publishers to adopt ever larger and flashier and more technologically sophisticated messages, lest they get left behind in the global battle for consumers’ attention. It’s true that many seem not to mind fighting their way through the gruelling obstacle course of popups, interstitials, autoplay videos, etc. that infest the modern mobile web. “Wake me up when ad-blockers are installed by default,” says MG Siegler, dismissing the whole furore as a tempest in a teapot (for now.) Nilay Patel, Josh Elman, and Jason Calacanis view the whole issue as collateral damage in the ongoing war between the Stacks–Apple vs Google, in this case–rather than driven by a change in the relationship between publishers and users. Google, on the other hand, banned ad-blocking software from its Play Store in 2011, but it owns a huge advertising network which it leverages within free apps anyway. If today’s ad practices get too annoying, he said, they could disappear just like pop-up windows, which many browsers now block automatically in response to consumers’ annoyance with them. Eyeo’s service is provided free of charge to all other participants (roughly 90%).” Being able to avoid an ad-blocker’s filter may sound like a good thing for publishers and advertisers, but it might not be such a great idea after all.

Here’s an ad executive, quoted in a 1987 Philadelphia Daily News article, fretting about the rising popularity of videocassette recorders: “When a viewer records a network program to play it back at a later time, they often zip through the commercials or they zap them out entirely. Ad tech is killing the experience being sold by the phone companies – and now, finally, the backlash has arrived, with the new iPhone operating system. So far, the advent of ad blocking in Appleland has done very little, according to figures quoted in the WSJ, but the next few months will prove very telling as we see an acid test of just how influential the mobile ad industry really is. µ

But websites are also filling unsold ad space by turning to ad brokers to deliver pitches that are less and less relevant. “I think publishers got very out of hand in terms of what they put on,” said Dean Murphy, 28, a Yarm, England, app developer who responded by creating Crystal, a $1 ad blocker for Apple devices. It didn’t work as well as I had hoped, truth be told: it turns out that I consume a vast amount of content in apps which aren’t Safari, and the ad blocker only seems to work effectively in Safari.

Same with DVDs, DVRs, pop-up ad blockers and a long series of other supposedly existential technological threats to media that turned out to be largely harmless or even a boon. But at least I felt that I was doing something, fighting back on a digital terrain which is being degraded on many different fronts by a set of revenue-focused product managers who simply do not care about my experience. There’s some evil factory out there churning out ever more dastardly ad units: the actual pop-ups have long gone, now, to be replaced by virtual pop-ups, or “modals”, which are very hard to get rid of and which increasingly require you to watch video before you can read the text you want to read.

There is a natural human need to have businesses proposition you with goods and services and vice versa.” This doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that they will keep doing that propositioning in the same ways and via the same channels. So it’s not surprising that internet users have been going for ad-blocking software like ostriches go for brass doorknobs (as PG Wodehouse would put it). But the last and most telling take, as usual, comes from the incomparable Maciej Ceglowski, in his typically superb, bleakly savage talk “What Happens Next Will Amaze You,” which you should rush out and read right now.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, one developer pulled his app from the Appstore after realizing he didn’t want to be a furnisher of an ad-blocking app. It is at least worth considering that this really is the beginning of the end for most advertising on the Internet, at least advertising of the kind we’re used to, and find so irritating. Since these estimates come from sources that have vested interests in this area, they should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, but there’s no doubt that ad-blocking is now a big deal. It is often attributed to the way advertisers track consumers across the Internet, clogging up their browsers, invading their privacy and sometimes just creeping them out.

Apple’s News app, Facebook’s Instant Articles and SnapChat’s Discover all seek to speed up online journalism and cut back advertising, while sharing revenue with news outlets. Consumers don’t install these things because they think that publishers have no right to make money from advertising, and they don’t generally install these things out of some deep-seated anti-advertising ideology. The new release of its iOS mobile operating system contains some hooks that enable programmers to create apps that block content (aka ads) within the Safari mobile browser.

