Apple iOS 9 Safari opens the flood gates to ad-blocking

safari mobile

This week has already been a roller coaster ride for ad-block users – between Apple promising to open the flood gates to ad-blocking in the Safari browser on upcoming iPhones and iPads, and Chrome users groaning after it looked like Google was cutting the knees off AdBlock and forcing them to sit through video ads on YouTube.

First, the Google mishap, which turns out to be a whole lot less punishing and less purposeful than first appeared.

Before learning it was just a glitch, malvertising-hating, tracking-adverse, adblock-loving Netizens were fuming this past weekend, over reports that Google had neutered AdBlock Plus – and was punishing viewers by disabling YouTube’s “skip” option, forcing them to sit through embedded video ads.

This wasn’t, as it turns out, Google stomping on its adblocking audience.

Rather, as reports, a thread on the Chromium project issue tracker said that there’s a bug behind the behaviour – to do with hosted apps being treated as full extensions – that’s slated to be fixed.

Rob Wu, a developer on the Chromium project – which is the open-source foundation for the Chrome browser – confirmed to Neowin that the change wasn’t intentional; rather, it was an unintended result of fixing a previous security issue (CVE-2015-1297).

Wu confirmed that the only users who had the YouTube app installed were experiencing the forced-ad-viewing problem.

Neowin reports that the problem is expected to be patched in the upcoming weeks or, at least, when Chrome 46 is released.

In the meantime, Chrome users can either disable AdBlock, whitelist YouTube, or uninstall the YouTube app.

Apple’s anti-advert action

With regards to Apple’s upcoming launch of iOS 9, the BBC notes that this is the first time that Apple will allow adverts to be blocked by the iPhone and iPad versions of Safari.

Sure, we’ve been able to run third-party ad-blocking browsers on either Android or iOS mobile operating systems or to alter network settings so we don’t see the content on our mobile devices, but Apple’s new iOS 9 operating system will now allow content blocking extensions to be added directly to Safari.

That’s in all likelihood going to move ad-blocking beyond the audience who now use it and into the mainstream.

Currently, only about 2% of ad-blocking takes place on mobile devices.

The release of Apple’s iOS 9 this month will be a “game changer,” according to PageFair’s ad-blocker report, given that users will be able to easily install ad-blockers from the App Store.

Android users can already install apps to block ads within the Chrome and Firefox mobile browsers, with 40% of mobile ad-blocking coming from Firefox users.

The benefits for mobile users could include:

  • Webpages, de-cluttered of distracting content
  • Pages that load more quickly
  • Less of a drain on mobile data allowances
  • Less of a drain on device batteries
  • Protection from drive-by malvertising downloads
  • Better privacy protection – since blocking ads means blocking tracking.

The way it will work is that iOS 9 will allow third-party content blocking extensions to be added to Safari; Apple itself isn’t offering ad-blocking software.

Those browser add-ons can be set to block certain cookies, images, pop-ups and other content from being downloaded – a level of blocking that’s previously only been achieved by jailbreaking devices, which in turn can leave them more vulnerable to malware.

At any rate, no, iOS 9 won’t be completely advert-free – particularly given that Apple’s iAd service places adverts in apps rather than websites and hence won’t be affected by the extensions.

Still, there’s a lot of security and privacy protection to love. Unless you’re one of the companies that depend on ad revenues.

As PageFair CEO and co-founder Sean Blanchfield recently said, an uptick in mobile ad-blocking’s popularity is an existential threat to a web where content is offered (mostly) for “free” to consumers:

It is tragic that ad-block users are inadvertently inflicting multi-billion dollar losses on the very websites they most enjoy. With ad-blocking going mobile, there's an eminent threat that the business model that has supported the open web for two decades is going to collapse.

For what it’s worth, Naked Security’s John Zorabedian recently cast a hairy eyeball at this kind of hyperbole – after all, people who block ads aren’t exactly your ad-clicking, revenue-generating demographic.

Also, our readers tend to have very little sympathy for companies crying over lost adblock revenues.

Here’s a selection of the pro-adblock, pro-security, reader thoughts on the matter:

I use adblocker and firewall rules for security mainly. I've been hit a few times over the years by drive-by infections from compromised ad servers. Add that to not wanting to be tracked as I web browse. Its even worse if its a shared computer - parent looks at adult items and kid then gets on later and sees less than acceptable advertisements (including some that are illegal for minors to look at). During some testing, I've been on electronics, book, even cooking sites and been able to get adult advertisements to appear (without the aid of malware).

Alan Robertson:
If adverts were just adverts and didn't track you, infect your machine, steal your bandwidth and generally annoy 90% of the population then people would accept them. The fact is, even after all the adblockers, they do this more now than ever.

The idea that you can annoy so many people and then complain when they take steps to protect their privacy and security is beyond belief - they are their own worst enemies and I have little sympathy for them.

If the ad networks want to address their track record for serving up drive-by malware and intrusive ads, then we can talk. Until then, no go.

Want to add more fuel to the ad-blocking fire? Add some sparks to the comments section below.

Image of Safari web browser icon courtesy of ymgerman /