Blocker’s Remorse

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As part of Adotas’ ongoing exploration of Online Advertising: Life After Mobile Ad Blocking, here’s a look at one blocker’s remorse.

Marco Arment (pictured left), an iOS and Web developer, co-founder of Tumblr and creator of Instapaper, has pulled his newly launched ad-blocking app, Peace, from the AppStore, saying that although it’s been the number one paid app in the U.S. App Store for about 36 hours, “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.”

Writing in his blog, he explained: “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… 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.

“Ad-blocking is a kind of war — a first-world, low-stakes, both-sides-are-fortunate-to-have-this-kind-of-problem war, but a war nonetheless, with damage hitting both sides. I see war in the Tao Te Ching sense: it should be avoided when possible; when that isn’t possible, war should be entered solemnly, not celebrated. Even though I’m “winning”, I’ve enjoyed none of it. That’s why I’m withdrawing from the market.”

The Debate
Opponents of ad blocking point out that it amounts to content stealing: Ad blockers keep publishers from making money they need to survive and deliver their content for free. According to one report, U.S. publishers lose more than 9% of ad revenue due to ad blocking. For some websites, especially those with tech savvy readers, the percentage loss may be as high as 50%.

The other side of the debate is championed by companies who create ad blocking software, as well as online privacy activists. They criticize the effect of ads on user experience, but their biggest concern revolves around behavioral tracking, a practice used by many advertising companies to learn about users’ interests based on their Web activity. Advertisers use this information to match users with ads they might find relevant.

The Future of the Web

What many people don’t realize, however, is the impact ad blockers have on the future of the web. The software prevents websites from generating ad revenue, which is often their main source of income. The Harvard Business Revue points out that “as ad blockers grow in popularity and ad revenues continue to drop, many websites may face a threat of financial collapse.” And this should worry everyone who uses the web for information, entertainment, business and pleasure. Other worrisome possible consequences include increase costs for users, reduction of the democratization of the Web and the fact that it may encourage legislative intervention.

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