Mobile Ad Blocking Is A Moving Target

When Apple released its IOS 9 mobile operating system in September, it only took a nanosecond or so for users to learn that, among other new developments, the new system allows iPhones and iPads to block mobile ads on Safari in two very simple steps, using such ad-blocking apps as Peace and Purify.

It took just a couple of days for those apps, and similar ones, reached the top of the charts in Apple’s app store. And a new world opened up for mobile users who found that, without banner ads, pop-ups, and various other types of online ads, they could zip from one web page to another with previously unimagined speed.

This type of on-device content blocking is not new: such blockers already exist for laptops and desktop computers. But this is a first for mobile, which according to e-Marketeer, “has taken a significant step in the US digital advertising market in 2015, surpassing desktop for the first time” by $2.78 billion this year.


“Apple is first and foremost acting upon a general notion in the population not to be exposed to ads in their mobile surfing behavior,” Martin Lange, Global Consulting Partner at OgilvyRED points out.

A smart move on Apple’s part. But one that seemed to cause emotions to erupt. As they did.

Some mobile users exulted, predictably enough — especially after the New York Times posted a story on its website, along with an interactive graphic showing “The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites,” that showed how much such ads were costing them in dollars and cents: A daily visit to an ad-dense website, such as, cost almost $10.00 in data costs a month in viewing ads alone, the Times reported.

But online publications, and a variety of other commentators, sounded decidedly less euphoric. Michael Macher, publisher of ‘The Awl,’ predicted that, thanks to this ad-blocking technology, up to 85 percent of his site’s revenue could disappear. A headline in ‘The Verge’ blared, “Welcome to hell: Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook and the slow death of the web.”

These stories, and numerous others, pointed out the obvious: As in other media, web ads in part make publication possible. With advertising suppressed, who will pay?

But OgilvyRed’s Lange and other observers declined to panic. “Brands will spend more and more dollars on mobile,” he points out. “If they feel that standard mobile display is blocked, they will look for other ways to spend it. It might get re-rerouted to in-app display ads, thus benefitting app developers. Another way might be in direct deals with Apple.”

So far, ad blockers targeted to apps — such as Been Choice, which installs root certificates and uses a VPN to block ads — haven’t gotten off the ground. As reported by iMore, Apple has dropped Been Choice and other, similar blocking apps from its app store, out of concern that root certificates also give them “access to the user’s private internet behavior, including secure transactions and communications.”

Rather like the mythical, many-headed hydra, which sprouts a new head whenever one is lopped off, ad-blocking-related complications keep popping up. An investigation by Fortune magazine found that an iPhone using Crystal, another bestselling ad-blocking app, was incapable of fully downloading images from the eCommerce sites of such major retailers as Lululemon and Walmart. They, too, were blocked.

As they used to say, at a time when media was altogether more predictable: Stay tuned.

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