Apple Ignites Debate Over Ad-Blocking Software
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Should you be able to block ads that pop up on your laptop and smartphone? That's the debate right now. Apple has weighed in. It now offers ad-blocker apps. Critics say these apps undermine fair business practices. To talk about this, I'm joined by NPR tech reporter Aarti Shahani. And, Aarti, tell us about this decision by Apple. What happened?
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Well, Apple made a little change that was actually a very big change. With the release of the latest iPhone operating system, iOS 9, Apple said they'd allow ad-blocker apps to be sold in their store. Ad-blockers have already gained a lot of traction on desktops, especially with people who play games online, for example. But it's pretty new to smartphones. So developers heard the call and made some blockers, put them in the market, and they sold a whole lot. In a couple days, apps with names like Purify and Crystal became best-sellers in the App Store.
MCEVERS: Oh, OK. So that means consumers like it. I mean, they're responding, and the market is speaking. So what's the problem?
SHAHANI: Well, a lot of Internet businesses that we use and rely on every day - they use a so-called freemium model. You pay nothing for an app, but in turn, you're giving your data and/or your eyeballs to advertisers. That's how Google and Facebook work, and it's not how Apple works. And investors at internet companies say mobile advertising is this huge market. One very well-known investor says it's probably worth $25 billion.
SHAHANI: So if suddenly everyone blocks the ads that are the main source of revenue for companies, companies can't make payroll. They can't develop new tools that we all love, et cetera, et cetera. A writer for the popular blog called "The Awl" points it out that if ad-blocking becomes ubiquitous, it would just devastate, you know, just about every professional publication on the Internet.
MCEVERS: Right. People who can write articles and get paid for them, right?
SHAHANI: That's right.
MCEVERS: Yeah. So what are the critics saying, I mean, stop all ad-blocking?
SHAHANI: Well, it's more nuanced than that. I mean, this controversy is opening up a bigger conversation about good ads and bad ads. Bad ads, some would argue, are ones that trick you into clicking - make you think you're running an antivirus scan, but really, you're just being redirected to a shopping site or ads that eat up your bandwidth. The company AdBlock Plus, you know, which has skin in the game - they're an ad-blocker - they have a short list for good ads. They say ads should be static, stuff without animation or sound suddenly blaring into your ears, and they should be marked clearly as advertisements. One ad-blocker company decided to pull their app from the Apple Store because they felt they were blocking good ads unfairly and that an all-or-nothing approach isn't OK.
MCEVERS: And one more piece of news we should touch on really quickly are - we're seeing news reports that Apple is removing hundreds of apps from its store. What's going on there?
SHAHANI: Yeah. And you know, this has nothing to do with ad-blockers. It's a cybersecurity issue. It turns out that apps were infected with malicious software. According to the security firm Palo Alto networks, some malware found in popular Chinese apps could let an attacker steal usernames and passwords. So Apple's announced that it's going to be pulling a bunch of apps.
MCEVERS: And that's NPR's Aarti Shahani. Aarti, thanks for joining us.
SHAHANI: Thank you.
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