Is Adblocking Going Mobile?

We often consult with publishers and industry groups about the major trends in adblocking, and one of the top three questions we get asked is “what about mobile”? Adblocking is a hit with millennials on desktop, but on mobile it could offer more economical use of the screen, data plan and battery. If a tiny fraction of the desktop users of adblock found a way to use it on their phones, it could go viral. Until recently there was no such sign of a mobile adblock apocalypse, as our reports have made clear. The walled gardens  of Android had effectively fenced out adblocking apps that were effective against both in-browser and in-app ads.
That changed today, as the leading adblocking plugin, Adblock Plus, announced that they have partnered with the emerging browser Maxthon, and will be supplying built-in adblocking by default to all its users. If reports that Maxthon has about 100MM users are accurate, then global adblocking just took a massive jump.
Maxthon’s new built-in adblocking capability may have been motivated by a similar move in August 2014 by the competing UC Browser, which claims to have an incredible 500MM users. Although both these browsers pre-date smart phones, they both seem to have found their recent growth on iOS and Android. Their emergence seems to be driven from Asia, where adblocking is a core feature for users who primarily consume the web via mobile devices and who are often subject to punitive data rates. For these users, an adblock-enabled mobile browser is a turn-key solution to cutting your mobile bill in half.
At PageFair, we’ve been watching with interest as we’ve seen adblocking rates from Chinese IP addresses on the PageFair network rapidly climb from about 6% two years ago to about 30% today. This rapid climb could conceivably be repeated in the West if mobile adblocking gets a foothold… and it’s beginning to.
Last July the privacy-protection plugin, Disconnect.me, made the leap to mobile. Disconnect’s mission is to help people prevent their browsing history being leaked to the hundreds of invisible third party companies that monitor webpage visits via advertising exchanges and resell their data. Although they are not anti-advertising, they have found themselves forced to many block ad servers that enable this privacy leakage. Disconnect had already gathered a loyal userbase on the desktop version of Chrome, and many eyes were watching to see how Apple and Google would react as they tried to launch on iOS and Android. What happened was interesting: Google refused the app, but Apple let it through. This happened not long before Tim Cook posted a letter on Apple’s website with the following statement:

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

You don’t have to be very cynical to form the opinion that while Google is fighting to keep adblocking out of its walled garden, Apple has decided to differentiate itself by letting the user decide. Disconnect is now available on iOS and includes not only an adblock-enabled browser, but a pro-feature that enables it in other apps, which means protecting your privacy by removing all third party in-app advertising.
It looks like the last major obstacle to the spread of in-app adblocking is Android, or more specifically the walled garden of the Play Store. We’re closely watching the emerging news about the Android fork Cyanogenmod, as they work to establish themselves as an unwalled third mobile OS. A final wildcard is the possibility of an adblock-enabled DNS service, which could effectively bring network-wide cross-device adblocking into the home and corporate environments.
 
 

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