Forbes: Is Ad Blocking the New Piracy?

My latest column in Forbes takes the Apple’s decision to add ad-blocking primitives to iOS 9 as an occasion to look at the fast-growing phenomenon blocking ads in web browsers, and specifically to compare it to online copyright infringement.

Both developments lead to revenue losses for content publishers.  Both are occasioned by technological tools that make it easy and (in most cases) free for non-tech-savvy consumers to do.  And both have engendered cottage industries of technologies that attempt to combat the phenomena.  The article deals with the revenue models for such companies and the industry factions that are lining up on the sides of these debates.

The upshot is that ad-blocking is not a “Big Media vs. Big Tech” issue; it is more accurately described as a “Big Media and Some of Big Tech vs. Other Big Tech” issue.  In particular, Google — which earns over 90% of its revenue from ads — is not a big fan of ad blocking.  The trade associations that are addressing the ad-blocking issue appear to be learning lessons from the Copyright Wars by trying to establish best practices for online advertising that, if adopted, could avoid technological arms races.


  1. Bill,

    Another great article. I tried to comment on Forbes site but the links don’t work.

    Don’t you think Apple is doing this so they can replace 3rd party ads with their own?

    That’s pretty much how they operate.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Nice to hear from you. You have to have a account in order to comment there.

    No — Apple is doing this for a very simple reason: to hurt Google. Google serves up a very high percentage of all ads that appear in browsers (e.g. through DoubleClick and AdSense). Blocking those ads is a direct hit to Google’s revenues. Apple is not in the business of selling ads on websites, which is what this is about. (It’s not about native ads in apps, nor is it about the audio ads that Apple sells e.g. on iTunes Radio.)

    If the media industry could find a way to align a major tech interest with anti-piracy in a similar way, we’d be having very different conversations about it now. (For a while it looked like Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU would change the tenor of the dialog, but that doesn’t seem to be happening…)

    – bill.

  3. However, the elephant in the room is that Internet ad placement usually comes together with the user’s online behavior tracking. And this is not acceptable by some users, thus giving, at least for some of them, a justification for ad blocking.

  4. As with everything piracy related, the little guy is getting the most damage.
    Small blogs will see a big impact on their revenue as small publishers see the effects of piracy in their books. Sure big sites will see an impact but its not the same as they also have advertisements disguised as posts, also known as “Advertorials”..
    I believe in the future the content will become the advertisement itself.
    The irony is that many of the adBlocking technologies are making good money from the data they collect and sell on their customers. Something not many are aware of as it invades their privacy.

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