On Content Blockers

With the release of iOS 9, Apple made it easy to download and install a new category of apps called Content Blockers. These are extensions that run in Safari that tell the browser not to load parts of a website. Some can be used to stop a site from tracking you, some stop comments from ever being displayed, but the most controversial are Content Blockers that block ads.

Marco Arment, a fellow iOS dev who I deeply respect, launched his own Content Blocker called Peace earlier this week. He's since removed the app from sale. Read about Marco's decision.

There is nothing nice about blocking ads on a website. With an ad-blocking extension enabled, ads are never loaded when you view a webpage. For the site owner, that's ad revenue they will never receive.

While terrible for publishers, Content Blockers are a win-win for users. With ads disabled, pages load faster, use less data to fully load, and their activities on a site can't be tracked using conventional methods. In my testing with Peace, pages in Safari loaded noticeably faster. In fact, the difference was staggering, especially at the Verge and iMore - 2  of the worst tech blog offenders.

The content publisher/reader relationship has always been free content with ads. Ads used to be lightweight objects. Today, they're frequently larger than the website and all original content combined. That's disgraceful.

For the relationship to work, each side must trust each other. With massive ads, constant tracking, and poor performance, content publishers have lost the trust of readers. With iOS 9, readers now have the power to fight back against an ad/tracking industry that's become too big for its britches.

As a result of Content Blockers becoming widely adopted, some sites will shut down and that's a damn shame. Sites will, and have already, lose money. Worse, the more publishers lash out at their readers, the more they run the chance of those readers never coming back.

The ball is now with content publishers and site owners. My advice? Don't blame your readers. Take responsibility for your tracking shenanigans, slowing user's devices, and having no regard for their bandwidth/data caps. Switch to an ad provider that serves lightweight, ethical ads (they exist). Be an example to the rest of the industry and let your readers know you're leading the charge!

It is the content publisher's responsibility to regain the trust of their readers. Until then, we'll continue to say no to the status quo.