Apple caused a storm a month ago when it released its iOS 9 software update, and not just because it caused many users’ mobiles to crash. The new operating system permits ad blocking technology, allowing users to screen adverts out of content, and a number of apps which block adverts in Safari have rocketed up the App Store’s download charts. But ad-blockers have been available for years, so why do ad-blocking apps pose such a problem?
Research by JP Morgan in the US found that ad-blocking was mostly confined to desktops, and most of iOS 9’s ad-blockers only affect Apple’s Safari browser. But a handful of apps, including Been Choice, which is only available in the US, can strip adverts from third-party apps. Given that 90 per cent of mobile internet use is through apps, according to Flurry, publishers and developers could stand to lose valuable sources of revenue.
To block adverts inside third-party apps, the developer of the ad-blocker has to install a root certificate on the consumer’s mobile, and set up a virtual private network (VPN) to funnel all the device’s web traffic through their own servers to remove the unwanted adverts. The potential for abusing the process led Apple to remove a number of similar apps from its App Store last week, citing the developer’s potential ability to “compromise” the encrypted link between a server and a client, known as SSL, and TLS, another cryptographic protocol.
It may be only a matter of time before in-app ad-blockers are up and running once more. In its announcement, Apple said that it is “working closely with these developers to quickly get their apps back on the App Store, while ensuring customer privacy and security is not a risk.” And given the UK’s intolerance for adverts, the impact could be significant. A study by Teads found that 21 per cent of UK internet users employ ad-blocking technology, 82 per cent more than last year.
“The problem is that ad blockers don’t distinguish between adverts,” says Justin Taylor, UK managing director at Teads. “And some ad-blockers actually block a publisher’s own content, not just adverts from other parties.” Some ad-blocker developers have started to charge companies themselves to allow their adverts to circumvent their ad-blockers, provided their adverts are not disruptive or intrusive. “That’s racketeering,” says Taylor. “But we do need to create a change in the industry, whereby we stop annoying the end-user with unrelated pop-ups. Adverts should be strong and relevant to the experience they’re embedded in.”