Ad Blocker With A Heart Of Gold? Developer Yanks Top-Ranked ‘Peace’ From App Store

PeaceappCiting a guilty conscience, the developer behind the ad blocking app that shot to the top of the iOS 9 charts has pulled his creation off the App Store shelves.

Marco Arment, who cofounded Tumblr and created Instapaper before dabbling in ad blocking, said he ultimately couldn’t endorse an app that blocked ads en masse.

Arment’s app, called Peace and rolled out with the backing of Ghostery, was the most popular of several ad blocking apps that made Apple’s App Store ranking of top paid apps in the US after Apple began supporting so-called “content blocking” functionality with the release of iOS 9. As of Friday morning, Apple’s top five included Peace in No. 1 (edging out Minecraft), Crystal in No. 2, and Purify in No. 5.

But no one should interpret Arment’s abdication as a blow against ad blocking. On the contrary, in the hours after Peace vanished, Crystal rose to the No. 1 position and Purify to No. 3.

In a blog post published Friday, Arment said, “I’m just not built for this business” and implied innocent publishers would inevitably suffer as a result of Peace’s success were it allowed to continue.

“Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have,” he wrote. “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 charged $3.99 for Peace while it was on offer, and shared some of that revenue with Ghostery, which licensed its database of website trackers to Arment’s project. He said Ghostery supported his decision to withdraw Peace.

“Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.

I still believe that ad blockers are necessary today, and I still think Ghostery is the best one, but I’ve learned over the last few crazy days that I don’t feel good making one and being the arbiter of what’s blocked.

Ad-blocking is a kind of war — a first-world, low-stakes, both-sides-are-fortunate-to-have-this-kind-of-problem war, but a war nonetheless, with damage hitting both sides.”

The sudden popularity of mobile ad blockers, coming immediately after Apple introduced support for them in its latest iOS release, has surprised many publishers and ad tech providers. Even as PC-based ad blocking software has made steady gains in recent years, the working assumption until recently has been that companies like Eyeo (which makes Adblock Plus) and Ghostery occupy a fundamentally esoteric space that users are unlikely to care much about.

The rapid onslaught of iOS ad blockers has proven otherwise, and in the space of three short days.

“The rise of these apps shows there is a clear demand for it – especially on mobile where we are still being forced to pay for bandwidth,” said James Avery, CEO of ad server Adzerk and author of a recent industry call-to-action on the ad blocking topic. “I think what Marco has done represents the same emotions many of us feel about ad blockers. We know they aren’t fair, but we love the benefits they provide. I think it shows there is room for an ad blocker that blocks ads – [ads] that don’t follow reasonable guidelines.”

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  1. “Guilty” is a bit of an imposed word, a bit strong… I would say that based on his reaction it would be more of an uneasy emotion. Regardless, ad blocking has its place in aggressive campaign blocking, agreed in the circumstances where scripts somehow jack the Publisher’s site, but it can only harm the advertising eco-system as a whole, forcing more people to go the paid content route. This will inevitably heighten the break even points as each viewer will be more expensive to attain, and that allocated cost will in turn raise advertising costs considerably, putting strain on the market. I’m glad the owner of Peace saw this, and I hope more effort is given into his considerations that caused him this uneasiness.

    With native advertising and other forms of self-hosting ad platforms, these ad blockers can be fooled for a time, but this will also raise cost for the publisher as it will increasingly take more man power, translating cost back to the advertiser.

    I’d be interested in seeing a retaliation from the advertising community – publishers refusing to display content unless advertising is enabled.

  2. Interesting….. When I think of Ad Blocking it clearly is needed for all of the crap, problematic ads out there, but as an analogy goes “killing the cancer patient, when the goal is just the malignant cells”

    If we think of the true meaning of Ad Blocking of giving the user choice and visibility (Ghostery) as to what sites they visit that have ads that are really annoying and problematic to turn off vs. just turning ads off for everything…it all rather makes sense.

    This is the first wave of ad blockers… but It is going to be interesting to see how this model evolves so that everybody can benefit from giving users more control.

  3. “Ad-blocking is a kind of war” speaks to the right dynamic though I was describing it over the weekend as more an evolutionary battle. Ads and trackers have got out of hand in a number of ways and ad blockers have been developed to redress the balance. It’s clear that advertisers and publishers need to make sure that ads and their associated tracking are valuable to the person on whose browser or in whose app the content display and data capture is taking place. Entertaining creative and useful rather than intrusive personalisation will help; misleading click bait native ads won’t.

    Perhaps someone can develop an ‘ad quality filter’. People are then invited to rate ads and the worst performing 20% are blocked and the results shared globally. This approach would give the ecosystem a benchmark to improve against.