The ad blocker landscape has become a contentious battleground in recent years, as more and more users put them into use.
According to Pagefair, 16% of all users in the United States block ads, which represents a potentially significant loss in revenue for advertisers…up to $22 billion. That number is expected to double next year.
Apple Backs Blockers
Until recently, in the iOS store ad blockers could even be found in the top 10 list of downloads, which is a testament to their popularity among users. Though they have been pushed aside by other apps, this could be an indication that ad blockers are beginning to reach their saturation point with certain iOS users.
Ad blockers are still downloaded quite frequently on iOS devices, however. And the situation may only get worse if users continue to use content blockers in iOS 9, which recently began to support ad blockers. These ad blockers and content blockers also block analytics, which prevent users from being tracked.
These blocking apps carry some serious consequences for advertisers and marketers, who rely on accurate analytics. In the United States, Safari holds nearly 50% of the mobile web browser share.
Crystal and Purify Blocker are two of the most popular ad blockers in iOS. Both of these ad blockers also block analytics. Other iOS ad blockers that are seeing increasing numbers of downloads are Adamant, BlockBear, and 1Blocker, which has countless options, allowing users to filter everything from cookies to widgets to images.
Peace, created by Tumblr’s former CEO, was one of the most popular ad blocking apps in iOS. It climbed to the top of the charts in hours, but the creator pulled it soon afterwards. He wrote in a blog post that it “just doesn’t feel good” and that such unilateral blocking “hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”
With Apple holding such a large market share, we are looking at a large swath of ads that will go undelivered, as well as a data vacuum that can disrupt marketing analysis.
Popular Ad Blockers
By far, the most popular ad blocker is Adblock Plus.
According to the company that runs it, Eyeo, 60 million people use the blocker on a monthly basis. This ad blocker stops most ads in their tracks, allowing only a small number through that the company deems acceptable. To be allowed through Adblock’s “acceptable ads program,” companies need to pay a fee and meet Eyeo’s criteria for acceptability.
Adblock Plus is available as extensions for every major browser, from Firefox to Safari to Microsoft Edge. The company has even released a browser for tablets and smartphones, which, of course, blocks trackers and ads. It is available for both Android and iOS.
While Adblock Plus dominates the ad-blocker landscape, more are springing up every day.
Other popular ad blockers include:
- uBlock Origin, which has grown almost 900% between last November and this August.
- Adguard AdBlocker comes in next place, growing over 230% in the same time frame.
- Ghostery is one of the most popular anti-tracking tools. This browser extension integrates with Firefox and other popular browsers to block and regulate trackers.
- Disconnect, which claims over 10 million users, claims that trackers leave users vulnerable to hacking. The makers of the app also developed an anonymous search service, similar to DuckDuckGo or StartPage, which sends search queries to major search engines via an anonymous proxy.
There are countless other ad blockers and anti-tracking tools, ranging from the most basic to the most complex. Some block cookies completely or destroy them after individual sessions, while others give you minute control over every aspect of the browsing experience.
Google, for its part, is less supportive of ad blockers. In 2013, Adblock Plus was banned from Google Play, though it is still available as extensions for Firefox.
What Ad Blockers Mean for Advertisers
In general, there is a consensus that ad blockers damage the advertising economy. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, claimed that ad blockers “hurt the web experience” and that she tells her friends and family to uninstall them.
Most people who take this perspective feel that ads are the very reason people can enjoy the web for free. Without ads, content publishers would lose a major source of revenue and people would be unable to get great content for free. Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and many other major content providers subsist on ads.
Others, however, feel that this view has a few flaws. According to a TechCrunch writer, “today’s advertising experience stinks.” But, for consumers, it’s more than that, “it’s about their online privacy.” He claims that the internet has always been free, and this perspective taken by advertisers and publishers denies what the consumers are saying: they aren’t happy with the experience of ads or the invasion of privacy.
So what’s the solution?
According to the same TechCrunch article, ad blockers themselves may bring that solution about: paid content. Google Contributor, for instance, is a micro-payment system that removes many ads from the browsing experience. The music industry eventually changed its tune, when it became clear that the digital world would require new monetization models.
Ad blockers have become a thorn in the side of many advertisers. And while the ad blocking landscape may bring about some changes in the way we pay for online content, it’s unlikely that advertising will every fade away. Ads have always been and always will be an integral part of the marketing economy.