Less than a day after the launch of Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 9, content blocking software went to the top of the app charts. Peace was until this morning the top paid app in the world with Purify giving it a run for its money. Then Marco Arment, developer of Peace announced that he was withdrawing it from today.  What a turnaround.  

It was only last Wednesday that Arment wrote in his blog post,

Web advertising and behavioral tracking is out of control.  They’re unacceptably creepy, bloated, annoying, and insecure, and they’re getting worse at an alarming pace.”  

Interestingly, you will scan his post in vain for that quote now.

Just for a moment it seemed that however much it mattered to the ad community, UX would trump all when it came to browsers like Safari, Firefox and Chrome competing for their own loyal customer base.  However, although Apple is not advertising driven, we must not forget that Google gets 90% of its revenue from advertising.   At the beginning of this month and to great fanfare, Google released Chrome Pause, its latest update which will detect and intelligently pause Flash animations, but this was less to soothe irritated users than to prolong the life of batteries powering their mobile devices.

Almost 150 million browsers on desktop are already using adblockers and that figure was looking certain to be dwarfed by mobile users this year.  While ad tech and the publisher community were understandably concerned about where it was leading, they were not going to get much sympathy from users who have become increasingly annoyed when searches are taken over and obscured by banners, distracting pop-ups and demands to download the latest app, not to mention constant reminders about cookies which engender fears about security and data-mining.  

In the end, the popularity of the adblocker should have come as no surprise and is a warning lest we forget that it is the user who is the goose laying the golden egg. That goose is the focus of the £8.1bn which will be spent in the UK this year on digital advertising.
Advertising pays for
most of the content on the web that interests us: no content – no users. No users – no sales of smartphones, tablets and other devices all geared to the fast-paced ephemeral world in which technology creates and maintains the market. And above all, no online market for all those products and services that pay for the content. A classic vicious cycle which will have far reaching effects for advertisers and publishers alike who have been asking themselves what the web will look like without the revenue stream that comes from advertising?  

Perhaps we will never have to find out.

Marco Arment wrote in his blog post today:

“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.”

So, ad blocking hurts publishers. And it sucks income from the web. Perhaps the voice of the user is not triumphant after all but why, we ask ourselves, does no-one like to mention to the 3.65 billion unique mobile users globally that it is those annoying ads that pay for their use of the web?

We will be watching what happens next and talk about where we think web technology is going in the next few months.