Other than sticking it to Google and making the browsing experience better for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users, I’m not certain what Apple is trying to prove by allowing browser ad blockers in the App Store.
What’s the problem with ad blockers? It isn’t a single problem. It’s a plethora of problems generated by an unholy combination of technology tracking capability mixed with greed and and topped by a lack of discipline among advertisers, layered with online publications who prosper when it all works in their favor.
The same type of technology that makes nearly infinite tracking possible can also be used to unhinge and defeat the tracking mechanisms. Those are the variety of ad blockers available for popular browsers, and now, thanks to Apple poking Google in the eye with a stick, available for iPhone and iPad— apps that blocks ads within native applications.
This battle between advertisers who demand tracking data and browser users who demand privacy will not die easily. Website publishers depend upon ad revenues for their very existence. Ad blockers take a chunk of that revenue away, and the chunk is growing larger every day, and the trend will cause some online publishers to go out of business, cut staff, or change the model to one that is less intrusive than the standard array of flash animation ads, video ads, pop up ads, and ads that swallow the page you’re trying to read.
As an online writer and publisher, and as a Mac, iPhone, and iPad user with a few hundred websites in my RSS reader, I understand the issues from both perspectives. Advertising makes the world go around. Without it there will be no free internet (not to mention television, radio, newspapers, magazines and many other businesses). But advertisers have become drunken with greed on the technology that intrudes, detracts, and tracks.
What’s the solution?
There is no single solution but there are reasonable options. Here’s one. If you must block websites with annoying advertisements, use Ghostery on your Mac. For Safari and Chrome users Ghostery is a simple-to-install browser extension which can be turned on and off, and makes it easy to create custom settings for the websites you read the most.
Ghostery does a good job of showing you who tracks you while you visit websites. How To See Who Tracks You Online is a good place to start and Kate Mackenzie puts Ghostery to the test on a number of popular Apple-oriented websites.
Ghostery is free, but it has enough controls that you can blacklist sites, whitelist sites, and even select specific tracking mechanisms to block. Our site, BohemianBoomer, has joined with a few other Apple oriented sites to minimize advertising (we only use Google’s simple AdSense ads for now) per page, and to drop Google’s very popular Analytics tracking mechanism.
We use Ghostery while we browse the web. We also blacklist and whitelist sites. And, for sites we approve, we make an effort to support their advertising efforts because we know that’s what pays the bills. Some websites have pop up notices that appear when an ad blocker is detected, and that’s a trend that will continue to grow– websites blocking the blockers from viewing their content. That’s a dangerous trend, too; one without winners.
Google, probably the world’s greatest offender at tracking users, once had an unofficial motto that said, ‘Don’t be evil.’ That’s gone. Google’s new parent company, Alphabet, has no such restraint and neither does the search engine giant (Google is merely a part of the Alphabet company). The rest of us, though, can avoid being evil and do the right thing.