Ad Blocking

In a few weeks Apple will release the latest version of its iPhone and iPad software, iOS9, to users. It’ll include an ad-blocking feature for Safari, Apple’s internet browser, similar to the plug-in that laptop and desktop PC users have been able to install for a while.

Publishers have good reason to worry. Here’s PC Mag:

Blocking ads on our site, for example, directly impacts the bottom line—and puts our site, our staff, and our future at risk. The same goes for thousands of sites, including big names like The New York Times and Fox News. These large outlets have a huge audience, yet still make a pittance online, so imagine the outcome for a bunch of smaller, online-only venues.

Still, ad-blocking has largely been relegated to the desktop. Moving ad-blocking into mobile creates a new wrinkle.

The case against ad-blocking is straightforward: if you enjoy free news, video, comment, whatever, then be prepared to hack your way through the pop-up adverts that pay for editorial, product design etc.

I want to agree but as a recent adopter of ad-blocking software on my macbook I can’t without admitting hypocrisy.

The problem with this moral argument against ad-blocking is that publishers and advertisers increasingly demand much more than that from their readers. Jean-Louis Gassée and Frédéric Filloux, who co-author the excellent Monday Note, have shown that news sites “are fatter and slower than ever.” A simple text and picture article now comes with dozens of ‘trackers’, video adverts and the like. That leaves users loading several megabytes of data for content amounting just a few dozen kilobytes. For those on fixed data plans — most of us — we really do pay for free content.

Here’s Gassée:

We feel cheated and rightly so. As users, we understand that we’re not really entitled to free browsing; we pay our bills with our selves: When The Product Is Free, We Are the Product. The problem is that we feel betrayed when we find out we’ve been overpaying. We’re being exploited — and it’s not even done nicely.

Again I don’t want to agree. But publishers shouldn’t take the users, or their data allowance, for granted. Apple, who like to think of themselves as custodians of the user experience, seem to have decided that they are.

For more inquisitive souls: a good long read on the topic by Charles Arthur, former Technology Editor at the Guardian.

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