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Mobile Ad Blocking Surged 90% In 2015

Hundreds of millions of people are now blocking ads on mobile devices, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a new report by PageFair.

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Ad blocking on mobile devices grew 90% in 2015, according to publishing consultancy PageFair, and was used by 419 million people in March 2016. Approximately 21% of the world's 1.9 billion smartphone users have an ad-blocking browser installed, the company says in its new report, "Adblocking Goes Mobile." (PageFair itself also offers anti-ad-blocking services.)

Most of the mobile ad blocking is occurring in the Asia-Pacific region, where 93% of the ad-blocking mobile browsers can be found. Of all smartphone users in the region, 36% use an ad-blocking mobile browser.

In the US, mobile ad blocking browsers appear on about 1.24% of smartphones. In Europe, that figure is 2.7%. PageFair estimates that there are 2.8 million users of ad-blocking mobile browsers in the US.

PageFair also notes that content-blocking apps have grown. Content blocking is euphemism for ad blocking, if you accept that "sponsored content" and data collection code associated with ads falls under the advertising umbrella. In September, as part of iOS 9, Apple introduced content blocking APIs for blocking content (ads) in its mobile Safari browser and in third-party apps that display web content through an iOS WebView component.

Since then, PageFair says, developers have created at least 229 iOS apps that can be used to block ads in other iOS apps. Though March, there have been 4.5 million downloads of these apps globally.

(Image: PageFair)

(Image: PageFair)

PageFair's numbers appear to be consistent with the mobile ad blocking numbers reported by Sourcepoint and comScore last year, at least with regard to the US. According to their report, "The State of Ad Blocking," released September 2015, usage of mobile ad blocking was below 0.5% in the US, 7% in China, and 9% in India.

Sourcepoint and comScore predicted that the introduction of iOS 9, released that same month, would increase the usage of mobile ad blocking in the US and Europe.

As PageFair's report suggests, it's not just Apple's acceptance of ad blocking that has driven adoption of the technology. In January, Samsung opened up ad-blocking support in the pre-installed Android browser that comes with its Android Marshmallow distribution. The company says it plans to expand support to its phones with other versions of Android. That same month, Brave launched a mobile browser designed to block ad-tracking mechanisms and replace ads with other ads that the company claims provide a better user experience.

In March, Opera integrated ad blocking into its desktop browser and into Opera Mini, its mobile browser.

Interest in ad blocking has prompted a backlash among publishers and the ad industry. Beyond the Internet Advertising Bureau's statement on the subject, which manages to be both condemnation and mea culpa, publishers have tried to fight ad-blocking technology with countermeasures.

In a paper published earlier this month, "Adblocking and Counter-Blocking: A Slice of the Arms Race," researchers from Stony Brook University, the University of Cambridge, UC-Berkeley, the International Computer Science Institute, Queen Mary University of London, and University College London found that at least 6.7% of the top 5,000 websites (as identified by Alexa) use anti-ad-blocking scripts.

Companies serving such scripts include PageFair, Google, Taboola, Outbrain, Ensighten, Cloudflare, and others, the researchers report.

The makers of ad-blocking software in turn have taken to blocking the scripts that block ad blocking. AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, and Privacy Badger block some of the anti-ad-blocking scripts found on websites. Browser scripting extensions like Tampermonkey also can be used to block ad-blocking countermeasures.

[Read Yahoo Mail Ad-Blocking Move Angers Users.]

Some in the publishing industry have questioned the legality of ad blocking. In Germany, where the matter has actually been litigated, Eyeo GmbH, the maker of AdBlock Plus, has been on a winning streak, though the fight continues.

At the same time, companies using anti-ad-blocking scripts may be vulnerable to claims that attempting to circumvent a user's ad-blocking software violates privacy rules, at least in Europe. Last week, privacy campaigner Alexander Hanff sent a cease-and-desist letter to publisher IDG UK demanding that the company "stop the unlawful detection of my use of ad blocking technologies within my web browser on IDG UK websites..."

Ultimately, neither technology nor the law will resolve the situation. Some people just won't accept ads. Trying to force them to do otherwise will only alienate that those people further. Advertisers have to produce content that people want, without surreptitiously harvesting data, attempting to dictate terms, or hindering the viewing experience. Given the difficulty advertisers may have with that challenge, publishers would do well to produce content worth paying for.

(Cover Image: Kagenmi/iStockphoto)

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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fragro
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fragro,
User Rank: Strategist
6/7/2016 | 10:49:03 AM
Re: Apps Rely on Ads
Completely agreed. If you are in danger of losing your PC because of just one malicious ad, you do not want to take that risk...
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
6/6/2016 | 12:06:16 PM
Re: Apps Rely on Ads
I don't think this alone solves it.  Many people who use adblockers (like me) use them primarily for security reasons -- to protect against rogue attacks via ads that can inject malware.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
6/4/2016 | 11:09:44 AM
Re: How Toll-Free / Zero-Rated Mobile Data Apps Will Remedy The Ad Blocking Problem
very interesting idea  >> I think advertising networks should go a step further than apps: offer ad financed unlimited data plans.

But what would be the carrier's incentive to do so? would they make more in ad revenue payments than the charge for data plans? If the industry was constructed differently, then maybe that would work. Or, companies could do "ad buys" for data plan time? 

