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article imageAd blocking threatens the open web, 90 percent increase in 2015

By James Walker     Jun 2, 2016 in Technology
There are now more people using ad blockers on smartphones than desktop PCs, according to a new report. The use of ad blockers on mobile devices rose 90 percent last year, representing a serious threat to the revenues of content publishers worldwide.
Smartphone ad blockers are now used by nearly 420 million people across the globe, the equivalent of one in five users. The data comes from PageFair, a company specialising in helping publishers circumvent ad blockers, and Priori Data, a firm which tracks the success of mobile apps.
Twenty-two percent of smartphone users now have an ad blocker installed. Android remains the platform where most of the apps are used, representing the vast majority of downloads. Ad blockers were downloaded only 4.5 million times on iOS last year.
Ad blocking is now posing a credible threat to publishers. The vast majority of websites still rely on advertising as a primary source of revenue. There are concerns that the widespread use of ad blocking could spell an end to the free Internet, forcing publishers to begin charging for access to their content.
The most popular form of ad blocking app is a now web browser with a utility built in. This trend is beginning to carry across to desktop devices too. In March, Opera announced it will add a native ad block to its browser, allowing users to automatically bypass intrusive material. It said "people really want ad-blocking technology" in a blog post.
The problem could become even worse for publishers if mobile networks start enabling ad blockers for users. Earlier this year, UK operator Three announced it intends to roll out ad blocking to its customers, citing "control, choice and transparency" as the reasoning behind the move.
People generally block adverts because of their reputation for being intrusive, slow to load, data-hungry and, all too often, a carrier of malware. Until publishers stop dropping a thick layer of ads onto every page, it is likely the current trend will continue.
The effect of adverts is more pronounced on mobile devices which can be slowed down dramatically by large webpages inflated by ads. PageFair said that people usually install ad block apps for reasons which are "indisputably valid" and called for the issues to be "fundamentally addressed" to safeguard the open web.
"Mobile is now a major channel for news consumption, and is growing rapidly," said Vincent Peyr├Ęgne, CEO of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in the report. "Ad blocking on mobile threatens this growth. We as an industry knowingly allowed bloated ads to run amok on news sites, packed with enough tracking software to annoy readers to ad nauseam, and causing a host of UX problems for users. We have to fix this."
Interestingly, PageFair discovered that ad blockers are most popular in emerging markets, particularly China, India and Indonesia. 159 million, 122 million and 38 million people in each country respectively use ad blocking each month. That compares with less than two million people in Western nations. 1.3m people in the UK block ads, 1.3m in France and 1.1m in Germany.
PageFair said it's "only a matter of time" until ad blocking comes to the West though. It warned that publishers in Europe and the U.S. will soon be facing the same problems as Asian media encounters today. In a separate report last month, PageFair estimated ad blocking cost publishers worldwide $21.8 billion in 2015.
There's no easy solution to this problem. The root cause is the current state of online ads, where intrusive, space-filling and malicious ads proliferate at an alarming rate. Until that is fixed, as distributors keep promising they are working towards, it looks like publishers will face a real risk of losing substantial portions of their revenue.
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