by Jim Lynch

iOS 9 ad blockers: Should The Deck be exempt?

Sep 18, 2015

Is it right for ad blockers in iOS 9 to whitelist certain ad networks by default while blocking others?

The release of ad blockers for iOS has caused quite a bit of excitement among users. Many people have been discussing which ad blocker is best, and which ones are worth paying for and which ones aren’t. But there’s another issue that has come up related to ad blockers: favoritism by developers.

The issue arose from the perception that some ad blocker developers might have deliberately whitelisted ads from The Deck by default. The Deck is an elite advertising network that displays ads on sites like Daring Fireball. The Deck’s ads are actually small, unobtrusive, non-animated and don’t track users.

So what’s not to love, right? Shouldn’t all ad networks behave the same way? And shouldn’t The Deck be rewarded for producing such ads? Well, the problem is that The Deck’s ads are still advertising and some users simply don’t want to see any of it, at all, ever.

Advertising and iOS device ownership

When someone buys an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch they become the owners of that device. This means that they – and they alone – have a right to decide how that device is used. And this includes what shows up in their web browsers, particularly advertising.

When a user buys an ad blocking app, he or she is probably doing so with the intention of having as many ads blocked as possible. Comprehensive ad blocking – with the option to whitelist favorite sites – is one of the big selling points of ad blockers, otherwise why would anyone buy them in the first place?

But some ad blocker developers have either arbitrarily decided to whitelist ads from The Deck in their apps, or they have simply failed to include a filter for that network. They have that right, but some would argue that they have an obligation to disclose that fact to their potential customers before they buy the app. To the best of my knowledge, none of these app developers have done so in the app store.

So a user who buys 1Blocker (which I wrote about yesterday and like a lot) or certain other ad blocking apps might not know that they don’t block ads from The Deck by default. They are stuck seeing those ads even if they don’t want to see them. Many users probably wouldn’t care given the nature of ads from The Deck, but some might be upset that the ad blocker they paid for simply doesn’t give them the power to remove as many ads as possible, including the ones from The Deck.

John Gruber’s push for developers to favor ads from The Deck

John Gruber, the writer of the popular Daring Fireball blog, posted a tweet that dared anyone to defend blocking ads from The Deck. Well I explained why some users might want to do that above, but here’s the tweet for you to see:

john gruber tweet

Gruber, coincidentally, runs ads from The Deck on Daring Fireball. So he sort of has a dog in the hunt, so to speak. He got quite a few responses to his tweet, and not all of them were sympathetic to his position. Some folks pointed out that they have a right not to see ads from any network, including The Deck.

To a certain degree, I can understand where Gruber is coming from since ads from The Deck are among the least offensive on the web. But he is also displaying a narrow-minded elitism that blithely dismisses the desire – and the right – of some users to avoid seeing all advertising, including the ones from The Deck.

As I noted above, control over what loads in a web browser is ultimately the choice of the owner of a device. Not an ad blocker developer, and certainly not John Gruber. His attempt to shame anyone who blocks ads from The Deck comes across as a way for him to promote what is in his best interest, not in the interests of the people who are paying their hard-earned money to buy ad blocking apps in the app store.

Personally, I have no problem with ads from The Deck. But I smell a bit of self-serving hypocrisy coming from Gruber and some other folks who run ads from The Deck, CarbonAds, etc. They want their ads to be exempt from all iOS ad blockers but they have no problems with other sites having their ads blocked.

So what if The Deck’s ads are less offensive? That doesn’t mean that someone who buys an ad blocker doesn’t have the right to block them if he or she wants to do so. The ultimate choice of whether or not to see ads should always reside with the individual user. If a person wants to whitelist the ads from The Deck, then more power to them.

But forced whitelisting – which is what Gruber and some others seem to be pushing for – removes the power of choice from the individual user. And that is not a good thing at all, no matter how much squawking comes from the blogging elite around the web.

iOS ad blocker developers need to pick a side

So I think the bottom line here is that ad blocker developers need to decide if they are going to restrict user choice by playing favorites or if they are going to treat all ad networks equally, and then let each user decide which ones he or she wants to whitelist.

As a user, I know that I want all of the control on my end when I pay for an ad blocking app. If I’m giving a developer my money, I don’t expect him or her to decide for me which ad networks are acceptable and which ones aren’t. I will make that decision myself, regardless of the ad network in question.

It will be very interesting to see if The Deck maintains the ad blocker whitelist privileges it has in some apps right now. My guess is that ad blocker developers are going to get some heat once users realize that some ad networks are getting favored treatment, and they may end up adding The Deck to the list of ad networks blocked by default.

If they don’t do so then I suspect that the ad blockers that don’t favor networks like The Deck will rack up more sales from users who don’t want developers making decisions for them. In the end, the real power is in the hands of those who buy ad blocking apps for their iOS devices.

Did you miss a post? Check the Eye On Apple home page to get caught up with the latest news, discussions and rumors about Apple.