Rise of Adblockers and Goodbye to Free

So Apple (not unexpectedly) dropped a bit of a bomb on the Internet industry with the latest software update iOS9. For the first time Apple is allowing ad-blocking apps for iPhones. These simple and quick downloads allow all ads, tracking and most JavaScript to be blocked on sites accessed using their Safari browser. This means a quicker and cleaner surfing experience devoid of annoying flashing popups, intrusive banners and related tracking.

This is great for everyone who uses these apps – right up until Internet companies start putting services behind subscriptions, limiting free functionality or withdrawing them altogether.

The modern mainstream Internet is largely based upon ad-funded free-to-use services. There has always been an uneasy acceptance of ads and tracking – basically visitors know it goes on, but like everything for “free”. There is a cost, but it is indirect and partly hidden, it is the data you generate using these services and the ads you click on, whether on purpose or by mistake.

The problem lies with some of the ads – which are anything but hidden. On many sites they have multiplied and become even more in your face and on your screen. Some sites have clearly gone far too far, rendering their own sites almost unusable, particular on mobile.

It is ironic that people are paying for ad blocking apps, when they would never consider paying for sites and services which are currently free.

However, paying may be way this ends.

There are huge technical and staffing costs associated with running a professional site. The users of these sites are (as you would expect) blissfully unaware of these costs. Unaware of the 24/7 staffing and service requirements, unaware of the servers, firewalls, backups, technical staff, development staff, designers and usability experts – the largely hidden minions that we are. That is even before you include the huge costs to content providers such as newspapers – researchers, fact-checkers, writers, the inevitable lawyers etc.

If ad blocking becomes more widespread sites will be unable to pay these costs and investors will be less likely to invest in the future.

Just to be clear the ad industry needs to reform and dial-back on the intrusive ads, site owners can help with this by not carrying these ads.

However adblockers on iOS9 block all ads by default, even the small mainly text ads, like the ads on our site. Adblockers also block the monitoring services we use which monitor page download times and notify us of possible technical issues as soon as they occur.

People buy iPhones to access all these sites – if these sites reduce their output or close there is less of value to access, which reduces the inherent value of these devices.

The Internet is symbiotic (admittedly a sometimes uneasy inter-dependence). But overzealous adblockers will inflict more damage on content providers and sites than on Google.

In the longer term Google may have less to index and fewer useful search results to display. Apple may sell fewer iPhones because there is less free content and services to access. (Apple may fancy its chances as a content provider, but trust me there is more money in the devices.)

But those that do remain will have much greater power. Facebook could in the end be the greatest single beneficiary of ad blocking, as it has a greater ability to counter it. This would be ironic given Facebook’s impressive/scary data tracking and collection abilities.

So imagine if Facebook became even more powerful – Facebook has in the past toyed with launching their own phone – producing your own phone would also be a good way to further counter ad blocking.

Now imagine a very good Facebook phone that was free or close to free…could this impact Apple?

You see where we are going with this symbiotic thing?

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