The new version of Apple’s web browser, Safari 11, has a built-in system for blocking advertisements, much to the annoyance of the world’s advertising agencies.
Strictly speaking, it’s not an ad blocker – but it blocks advertisers gathering browsing data, which would prevent more precise targeting of the user.
Ad blockers are usually to be found in the form of extensions, built by third-party companies, not the big tech companies like Apple and Google.
Those ad blocker extensions have proved very popular with web surfers fed up of being threatened by a never-ending stream of malware-loading ads, and other unsavoury pop-ups and things.
So much so that ad blockers have probably prevented ad agencies from collecting many millions of dollars in revenues since they were first developed.
Now, however, things seemed to be getting worse for advertisers, in terms of data gathering at least.
Apple has always made a big deal of wanting to protect users’ private data, and the new Safari has something called Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which, as the name suggests, stops browsers and presumably anyone else – that is, websites which drop cookies into your machines when you visit them – from tracking the user of that browser as they surf the web.
Normally, cookies are used to keep track of users as they go from page to page and website to website. The data collected is like a goldmine for advertisers, and everyone who makes money from advertising.
Google and Facebook make absolutely tons of money from advertising, much of highly targeted to the individual user, so it’s unlikely they’ll be supportive of such technology.
Facebook does not have a browser of its own, but Google of course does. Its Chrome browser is probably the most popular browser on the planet, and although installing extensions to block ads is easy enough, it’s probably not something Google wants to encourage.
Rather, it has adopted the strategy of cleaning up the ads, banning ones that are annoying or unsavoury. Plus, it’s introduced a new system where surfers can buy a ticket from Google to view websites without having to look at their ads.
The ticket money is shared with the websites visited.
However, Apple has now gone one step further, and looks all set to go even further – especially if it wants to be consistent with its talk of data privacy.
It has yet to respond to an open letter issued by advertising agencies, and probably doesn’t feel the need to.
In any case, a large group of advertising agencies and industry organisations – including American Association of Advertising Agencies, Data & Marketing Association, Interactive Advertising Bureau and many others – has stated that they are “deeply concerned” by Apple’s move.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter which was published on MacRumours.com:
“We are deeply concerned about the Safari 11 browser update that Apple plans to release, as it overrides and replaces existing user-controlled cookie preferences with Apple’s own set of opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling.
“Apple’s unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love. Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful.
“Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice. As organizations devoted to innovation and growth in the consumer economy, we will actively oppose any actions like this by companies that harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations.”
Like every argument, there’s more than one side to it. As well as the obvious issues raised in this and other articles – of ad agencies and their associates losing money, and advertising not being able to reach their target market as precisely perhaps – there are implications for the news publishing business.
In news publishing you could also categorise the many thousands of business publications and websites – like em360tech.com, for example.
For websites like this one, which has a sizeable and distinct audience, Apple’s move may actually be helpful. If advertisers what to reach EM360º readers, they are more likely to approach our website directly, rather than go through third-party agencies or Google AdWords.
This may make advertising more expensive, but it’s too early to tell what the consequences will be.
Besides, Safari does not have a large enough share of the browser market to make a fundamental change, although it’s not entirely insignificant.
According to NetMarketShare.com, Apple Safari has less than 4 per cent share of the browser market, way behind leader Google Chrome, which has almost 60 per cent.
Microsoft Explorer – even though it’s been discontinued – still has more than 15 per cent. Then, it’s Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge on approximately 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.
Clearly if Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention were to start a trend that the others follow, it would definitely result in a sea change, although Google may well be able to hold out all on its own, given that it has more market share than everyone else put together.
But certainly it will be an interesting year or two for Google and Facebook, both of which have been taking the majority of the revenue growth in online advertising all by themselves.