Why Software Maker Pulled His Profitable Web Ad Blocker

Many people find website advertising annoying — so ad-blocking apps are attractive — but losing ads could completely change what is available for a broad audience.

Do pop-up ads bother you when you’re browsing the Web?

They bugged software developer Marco Arment so much he developed an ad-blocking app — called Peace — for Apple’s new iOS9 software for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches. For $2.99, you could buy his app and banish those ads from interrupting your view on the Safari Web browser.

Within two days of issue, Arment’s ad blocker was the top-selling app of its type in the Apple store.

But on Friday, Arment said he’d had a change of heart and pulled the app. No more Peace at your fingertips. He offers refunds to purchasers.

“Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have,” Arment blogged. Arment designed his app to block all ads, and that, he wrote, was wrong.

At issue is that ad blockers help some people, but they harm others. Ad blockers strip out digital ads and trackers so viewers see Web pages without these interruptions, which may annoy some readers and slow down their devices. Among the parties harmed are many writers and publishers who depend on ad revenue to make money and provide content at no charge to readers.

“Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: While they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit,” Arment wrote.

He called the all-or-nothing approach too blunt. Ad blocking needs a more nuanced approach, he said, describing ad blocking as “a kind of war — a first-world, low-stakes, both-sides-are-fortunate-to-have-this-kind-of-problem war, but a war nonetheless.”

There are major players in this battle.

The war, in part, pits Google against Apple, writes Nilay Patel, editor in chief of The Verge, an online tech news site. Google and its subsidiaries control much of the advertising you see on the Web, especially on desktop and laptop computers. Apple’s Safari browser gives it veto power over Web advertising you see on mobile devices, which outpace desktops for viewing, and Apple’s iPhones dominate mobile device sales.

“And with iOS 9 and content blockers, what you’re seeing is Apple’s attempt to fully drive the knife into Google’s revenue platform,” Patel wrote. And both of them are rivals with Facebook, which serves up ads separately but also grew with the spread of mobile technology.

Arment’s decision drew a mix of reactions on social platforms, especially Twitter.

“With this, Marco has lost much and gained nothing. To make such decision shows guts, maturity, and integrity, tweeted @KenMcCall.

“Am I missing something here? Shouldn’t he have made this decision BEFORE he developed and sold his software?” @JohnKirk tweeted.

Do you try to block Internet ads? Share your experiences with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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