Apple’s ad-blocking move causes big problems for retailers’ online stores

“Did you download an ad-blocking app? Good luck buying stuff online,” Dan Primack reports for Fortune. “When Apple last week released a new operating system that permits ad-blocking extensions, all sorts of media publishers protested. But a much larger outcry may soon some from retailers and those who use their iPhones to make online purchases.”

“A Fortune investigation shows that an iPhone enabled with Crystal — the top paid iOS app right now – is unable to fully render the e-commerce sites of many major retailers, including Walmart, Sears and Lululemon,” Primack reports. “The issue was first brought to our attention by Chris Mason, CEO of Branding Brand, a Pittsburgh-based company whose platform powers mobile commerce sites and apps. ‘This upcoming holiday season… content-blockers are going to cause a lot of problems,’ Mason says. ‘First, the experience for customers will be lessened. Lots of sites will be missing content, have broken links or customers won’t be able to add certain items to their shopping carts. They’ll probably just think the site is broken, but it’s really their content blocker. Second, retailers will be data-blind, or at least data-dark. It will really impact their ability to make quick judgments.'”

For example, here is what happens when we went to Sears.com on mobile Safari without Crystal:

Sears.com

Now here is what happens when we went to Sears.com with Crystal:

Sears.com

“Even if only a small number of people so far have downloaded ad-blockers, there are two trends worth remembering: (1) The percentage of e-commerce being done on mobile is increasing; and (2) A disproportionate percentage of mobile purchases are made via iPhones rather than Android devices (which have allowed for ad-blocking apps for quite some time),” Primack reports. “As for Crystal specifically, creator Dean Murphy said last night that he can remove select e-commerce sites from his app’s “blacklist,” and that he’d look into some of the examples we provided (four or five retailers already had contacted Murphy on their own, as of last night). In fact, several hours after we spoke, the Sears.com homepage was rendering properly with Crystal enabled, although we were unable to click through to many items. We also told Murphy about the Walmart shopping cart issue, and are now experiencing a similar problem as with Sears (i.e., product pages not loading at all). In short, these fixes seem to be tricky and ad hoc.”

Read more, and see the screenshots, in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The solution is simple:

Apple should require all content-blockers to offer the ability to whitelist sites that users desire to exempt from content-blocking. Crude, brute-force, all-or-nothing content-blockers should be banned from the App Store.

This should have been obvious to Apple or anyone who gave the idea of content-blockers even a few seconds of thought, but, inexplicably, Apple seems to have overlooked this issue.

Part of iOS’s attractiveness to developers, accessory makers, auto manufacturers, airlines, retailers, etc. is that iOS users have disposable income and the proven will to spend it. This is why the best apps still come first to iOS despite having 13.9% market share worldwide vs. Android’s 82.8% (IDC, August 2015). Anything that conflicts with that diminishes the attractiveness of the platform. Without requiring content-blockers to offer the ability to whitelist sites, Apple is shooting itself in the foot.

If you’ve found a good iOS content-blocker that offers effective whitelisting controls, let us know about it below!

SEE ALSO:
Rush Limbaugh: What Apple’s iOS 9 ad-blockers will unleash – September 21, 2015
iOS 9 adblocker apps top App Store charts; developer pulls ‘Peace’ adblocker – September 18, 2015
iOS 9 content blocking will transform the mobile Web – August 24, 2015
Apple’s iOS 9 ad blocking threatens Google’s lifeblood – August 14, 2015
Apple News shows that Apple wants to bolster and profit from ads, not eliminate them – July 10, 2015
Rush Limbaugh on his new Apple Watch: Really cool, pretty slow, and Siri is now pretty much flawless – May 5, 2015
Rush Limbaugh: ‘Nine out of 10 tech bloggers hate Apple’ – August 5, 2013
Rush Limbaugh: ‘High-tech lynching: Senate attempts to crucify Apple’ – May 21, 2013
Rush Limbaugh: Apple products create jobs in America – October 18, 2012

57 Comments

    1. That is untrue… completely untrue in fact. Trackers are java script based usually – if you are using java script for some of the front end for shopping carts (which many sites do) then blocking “trackers” can break the site because the blocking extension in Safari is indiscriminately stopping java script. Check the developer forums… it’s there. So yeah, the MDN take is correct – blocker apps need to be under higher scrutiny to make sure it doesn’t screw people downloading these apps from the app store.

      1. Nonsense.

        A huge percentage of sites use JavaScript for normal functionality completely independent of advertising. There’s no way these content blockers are blocking all java scripts

        We’d be seeing threads with millions of screaming users from the very first hour

        The blocking is based on the URL where each piece of content or script resides

      2. Funny – I just went to the sears site and it went just fine with my blocker on and I am using Peace which you can’t even get anymore since it blocks too much.. I guess Sears fixed the glitch?