The losers are small publishers and small advertisers. […] But the biggest losers are you and me. […] I don’t believe there’s a technology bubble, but there is absolutely an advertising bubble. Such advertising can be counterproductive — the underpants thing has been happening to me lately, and I think it has convinced me never to go near any online outpost of underwear seller Mack Weldon again — but that effect is hard to measure, while the tiny percentage of people who click through on the ads and buy stuff are of course easy to count. And then we’ll see if all these dire warnings about the dangers of surveillance were right. […] As ad blocking becomes widespread, we’ll see these tensions get worse, and we’ll also see more serious technical countermeasures. […] Ad blockers help us safeguard an important principle—that the browser is fundamentally our user agent. Randall Rothenberg, the group’s CEO, called ad-blocking practices “definitely immoral and unethical,” yet he acknowledged that consumers turn to blockers because they are fed up.

It is instead the online equivalent of junk mail or late-night TV infomercials: technology-enabled, data-driven, personalized pitches intended to get us to buy something now. Blogger and marketing prophet Doc Searls thinks the key to fixing online advertising is to make this kind of targeted advertising — he calls it adtech — much harder: “In marketing lingo, adtech is a form of direct response marketing, which is descended from the direct (aka junk) mail business, not from Madison Avenue. “The baby in the adblock bathwater is Madison Avenue, which has paid for nearly everything on newsstands, radio and TV since their beginnings. The real significance of the Apple development is that it puts the weight of a giant company behind the idea of content-blocking, which means that the use of ad-blocking software is likely to accelerate. Ad revenue will always end up flowing to where the attention is, and since our attention is directed mainly at our phones, these days, that’s where marketers are going to spend their billions. Even if we didn’t like ads fattening our magazines or interrupting our programs, we knew the economic role they played, and we appreciated their best work.” The problem with this proposal is that mass-market, Madison Avenue-style ads have never been very successful on the short-attention-span, increasingly small-screen Internet.

And this, as Jean-Louis Gassée (a former Apple executive, incidentally) points out, might be a mixed blessing. “The good news: we’ll soon have ways to streamline our browsing experience and avoid being pimped to advertisers. When they try to command users’ attention by delaying access to articles or with auto-playing videos, they’re just as irritating as ad tech, and are in fact a major target of current ad blockers. He goes on propose solutions to these larger problems (next to which the issue of which publishers will survive the change to more acceptable ads is laughably trivial) and rant about how “Everywhere I look there is this failure to capture the benefits of technological change.” I don’t agree with everything he says, or his proposed solutions — but even the parts I/you may bitterly disagree with are a valuable and a refreshing change from the Silicon Valley echo chamber. Buzzfeed is trying hard to come up with forms of brand advertising that people actually want to share online, and that will surely be one path to survival for ad-supported media companies.

But the ability to target and track individual users is such a big part of what Internet advertisers do that it’s hard to imagine them giving up without a vicious fight. Stop trying to sell ever more bothersome and intrusive advertisements in a desperate attempt to raise your ad rates a tiny amount: that’s a tactic which is now manifestly self-defeating, and which will only result in Google and Facebook winning everything. One is the subscription/paywall route – the option that the publishing giants mentioned by Mr Gassée are already employing with considerable success.

I really don’t mind that the Public Theater in New York has been following me around online since I went gaga in January for the musical “Hamilton,” which premiered there. The good news is that the ensuing crisis will compel us finally to look for what we should have invented decades ago, namely sustainable business models for the web. For example, it’s possible that cryptocurrencies might enable the “micro-payments” that would make users to pay a tiny amount for any article they read. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. […] Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. […] They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

The Verge’s Nilay Patel argues that Apple’s iOS 9 ad-blocking move was aimed squarely at archrival Google and its central role in the existing Internet advertising infrastructure. Doc Searls has in the past described a vision, which I find extremely appealing, of an online world in which individualization and targeting are possible, but the consumer controls the process. If the ads publishers served weren’t awful, intrusive, deceptive if not fraudulent toxic waste, the overwhelming majority of people would be completely happy to surf without ad blockers, accepting the occasional ad as a reasonable compromise.

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