All those ads would slow down the user though. 
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
6/4/2016 | 8:50:33 AM
Re: Apps Rely on Ads
What drives ad blocking is not ads per sé, but the ad content. I have used ad financed apps and 99.9% of what gets advertised is stuff I'd never would buy even if it is a decent deal. Advertisers are catching on to that, but run into another unaccetable issue by collecting a lot of personal information to deliver targeted advertising.

The entire online advertising model is broken and it is self-inflicted by the ad and content providers. They got greedy and slap ads into everything. More ads means more exposure which used to mean more clicks and thus more conversions, but the ill placement of really annoying in your face ads drives the high rate of ad blocking.

Of course, content and apps need money to be created and delivered. I think the only viable option is using the open source model. Base content and apps on voluntary payments. Of course, that will cause a lot of apps and content to be no longer viable. Honestly, given how much craptastic stuff there is especially in mobile that would not be a bad thing.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
6/4/2016 | 8:40:15 AM
Re: How Toll-Free / Zero-Rated Mobile Data Apps Will Remedy The Ad Blocking Problem
I think advertising networks should go a step further than apps: offer ad financed unlimited data plans. I'd go for that. I'm fine with looking at or listening to ads in exchange for data service. When calling on such a plan play a 5-10 second ad before the call is placed (except 911 calls of course!). Starting the browser, show me an ad. Starting an app, show me an ad. While browsing show me an ad every 15 minutes. That would address the biggest issue the mobile market faces these days: still very high operating costs. Yes, there are a few plans that cost 30$/month per line, but they come with hefty restrictions. Even prepaid plans of low cost providers are still rather expensive compared to other alternatives such as VoIP. For ads to work and be accepted there must be a much bigger benefit to users, reimbursing for data usage is falling too short.
TollFreeApps
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TollFreeApps,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/2/2016 | 6:07:09 PM
How Toll-Free / Zero-Rated Mobile Data Apps Will Remedy The Ad Blocking Problem
It should come as no surprise that there is a resistance to advertisements on mobile. The engagement costs to the end-user consumer are simply too onerous -- too much distraction, too great a delay, and far too high bandwidth cost. On the last point -- high bandwidth cost -- this is actually something that is solvable by simply having the app provider reimburse (e.g., pay, reward, subsidize - choose your own verb) the end-user for the data costs associated with delivering the ad to their mobile device. In fact, ad markets can use these types of free data incentives as a way to really build up meaningful engagement and loyalty with the user base.

This can be done one of several ways: (1) Maybe the advertiser only pays for the exact bandwidth consumed by the ad itself; (2) maybe the advertiser pays for all the bandwidth consumed by the ad and the content associated with the ad (e.g., the news story); or (3) perhaps the advertiser even reimburses for the bandwidth consumed by the story and the ad, and also awards additional "surplus" data to the end-user consumer as a proper "thank you" for viewing / engaging with the ad.

It is with regard to this last scenario "3" that I think markets are heading and why toll-free / zero-rated apps will take off in the US and elsewhere. It is not much of a stretch to envision a world where end-users are rewarded this way (it's really no different than air miles or loyalty points) and it certainly empowers the end-user to pick and choose the ad, content, and free bandwidth "mix" that best matches their viewing objectives. It also creates a mechanism where advertisers need to thoughtfully compete with each other to earn the continuous patronage / engagement of the end-user (which imo is a very good thing for both the advertiser and the end-user).

Of course, there will be people that cry foul over such a free market mechanism. But their arguments will likely be based on the fact that such a free-market, transparent, and competitive system of rewarding end-users with free data takes money out of their pockets and puts it in the pocket of the end-user consumer (those same end-users who currently pay the mobile carrier for the privilege of downloading and viewing mobile ads).

Looked at another way, imagine the physical world of the IKEA paper catalog that you and I get in the mail. IKEA rightly pays the delivery cost (postage stamp) since they are seeking the engagement of the end-user. But on the Internet the end-user is the party that pays for the delivery of this same ad-based content (mostly promotional ad content). This too will migrate to the world of mobile apps and ads, it is just a question of when.

It is for these reasons that I believe the toll-free / zero-rated app will soon be making its way to our phones and will be a very welcome development for mobile end-user consumers and those advertisers who want a reliable and fair way of engaging with these mobile end-users.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
6/1/2016 | 3:51:16 PM
Re: Apps Rely on Ads
I wouldn't mind paying for an app if you got full functionality out of it. So many apps now have a pay as you go mode like the games. You get the app for free or a small charge but to get to the more interesting parts of the game or continue playing after you have achieved a certain level, you have to pay. That is rubbish. The free games like solitaire and backgammon have annoying ads that pop up between games. Now when you press the X to close the ad, many times you get taken to the store anyway or another ad.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
6/1/2016 | 2:04:29 PM
Apps Rely on Ads
The figures are quite impressive for mobile and PC ad blocking -- so, what do APPS which rely on ads do now? If the App is free, then advertising is the main form of revenue, in addition to partnerships and revenue sharing. But ads are the way.

This will alter the industry considerably -- perhaps moving Apps from a "free" to a "paid" model, more or more, or a signicant decline in the number of apps, many of which don't make the fortune for their authors, or MSFt, Apple and Samsung, etc. get into the App business

One way or another, this has an impact on the Yahoo! sale -- a service which uses advertising as a revenue source
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