It wasn’t actually announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), but now it’s everywhere: Apple plans to introduce an ad-blocking feature to the Safari mobile browser for iOS9.
One Wall Street analyst wrote yesterday, “In a worst case scenario, this is Apple against the entire mobile publisher and advertiser ecosystem.”
Filtering out advertisements on a Web page is nothing new, at least on desktop browsers. Pretty much from the first time a browser supported an extension, there’s been software that could kill the ads. AdBlock and Adblock Plus (ABP)(which are not related, despite the names) are arguably the two most popular. Both cover a wide swath of the browsers available: Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, and yes, Apple’s Safari. For Chrome alone, AdBlock is the most popular extension of all time, clocking in at 40 million users as of July 2014.
Its Safari browser has a 25% share of all mobile web browsing, by some estimates.
The fear here is that if Apple shuts off 25% of all ads on the web, then some web publishers – and the adtech companies that serve them – will be driven out of business. Google is already losing 10% of its annual revenue to adblockers, according to PageFair, which monitors online ads. You may not like advertising, adtech people say, but if you like seeing free news and videos on the web then you have to tolerate it – because advertising foots that bill.
The reaction to Apple’s plan comes from Eyeo, the maker of Adblock Plus.
Here is Eyeo head of operations Ben Williams, talking about iOS 9:
“So far very little is known about content blocking extensions, available in Safari 9 and iOS 9,” said Adblock Plus head of operations Ben Williams from developer Eyeo. “We look nervously at how powerful their block lists will be.”
This is how Wired put it:
APPLE IS COMING for ads. It’s coming for publishers. And, in the process, it may be gunning for the web.
And yet if more ad blocking does make publishers more dependent on third-party platforms such as Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, and Snapchat Discover, it could help consolidate those companies’ power as gatekeepers to determine what qualifies as news. While big publishers likely won’t suffer under such a regime, the little guys that form the fabric of the web may slowly start to fade. Smaller publishers, bloggers, and niche sites won’t have the clout to get the premium placement or partnership with third parties that future success may demand. Without ads, it’s the little guys that could suffer the most.
So yeah, the web isn’t dead, per se, but it’s changing. And, if Apple has its way, apps will usurp its centrality. Apple is betting that consumers will go where the best stuff is, and where they find the easiest, most beautiful experience. But, there’s no such thing as free. The web is fragmented, disjointed, and hard to control. It seems free to users. But it’s ads that keeps content creators’ lights on.