The maker of Peace, a bestselling ad blocker for iPhones, has pulled the app just days after its launch saying the app’s success “just doesn’t feel good”.
Marco Arment, co-founder of Tumblr and creator of the Instapaper reading app, launched Peace on 16 September. The $2.99 app became the bestselling app in Apple’s iTunes store almost overnight.
Peace takes advantage of iOS 9, Apple’s newly updated mobile software, to filter out mobile ads and tracking on other apps and websites. Mobile advertising is the fastest growing sector of the ad business and seen by most publishers as vital to their future finances.
But mobile ads face mounting controversy with their use of “tracking” to follow users and lack of clarity over how people’s personal information is shared.
Web advertising and behavioral tracking are “out of control”, Arment wrote when he launched the app. “They’re unacceptably creepy, bloated, annoying, and insecure, and they’re getting worse at an alarming pace.”
Ad and tracker abuse is an even bigger issue on mobile than on a desktop, he said, where ads are much larger and harder to dismiss, trackers are harder to detect and they slow down page loads, drain battery power and waste cellular data. They are also “increasingly used as vectors for malware, exploits and fraud”.
Critics were quick to highlight that Arment was profiting from an app that blocked others from making money on mobile.
And after witnessing the success of the app Arment concluded that the damage to ad-supported content that would have been affected by the ad blocker was too much.
“Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have,” he wrote on Friday.
“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. Peace required that all ads be treated the same – all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white ... 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.”
Arment offered people who have downloaded the app a refund and suggested alternatives, Purify and Crystal, which are both currently bestsellers too. The app will still work for those that have downloaded it but will not be updated.
“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. I see war in the Tao Te Ching sense: it should be avoided when possible; when that isn’t possible, war should be entered solemnly, not celebrated,” he wrote.
“Even though I’m ‘winning’, I’ve enjoyed none of it. That’s why I’m withdrawing from the market,” wrote Arment. “It’s simply not worth it. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to turn away an opportunity like this, and I don’t begrudge anyone else who wants to try it. I’m just not built for this business.”
This article was written by Dominic Rushe, for theguardian.com on Friday 18th September 2015 20.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010