Round 2: Peace Ad Blocker Pulled & CNET Fights Back
As concerns for and by publishers rise about ad blocking, the most popular new one for iOS bows out.
The revolution in ad blocking that was ushered in with iOS9 has seen its first pushback. The Peace ad blocker that topped the Apple App Store charts has been pulled, while CNET introduced messages blocking the blockers.
Peace rose to the top of paid apps for iPhone within hours after iOS9 launched with support for content blocking applications. Peace and other such blockers work within Safari to strip Web pages of ads and tracking scripts.
Marco Arment, who created Peace, posted today that he’s now pulled it from the app store. “Just doesn’t feel good” was the title of his post that explained that he wasn’t happy with the “all-or-nothing” approach it used:
Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.
He also described ad blocking as being a kind of war between users and publishers, one that he’s not enjoying winning.
Concerns For Publishers, Including Independents
On the other side of that war have been any number of publishers and other voices raising concerns that ad blocking is robbing publications of revenue they need and that it especially hits hard at small independent ones.
Indeed, among those small publishers are places like Daring Fireball, the popular blog of John Gruber. He expressed dissatisfaction that Peace stripped ads off his site that were provided by The Deck. Arment’s own blog, ironically, also used The Deck and saw its ads stripped, as I demonstrated when Peace launched:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 17, 2015
Arment responded that while he felt The Deck was a “well-behaved” ad network, it was still advertising, so crafting an exception for it wouldn’t be fair. A day later, he made the decision to pull Peace entirely.
Publishers Fight Back
Meanwhile, The Loop noted that CNET was now targeting messages to those using ad blockers, telling them to disable the blockers to view content. The Washington Post did something similar earlier this month, before iOS9 was even released (that move had an impact on people using ad blockers with desktop browsers).
“It’s going to be a bloody war,” wrote Dave Mark, of The Loop.
Indeed. Ad blockers have been largely ignored until now because they’ve generally been seen as not worth the effort for most publishers to challenge. But when Apple made them so much easier to enable for mobile browsing, where the growth area has been, alarms got sounded. Seeing ad blockers then actually rise to be among the top paid for apps has taken that to red alert.
By the way, I’m actually seeing ads on CNET — and from Google’s ad network — despite using multiple blockers. That suggests to me that some scripts might have already changed to get around the blockers.
Battle Likely To Continue
At some point, there’s likely to be a legal tussle, one that might involve both makers of such apps and Apple itself. That’ll be messy.
People have real concerns that too much tracking is going on, and they want to reassert control without being required to study ways to opt out of various ad networks — work that still won’t help with malicious networks. People also obviously would love to have a faster, cleaner browsing experience.
But publishers have real concerns, too, about how they’re supposed to afford to generate all that content that, ironically, is the only thing “content blockers” don’t strip away. Those blockers instead take out the ads that fund the content.
There’s a chance that this first skirmish will wake up the industrial ad complex to create better standards that might allow them to be whitelisted and yet make consumers feel they haven’t just bought off the blockers. Companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft already effectively do the buy-off thing with Adblock. But perhaps something like the Acceptable Ads Manifesto will grow
There’s also the growth of native ads — the ads that don’t look like ads and which can be done in a way that they can’t be blocked at all. Arment suggested, when Peace launched, that clearly labeled native ads might be the solution.
They do indeed work. But even when clearly labeled, consumers often find it hard to identify native ads. One survey found that readers don’t trust them as much and even felt deceived by them, preferring display ads. Yet they click and consume them anyway.
Other Blockers Remain Popular
Peace may be stepping out of this new battle, but others remain:
Crystal has now taken over the top spot for paid apps for iPhone. Purify Blocker is ranked fourth, and Blockr is at 20th. The blockers aren’t likely to disappear overnight; the war against them is likely to accelerate.