The big Apple news this week isn’t about music or watches or iPads or payments. It’s about ads: Apple is allowing developers to block advertisements from the forthcoming version of its mobile browser, Safari, for iOS 9.
The new Safari will allow developers to make extensions that block ads or other forms of content on web pages. The prime candidate for blocking is, of course, advertising—which slows down the web, can be intrusive, doesn’t work, and, let’s face it, is usually annoying. (Except, of course, on this website).
But the abilities granted by Safari 9 to developers extend much beyond simply ad blocking. In Apple’s words: ”Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”
Ghost in the machine
Ghostery is a popular browser extension for all major desktop browsers. It blocks all content pulled in from third-party servers.
The way the modern web works is this: if you go to a website, it only sends some text and images your way. But it also pulls in data from dozens of analytics tools, ad servers, ad exchanges, web analytics firms, social buttons and trackers, and various other forms of online surveillance that serve you ads, measure you responses, gauge your profile, figure out your shoe size, and so on. Ghostery stops all of it. Apple’s content blocker appears to allow developers to do something similar.
Why is Apple doing this? Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab lays out three ways of looking at it: either Apple is serious about all its recent privacy talk, or it is out to get Google and Facebook, or it wants people to look at the ads served by its own iAds service on its new News app. Perhaps it is a mix of the three.
But what is clear is that small businesses that rely entirely on online advertising are going to have to rethink how they make money. Some 200 million (paywall) now use ad blockers. Mobile operators are reported to be thinking (paywall) about implementing ad blocking.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Ghostery declined to comment.