Why Ads In Apps Can’t (And Probably Won’t) Be Blocked
All eyes are on ad blocking, spurred in part by Apple's iOS 9 release. Columnist Rob Rasko discusses what's in store and explains why in-app ads aren't likely to get blocked.
Apple has a problem. I’m not saying the multibillion-dollar organization is in any serious danger. It is too big to fail. What I am saying, however, is that it has a pretty onerous and public strategic decision to make — one that it didn’t necessarily bargain for and one that is going to play out right in front of all of us.
And by the way, Google may have the same problem…
The announcement that iOS 9 would enable ad-blocking in Safari on iPhones and iPads was a disruption to the advertising industry facilitated by Apple. On the other side of the coin, Apple does care about its App Store, the device-driven economy and the application developers — who create products that it can then monetize — as partners.
With that said, the decisions the company makes about its App Store and what it allows to be offered in the App Store will need to be made carefully because of how they affect the entire ad and media ecosystem.
Why In-App Ad Blocking Is Technically Difficult
The way ads are blocked on the desktop or on the mobile Web is significantly different from the way they are — or aren’t — blocked in-app.
On a desktop and when using a mobile Web browser, a user can install a simple browser plugin that uses browser resources and its specific blocking methodology to block ads that are rendered by the browser. In-app ad blocking requires a technical engagement warranting a whole other set of circumstances.
Ads can be blocked inside of the app environment in one of three ways. Each method requires the company to break the ad call or the technology code connecting the app to the internet.
To do this, either the ad-blocking company’s technology must sit inside the operating system (OS) of the device or it must be embedded in the SDK (software development kit) of the app.
SDKs are a set of tools that allows for the creation of applications for a certain software package, software framework, hardware platform operating system or similar development platform.
It seems hard to believe that a company that develops applications and monetizes these apps with advertising would allow an ad blocker to access its own SDK. And that leaves the OS as the best opportunity means to block in-app ads.
Active Vs. Passive Ad Blocking
Allowing an ad-blocking company to offer its product in an App Store and letting users download and use the app is something I refer to as “passive” ad blocking.
If the device maker gives the ad-blocking company access to its operating system to block ads, that, in my opinion, is “active” blocking of ads because the device maker is directly involved in making this happen.
Considering that both Apple and Google rely heavily on their respective app stores and app environment for revenue generation, I would expect that these organizations would object to allowing ad-blocking companies such as Been Choice to offer applications that block the very advertisements that support their business models.
Google and Apple have the ball in their court, and how this plays out will clearly be on display for the market to witness and interpret.
Why In-App Ads Probably Won’t Be Blocked
Many folks by now may have heard about ad blocker Been Choice and how Apple initially allowed the application to show up in the App Store. (As of the writing of this story, Apple has removed Been Choice from the App Store.)
Been blocked ads via two different methods. As mentioned in this Techcrunch article by Sarah Perez from October 6:
[blockquote]The first setting is similar to the typical Safari Content blockers, such as Crystal, 1 Blocker, Purify, etc. The more extensive ad blocking is enabled by way of Been Choice’s VPN service…[When it’s enabled], traffic is then routed through Been Choice’s servers where it performs deep packet inspection on the content. It can then remove specific content, such as ads, through pattern matching. This makes Been Choice the first company to block ads in Facebook’s native iOS app.[/blockquote]
I would expect it’s unlikely that Apple will once again allow Been Choice to be available in its App Store since the business objectives of Apple and Been Choice oppose each other greatly.
In my opinion, the last and most interesting aspect of this issue will be how mobile phone carriers such as AT&T and Verizon handle ad blocking. In theory, mobile phone carriers can break ad calls to applications if they choose, perhaps asking for a fee to allow this to stop.
That would bring this conversation back to the Net neutrality discussions that seem to be an on-again-off-again fight in Washington. It also raises questions about carriers making money by delivering data, regardless of whether those bits are content or advertising. But these are both topics for future columns.
As I have said, in-app ads probably won’t get blocked, as the road to doing so is littered with conflicting business models at the highest levels and some critical internet legislation.
Where will this story end? This is really just the beginning of this conversation.
Just a few months ago, my team and I began writing a mobile white paper. Our focus has been on mobile technical infrastructure for ad serving in both applications and the mobile browser-based Web.
I now realize that this topic has become an even greater issue than when we first set out to publish this paper, and my hope is that our research helps the industry move forward as we work to overcome what is now the greatest challenge in digital media today. Stay tuned.