Creator Pulls Peace Ad-Blocker From App Store, Highlighting Industry Struggle

21 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Can publishers stop the ad blocking wave?.

Last Wednesday Apple rolled out the latest version of its iOS operating system, and it came with a very nasty sting in the tail for newspapers, magazines and online publishers everywhere.Tumblr co-founder Marco Arment, who developed the most popular paid ad-blocker on Apple Inc’s U.S. app store, has pulled the product, citing concerns that the tool could hurt independent Web publishers. In a blog post on Friday, Arment, wrote on the social media site that he was pulling his “Peace” app because he does not feel that it is his role to decide what content is blocked. “Adblockers 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 wrote.

The controversy around ad-blocking software kicked up this week after Apple made it available on the new version of the iPhone operating system on Wednesday. Many commentators who anticipated the software would only block annoying, intrusive ads (unlike their own sleek, pretty ones) were surprised to find it doing what it said it would – provide an ad-free experience on the web. However, many argue that such tools hurt publishers, particularly smaller ones, by forcing them to develop dedicated iPhone apps, rather than relying on mobile-friendly websites. But Apple’s update only threatens to make mainstream what was already a growing existential threat to any publisher hoping advertising online will support their business. It was the most perplexing experience I’ve had with this iPad mini since I bought it in the fall of 2012: Instead of offering the advertised transit directions, Maps made the same suggestion to install a third-party app for transit guidance as iOS 8’s version.

Research from Sourcepoint and comScore shows one in 10 people were blocking ads on desktops and laptops before the Apple update, rising to around a quarter in Germany and France. Some 20 million people used ad blockers last year, up 40 percent from a year earlier, resulting in $22 billion in lost advertising revenue, according to a study by Adobe and PageFair, an anti ad-blocking tech company. I reset my iPad’s settings while keeping my apps and data, then wiped the tablet and restored it from a backup, then factory-reset it as a new device. Each time, Maps would only offer driving and walking directions in the cities where it’s supposed to offer transit help (in the U.S., only Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington).

The trend reflects a truth even most publishers will admit; online ads (and the accompanying bits of computer code that slow down page loading) are annoying. It’s just that now consumers have a way to do something about them. “Most media companies have become desperate and they’ve thrown in more ads and more data collectors to eke out more pennies and we’ve had our fill,” says media commentator Jeff Jarvis. Apple’s description of iOS 9, from the press release to its sales pitch for Apple Maps to its listing of iOS 9-compatible devices, doesn’t mention any device-specific hangup with transit navigation. On the record, publishers acknowledge ad blocking as a threat, but say they are equipped to handle it. “I am concerned,” says Jed Hartman, chief revenue officer at the Washington Post. “However, we’ve been accustomed to innovation and technology disrupting the publishing business from every angle for a long time.” In private, there is an awareness ad blocking could be more serious. “Is it more existential?

That last page does warn iOS users that Siri and some multitasking options don’t work on vintage devices, so it’s not as if Apple doesn’t know to give a heads-up about compatibility issues on devices of a certain age. Yes probably,” says one senior UK newspaper executive. “As a publisher you are relatively powerless, your key revenue generator is being undermined.” Apple has been careful to say the update is designed purely to improve the experience of using its devices and is not specifically aimed at ads. Apple PR confirmed that transit navigation is confined to a subset of iOS 9-capable devices: the iPad Air and newer versions, the iPad mini 2 and its successors, the iPhone 5 and subsequent models, and the sixth-generation iPod touch. However, there is much suspicion of the company’s motives. “The thing that worries me about Apple is they are not an ad business,” says the newspaper exec. “They don’t have skin in the game, and they want to do anything to hurt Google.” Jarvis puts it more bluntly: “Apple has basically failed at the ad business and they are trying to ruin it for everybody else.” But if people don’t want to see ads, and the world’s most valuable company is prepared to help them avoid them, is there anything that can be done? Depending on your Android device you may see, as I did, some type of message alerting you about the potential dangers of connecting to a third-party device.

Eyeo has successfully fought off a string of challenges from German publishers and while it faces another ruling on 29 September, Jarvis points out that even if “Springer shuts down the ad blockers tomorrow, consumer pressure to block ads is still there. If we don’t have our own answer we’ll be no further along.” A more common response has been to talk about “simplification” (making better ads) and “conversation” (persuading readers to accept ads). “You need to do what you can to attack the root,” says Hartman. “Remove load time, items that cause crashes, creepy ads based on data. Don’t hold the user hostage with long pre-rolls and pop-ups.” The Post has trialled messages to people using ad-blocking software asking them to either turn them off or provide details such as email addresses. For example, Safari’s new support for ad-filtering extensions requires a 64-bit processor, as developer Marco Arment tweeted Thursday to answer questions about his (since-withdrawn) Peace add-on. Either factor could also explain why iOS 9’s Proactive Assistant app (it should occupy the screen to the left of your home screen) doesn’t show up on my iPad mini.

Publishers are already keen to get their readers on to their own apps, but all but a handful of readers still come via Google search or social media such as Facebook and Twitter. If you have an aging iPhone or iPad, you’d best stick to a non-Apple navigation app like Google Maps–which not only tolerates Metal-incapable, 32-bit processors but has long provided the bicycling directions that remain missing from iOS 9.

In both iOS 8 and iOS 9, Apple’s Tips app can be a pointless source of distraction as it pops up notifications about shortcuts you learned long ago. That’s because Google Photos, Carousel from Dropbox, or other cloud-enabled photo apps will sometimes delete pictures from your device in order to save space. You can’t uninstall that app (Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski that the company might allow that eventually), but you can banish it from your iPhone or iPad’s notifications.

However, many are reluctant to cede control, especially when Facebook is a huge competitor for advertising money and Apple is doing its best to make its devices free of all but its own ads. To do that, open the Settings app, tap Notifications, scroll down and select “Tips,” then tap the slider button next to “Allow Notifications” so that it’s no longer highlighted in green. Many publishers will simply redouble their efforts to find ways of making money that aren’t reliant on advertising – such as paywalls, events and membership. There could, though, be one unintended consequence of the ad blocking that would be welcomed by many veterans in the sales departments of newspapers and magazines.

Publishers could revert to integrating each ad into the foundation of each webpage, much like a printed ad is inked on to the same paper as the article next to it. Advertisers would have to accept they wouldn’t know much about who was seeing their advertising online, but at least they’d know someone was seeing it. “If advertising agencies and clients decided they didn’t want any tracking on [their ads] there is potential upside,” says the press executive. “I would be more worried if I was an ad tech business.

For example, you can always install Google’s apps if you want to keep using the company’s cloud, especially the rather excellent Google Photos, Google search app, and Inbox. Yes, iOS is often called a “walled garden.” But walled gardens tend to be pretty nice places, and all major cloud providers have set up shop to serve you with their own applications. Apps still tend to launch first in the App Store, and even Google and Microsoft often roll out their services at the same time as their own platforms.

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