    2. No.

      Here’s the problem: You use a shovel to work your farm. Someone goes crazy and uses a shovel to bludgeon their spouse to death. After that, using a shovel is considered “bad” by some who are incapable of granular thought. So, someone makes possible a tool that evaporates shovels. You can no longer work your farm, through no fault of your own. You are told by those who deploy the shovel evaporators to go find another way to farm.

      Javascript is the shovel.
      The crazy murderer = the worst of the online ad firms.
      The shovel evaporator maker = Apple+developers.
      The retailers are the farmers.

      1. In the real world, crazy murders are outliers. Over the top advertising on sites – even those I pay for – are VERY often intrusive and they are not outliers, they are closer to the norm. They’ve made their own beds so perhaps they can approach the task with more finesse and less cudgel.

    3. In my opinion, the problem here is the Google business model which depends on intrusive and universal tracking (spying on) our every behavior. This Peeping Tom model enables them to monitize their business by making hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year by selling our personal information to advertisers.

      Now, that business model has been adopted by many/most across the Internet, and has resulted in ads becoming the equivalent of focused online harassment. There are several companies who’s products I have blacklisted because I have felt harassed by their online ads, or more often their streaming media video ads.

      I appreciate Apple for taking a stand against online harassment, and for privacy. I hope the result will be that businesses are forced to clean up their act online in order to maintain and increase their markets.

    4. I concur with your assessment, Whatever. I consider this issue to be primarily a retailer problem. If they toss a bunch of advertisements at potential customers and we respond by blocking them, then I believe that it is the responsibility of the retailers to modify their behavior or accept the consequences. Despite faster computers and high-speed cable internet, I am encountering more and more websites that load very slowly because of all of the extra garbage. It is like going back to dial-up internet service, sometimes. Newsflash retailers – many of us just close your webpage and go elsewhere…

      From my perspective, if the ad blockers break a retail site to the point that it is not usable, then I will mostly likely just go elsewhere to buy stuff. I am not willing to waste my time adapting to their invasive website issues. Not my problem.

      the key is that consumers need to band together to demonstrate sufficient power that the retailers and advertisers modify their behaviors. If we cave in, like we apparently have for the abhorrent “freemium” game marketing strategy, then retailers and advertisers will ensure that ad blockers will basically render the internet useless, thus ensuring their “right” to waste your time and invade your privacy.

    5. Whatever, are you saying that retailers can only track users if the users’ devices allow advertisement? Why couldn’t retailers tacker persons without advertising? Is there an immutable physical law here?

    6. Not just track you, but they are farming it out to a generic tracking firm, so you aren’t just tracked on sears.com, but everywhere, and so sears.com gets to find out everywhere you go…if they pay the tracking firm…

    1. When I shop online, I use a browser to find the lowest prices, red reviews, etc. It is inconvenient to exit the browser to fire up a specific retailer’s app in order to buy the product. That certainly negatively impacts sales. Is Apple really in business to make things inconvenient for their users? That seems opposite to the company’s mission.

    2. I’m not about to gunk up my mobile with hundreds of apps for places I may shop from once or very infrequently. And I pity those with the default 16GB devices who do.

      I might do it for an Amazon (although I do all my online shopping on my Mac where I have enough real estate to research and compare products more meaningfully) – so that would give a huge advantage to the big getting bigger and the small falling in the dust

  1. I could not agree more. The Ads being served have reached a point making the data provided not worth it. I now use Ghostery, adblock, JavaScript Blocker, and GlimmerBlock to maintain a sensible browsing experience.

    Whitelisting is NOT sufficiently granular. I need control what can be tracked and what Ads I do not wish to see.

    For the time being, I will simply move on to another retailer or news site that serves me while I block annoying ADs.

  2. The ball is now in the court of those retailers. If they want to make sales, they will have to choose between tracking their customers and making actual sales.

    There are very few retailers that offer unique products that can’t be sourced elsewhere, so if their web store doesn’t work properly, somebody else will pick up that transaction.

    This whole problem has come about because retailers, site owners and advertisers decided to abuse their relationship with web users. We now have the means to redress that balance.

  3. I switched to Purify, which allows whitelisting directly within Safari. Just tried sears.com without whitelisting it and it worked fine. I am in no way affiliated with Purify or its developers, it’s just been working well for me so far.

    1. Have both Crystal and Purify. Tried loading MDN with both. Purify was really really slow. Crystal was instant. Expect that Purify has whitelisted MDN. I have no problem with whitelisting but MDN needs to reduce the extra content.

