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Apple's iOS 9 takes ad blockers to dangerous new heights

Galen Gruman | Aug. 31, 2015
The ad-blocking wars were already damaging, but Apple is pushing it to an alarming level

Everyone, it seems, hates online ads. That hatred is fueling a technology arms race, one that Apple is joining in iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, both due for release this fall. That arms race ultimately leads to the same kind of mutually assured destruction scenario we saw in the Cold War, with the Soviet Union and United States able to destroy the other — and everyone else — should it come to that.

The ad-blocking arms race now under way could easily do the same, destroying content-based websites except for a few hardy paid survivors that can charge and the wide range of vendor websites all too happy to promote their own reality, and nothing else, to an audience seeking independent views. Ultimately, we all lose: vendor, publisher, and reader. 

How we got here: Information can't be free, but readers don't want to pay for it

The publishing business model has long rested on two legs: advertising and subscriptions, with publishers adjusting the ratio based on their markets. Publishers need to make money to fund their work, even if they're nonprofits.

But the early Internet pioneers had a notion that information should be free, which originally meant "freely available" but quickly morphed into "unpaid." "Ads would pay for it" was the first dot-com bubble's business mantra. Now, in the third dot-com bubble, ads are under attack.

Worse, on the Web, the subscription model has been taken away, with "paywalls" scorned not only by readers but by the very writers and editors whom the paywalls (that is, subscriptions) fund. In some markets, the paid-subscription model is being replaced with the registration model, which basically takes your personal information and sells it to get that income.

That's what Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and pretty much any free service or content provider does when they ask for a sign-up. (That's why you see social sign-in used so broadly: It's really an information-sucking mechanism meant to charge you when you won't pay real money.) Users hate this too, and legitimate privacy-exploitation fears have created a backlash as well.

All of that has upped the ante on advertising for online publishers, which is why you see endless slideshows on so many broad-interest websites (slideshows provide more ad impressions per reader) and why more ads are stuffed in more places on the page.

The battle between readers and advertisers gets bloodier and bloodier

It's easy to understand why users hate online ads: They increasingly pop up and interrupt your reading. Some make you chase them around the page to get rid of them. Some even play videos, punishing you and your neighbors with unwanted noise.


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