The Ad Blocker Landscape: What You Need To Know Today

Barry Levine on
  • Categories: Channel: Display Advertising, Display Advertising: Ad Blocking

  • You might be losing track of the various ad blockers, given that they’re springing up faster than mushrooms after a spring rain.

    So, to help you orient yourself, here’s a briefer. Catch up while you can, as there are indications that the newest mobile blockers for iOS are already slipping in their App Store popularity. (In fact, as of Tuesday, there were no ad blockers in the App Store’s Top Ten lists.)

    Nevertheless, the category remains strong. A recent report found that about 16 percent of users in the U.S. block ads. Globally, there are nearly 200 million people stopping ads, 181 million of whom are on the desktop. Almost $22 billion in global ad revenues has been blocked so far this year, representing about 14 percent of all global ad budgets, with the U.S.’s final figure for 2015 expected to be about $10.7 billion. Next year, the U.S. figure is projected to double.

    That study, from anti-ad blocking firm PageFair in partnership with Adobe, found that “mobile ad blocking is still very underdeveloped,” a situation that is changing following Apple’s recent support for ad blockers in iOS 9.

    Key drivers for users to block ads include the quantity and quality of ads and, in mobile, the extra load time, and the resulting hits on battery life and bandwidth charges.

    The ad blocker Crystal, for example, claims it can load mobile pages an average of four times faster than with ads, with bandwidth reduced by half.

    There’s also the fact that some users would like better control of the data they’re unwittingly providing to advertisers. In fact, many of the blockers describe themselves as “content blockers” to account for the range of their stoppages.

    That’s the term Apple uses, raising the prospect of Web sites that are displayed a la carte:

    “The new Safari release brings Content Blocking Safari Extensions to iOS. Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”

    Ad blocking by itself is not a brand new thing, with a history that includes the “reader mode” that Apple has offered through its Safari browser or the pop-up blockers in modern browsers.

    There are also such solutions as Google’s Contributor, a kind of micro-payment arrangement that lets you see ad-free content if you pay for it.

    Among the dozens of desktop browsers, Eyeo’s open source Adblock Plus is the top of the heap. A survey by Net analytics firm comScore and publisher solutions provider Sourcepoint says that Adblock Plus has half of the existing market share. The company itself claims up to 60 million monthly active users.

    ‘Acceptable Ads’

    The report also says that Adblock Plus’ “acceptable ads program is driving users to ‘pure’ ad blocking software.” That program allows companies to pay a fee and submit ads that AdBlock deems acceptable, a kind of roadblock that lets you through if it likes the way your ads look and the size of your purse. The company says that many ads are let through for free if they meet the criteria and only large companies are charged, but it’s a roadblock nonetheless.

    uBlock Origin, for desktops and mobile, has seen the fastest growth of any such blocker in the 10-month period from November of last year to this past August: a whopping 833 percent, per the comScore survey. Next highest: Adguard AdBlocker, for desktops and mobile, growing at 231 percent.

    As a result of Apple’s announcement of support in iOS 9 for content/ad blockers, much of the attention recently has been focused on mobile blockers, especially for iOS.

    Two of the most popular iOS blockers in Apple’s App Store have been Crystal, which offers a relatively simple on-and-off toggle, and Purify Blocker.

    Both block ads and user tracking, while Purify Blocker also blocks images, fonts and scripts. Crystal’s developer is reportedly accepting payments to allow certain acceptable ads through. Ghostery has also gained a following, particularly for its ability to show — and manage — all the data calls and user tracking that are going on.

    Like Crystal, Adamant and BlockBear are also popular straightforward iOS blockers with few options.

    1Blocker, the Ferrari of iOS blockers, stops more than just ads. You can filter out custom fonts, cookies, page elements, widgets, images, and more, using its 7000 preinstalled blockers or your own customized filters. But there’s no whitelisting.

    Blockr, which bills itself as a privacy, media, and ad blocker for Safari, stops cookies, cookie warnings, and trackers. It allows whitelisting for each stop-function, so you can essentially program each website for the things you’ll allow.

    Been Choice

    Shortly after Apple released its iO9 support for blockers, a blocker called Peace became a popular download. But, a few weeks after it launched, Peace developer Marco Arment pulled the app. He said it didn’t “feel good” to offer such a blunt instrument against all ads.

    One theory about why Apple is supporting software that blocks web ads: to put up a roadblock for Google on mobile devices that use Safari. According that theory, Apple benefits because it can release content and accompanying ads through its News app.

    But that strategy, if it existed, had been countered by an ad blocker called Been Choice. It blocks not only mobile web ads, but also ads on native apps — such as on Apple’s News app. One potential drawback is that it uses a virtual private network (VPN) and sends traffic through its own servers, which could produce latency delays and raise other issues.

    Oh, yes — it also lets you choose to offer your own user data in exchange for payment in money or gift cards. Except it turns out that when you choose this “earning” option, you’re forking over more data than what ads might transmit.

    Plus, there’s been another twist to this plot.

    It turns out that Been Choice installs what are called “root certificates” so it can block app ads. Those certificates compromise secure Internet connections and let the software see all of your mobile traffic, including emails or bank transactions. As a result, Apple has announced it is removing this kind of software, including Been Choice. (Been Choice Developer David Yoon has recently shared some of the back-and-forth with Apple and his views on ad blocking.)

    For Android mobile users, it’s a bit more complex. Google is less supportive of ad blocking, having booted Adblock Plus and other blockers from its Play Store in 2013. If you want to block ads on an Android mobile device, the main choices include an ad blocking browser, such as Ghostery’s, or employing Adblock Plus or other plug-ins with the Firefox browser.


    About The Author

    Barry Levine
    Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.