Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

The discussion about ad blocking is very dumb (but not in the way you think)

It’s incredibly obvious that despite the importance of ad blocking to their own livelihoods, journalists are incapable of actually doing any sort of research or investigation into what the technology does or can do.

(Side note to journalists: if you lot are this incompetent at stories that directly impact your own bottom line, why should we trust what you write on anything else?)

Here’s what I wrote back in June in iOS 9 content blocking extensions are not a mobile advertising armageddon:

Which is why the most likely result of a widespread adoption of iOS 9 content blockers is the following:

  • Ad networks pre-emptively update their code to bypass these blockers.
  • Website owners get their strategically important analytics code past the blockers by proxying them through their own domains.
  • Tracking scripts belonging to free third party services get blocked almost universally. Nobody actually embedding these services has much of an incentive to get them past the blockers.
  • These widgets will then either be re-architected so as to not track the user or simply removed by website owners.

The web is improved.

Look through the documentation of what iOS 9 content blockers can do: no dynamism; no per-request logic; no analysis. It’s just a blacklist and, as anybody who has worked in software security knows, blacklists don’t work in the long run. If this turns into an arms race between ad providers and blockers (which it will, given there’s money involed), blockers will lose.

The only way blockers will win is if there isn’t any money in mobile display advertising in which case ad-supported sites were screwed even without content blockers so stop blaming them.

The only thing that has surprised me is the fact that publishers haven’t already worked around content blockers, but I guess that’s because they really, truly thought that readers weren’t fed up with their mobile-performance-killing ads. (How arrogant are you lot?)

They now know better.

In a year’s time, we’ll almost certainly be back to seeing ads everywhere, except they will be better architected in terms of loading and performance. Social media sharing widgets will be gone (long live platform standard share sheets). Most trackers will be gone but publishers will have updated their sites to smuggle one or two strategically important trackers through the blockers.

The world will not have ended.

The only way this will not come to pass is if mobile advertising was dead in the water even before content blockers came onto the scene. If there’s money in it, the blockers will be bypassed (in many cases, trivially bypassed). If there isn’t money in it, advertisers will move to advertising platforms that are more effective on mobile…

…which they would have done eventually anyway even without content blockers.

ETA: The only truly reliable way of blocking invasive ads and trackers is to block all javascript and only enable JS on specific sites you know to be well-behaved. Any other way of blocking ads will be bypassed, provided there is money to be made in bypassing it. If there isn’t any money in it then that ad-supported business wasn’t long for this world anyway.

How a service that is affected by iOS9 content blockers deals with them will tell us a lot about their longterm value. If the owners push to implement countermeasures, then they clearly see the service as being important in the long run. If they don’t, then that service probably didn’t have a bright future anyway.

ETA 2: All of the above is assuming ad blocking goes mainstream. If it doesn’t then this was all a flash in the pan and you all were foolish for worrying so much.

ETA 3: Now that I’ve calmed a bit down, I’ve changed the title of the post to be less insulting. Apologies if you saw the original title.

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