    1. Ad blockers in browsers are just that ad blockers and sometimes tracker blockers. The blockers in iOS are content blockers which not only include ads and trackers but also java. They come close to halving your download data and doubling your rendering speed. Think of what that does for your data cap and overall experience. I love them.

      1. Surely they only do what they’re developed to do though? I like as streamlined an experience as I can get regardless of the device or connection. There isn’t a fundamental reason why iOS blockers must be more disruptive. It’s down to what developers make and people decide to use.

  4. While I agree with MDN’s suggestion I think it is incumbent upon retailers to make their sites work even in the face of addblocking!
    A BUYER may be headed for a new site and quickly leave if the site functions poorly due to add blocking!
    While they are at it even funtioning retail sites should greatly improve their now sucking search feature so that buyers can find what they are looking for! Quickly!

    1. It begs the question, “Which is more important to those sites: making a sale to me or tracking me?” For me, it’s an easy choice: I move on to another vendor. And I don’t go back.

  5. I don’t see how it is Apple’s problem. A user downloads an app to better their experience and there are side effects. That’s what happens. I haven’t yet gone to an ad blocker on the iPhone but only because I rarely use the browser on the phone. I have a MacBook Air 11″ and recently was forced to go to an ad blocker. I have very little screen space and it became too difficult to see the content through the ads. I would love to support the sites I go to but I am not buying a new computer so that I can support their ads.

  6. “This would be a great business to be in if it weren’t for the customers”

    Time for retailers, web advertisers and web sites (ahem – MDN) to look in the mirror for answers instead blaming the end users for reacting to a problem they (retailers, web advertisers and web sites) created by going from ads to totally obnoxious behaviors.

    Your customer are talking you. Is anyone out there willing to take time from doing their chicken little routine and listen?

        1. Ghostery is telling me (about MDN):

          “This page was not scanned.

          Ghostery only scans ‘http’ and ‘https’ pages, and only pages loaded after Ghostery was installed.”

          Whassup with that diff between my experience and what “Regular Reader” just posted?

          Meanwhile, on Apple Insider Ghostery has logged up to 91(!!) trackers. Whassdown with that crap….

  7. MDN take: “Apple should require all content-blockers to offer the ability to whitelist sites that users desire to exempt from content-blocking.[…] inexplicably, Apple seems to have overlooked this issue.”

    Apple’s desktop Safari doesn’t even give you granular whitelists for popup windows (yes there are/were legitimate uses), why would you even think Apple for a second that they’d demand whitelisting abilities off the bat in 3rd party blocking apps on iOS?

    1. “Why would you even think Apple for a second that they’d demand whitelisting abilities off the bat in 3rd party blocking apps on iOS?”

      MDN already answered your stupid question:

      Part of iOS’s attractiveness to developers, accessory makers, auto manufacturers, airlines, retailers, etc. is that iOS users have disposable income and the proven will to spend it. This is why the best apps still come first to iOS despite having 13.9% market share worldwide vs. Android’s 82.8% (IDC, August 2015). Anything that conflicts with that diminishes the attractiveness of the platform. Without requiring content-blockers to offer the ability to whitelist sites, Apple is shooting itself in the foot.

      1. MDN didn’t answer the perfectly valid question at all. The point went “Whoosh” so far above your head you didn’t even see it.

        Popups are also used for advertising. But have legit uses, few as they are these days. Apple added popup blocking to Safari ages ago and didn’t provide granular whitelisting because it’s an additional complexity. Some sites features would fail silently and you had no idea why until you used Firefox or Chrome and it tells you the site is trying to open a new window.

        Areas on a page to inject 3rd party ads have NO legitimate use other than, duh, ads. Apple isn’t providing ad-blocking apps directly yet you unthinkingly expect them to demand and require ad-blocking apps have whitelist capabilities off the bat?

        The POINT, so it’s perfectly clear, is that Apple rarely provides additional complexities off the bat, if ever. Why then would you expect them to enforce additional complexity especially when that additional option is counter to the goal of removing ads and depriving Google and other ad companies of revenue?

        It’s not like MDN is a neutral observer here. They depend on ad revenue to keep the site free. Ironically free/cheaper-with-ads/tracking is precisely the model MDN dismisses when it comes to Spotify and Android, and at least some posters here feel the same way about free but ad-supported apps.

        1. This is why Apple needs to require granularity in content-blockers:

          “Part of iOS’s attractiveness to developers, accessory makers, auto manufacturers, airlines, retailers, etc. is that iOS users have disposable income and the proven will to spend it. This is why the best apps still come first to iOS despite having 13.9% market share worldwide vs. Android’s 82.8% (IDC, August 2015). Anything that conflicts with that diminishes the attractiveness of the platform. Without requiring content-blockers to offer the ability to whitelist sites, Apple is shooting itself in the foot.”

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