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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

As online ads become more interactive and video-oriented, the Web pages that carry them take longer and longer to load, and they consume more and more bandwidth, which for most of us is metered and is a resource we don't want someone else to spend on our behalf. It's more punishment for reading a website.

InfoWorld is part of a media company, so we're hit by the cross fire every day. Every website that isn't a marketing vehicle for a vendor is in the same cross fire.

As users block more ads through ad blockers, pop-up blockers, and Flash disablers, advertisers find more ways to get around them and be more intrusive. Or they insinuate themselves into the content you want using a perversion called native content (though there's nothing native about the "content"), making it harder and harder to tell what is independent information and what is marketing.

Or they give up and not advertise, which reduces a publisher's ability to survive as an independent information-providing business — unless it finds other revenue sources, like the unloved subscriptions or the privacy-violating registration. (Have you noticed that now everyone wants your phone number when signing up? It's because you ignore all their emails and popup ads.)

The ad blockers respond to advertisers' increasingly annoying intrusions by throwing more grenades at websites. They block not only ads but other code on pages, causing Web pages to break. Some block the display of actual content, because they've decided to err on the side of blocking anything that might contain ads. Some even target the third-party traffic-counting systems such as Adobe's Omniture SiteCatalyst in hopes of depressing ad revenue as punishment for carrying ads, or at least for carrying "bad" ads.

It won't be too long before they start blocking social sign-in under the aegis of user privacy. After all, many already block the tracking features used by social networks' and advertisers' cookies (though the so-called super cookie that Verizon had used trumps that tracker-blocking — and the arms race continues).

Many ad blockers use third-party services like EasyList that provide blacklists and the equivalent of virus signatures to block suspect content and code on Web pages. That can destroy the websites' integrity and ability to function — at scale, all with little to no recourse.

It truly an arms race, and it doesn't lead us anywhere good.

iOS 9 threatens to make the battle a world war

Apple's iOS 9 move takes this mess to an even worse level. Apple has made ad blocking a core feature of the operating system itself through a set of system extensions, and there's no way to disable it. (To Apple's credit, it calls the feature "content blocking" because it can — and will — be used to block much more than ads.)


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