One of the more surprising features of iOS 9 was Apple's inclusion of content blocking extensions for Safari. It is now possible to install an app that acts solely as an ad blocker, allowing you to browse the internet ad-free - this might seem like an attractive idea, but inevitably in this life you don't get anythign for free, or if you do it's called theft. Let's look a bit deeper...
How to install an Ad Block app on the iPhone and iPad
The process for installing ad-blocking software is pretty straightforward. You download an app. The app doesn't tend to do much, but it provides the extension in Safari settings. If all you want is to get rid of all the ads in Safari, then Crystal is pretty much the easiest way to go about it. Here is how to set up Crystal on your iPhone.
- Download Crystal from the App Store.
- Open Settings.
- Choose Safari > Content Blockers.
- Set Crystal to On.
The process is largely the same for other Ad Blocking software. We think Crystal is the easiest software to use as the blocklist is managed for you. Open Safari and navigate to your favourite page and you should see it Ad Free.
The Content Block extension only works in the Safari app, and you will still see adverts in apps (including when you view pages inside the Facebook and Twitter apps).
Before you run along and install one of these extensions, there are a few reasons why we think you shouldn't.
If you want a free Ad blocker, then ADP Adblock Plus is your app to download. Its setup is done in the same way as listed above. When you've installed ADP, simply open the app and follow the on-screen instructions. Through the app you'll be able to set a whitelist and set what 'Acceptable Ads' should be.
The apps run in the background and don't consume too much memory, meaning you'll always have it enabled with them installed on your iOS device.
Is it safe to use Ad Blocking software on iPhone and iPad?
First things first, it is possible that some of these Ad Blockers aren't safe.
Apple has removed a bunch of Content Blockers from the App Store. This followed reports that they were running man-in-the-middle attacks (this is where software sits between yourself and website).
An Ad Blocker called Been Choice was burying itself in the root of the iOS device so it could send user network data to an offsite server. Using the root of a device is a huge security no-no, and Apple was right to bounce this sort of service from the iOS. Been Choice is being rewritten to conform to Apple's guidelines.
Content Blockers do, by their nature, monitor your web traffic and interfere with your web browsing (that's the point.)
Is it right to use Ad Blocking software on iPhone and iPad?
We're don't want to have to preach from the pulpit when it comes ad blocking, but essentially it could kill journalism as we know it. Publishers, quite rightly, are concerned that their source of income may vanish. Writers tend to be closer to readers and are torn between understanding their reader's dislike of adverts and wanting to get paid in the future and feed their families, and also wanting to promote quality journalism and the truth. None of us want to see journalism die out because it has become an unprofitable industry.
We are in an era where content is given away for free online. Some sites try and get customers to pay for content, but there is a lot of content out there so it's hard to get people to pay for something they can get for free elsewhere. Predominantly you view content for free on the assumption that you will see a few adverts. Some of that content is quality, some of it is written by a 14 year old fanatic who doesn't mind about making money, some of it is written by marketing companies on behalf of the company they are promoting (but often disguised as if it's written by members of the public or professional sites), and some of it is written by members of the public who feel like they have to say something about a bad experience (people rarely report good experienced..)
If Ad Blockers are successful in eradicating the quality content currently given away for free, based on the ad views, then all we will be left with is the less professional content. Would you rather read a review by a professional journalist, or someone posting on Amazon, or Trip Advisor, or a similar forum - bear in mind that you never know whether the positive posts are 'paid for' or posted by the manufacturer themselves, just look at the reviews on the Apple App Store if you want to see just how many fake reviews there are out there.
Ultimately, it's the readers who decide the type of Internet they want, and it's up to publishers to find ways to work within that system, rather than dictate from on high what they want the internet to be.
Whether you choose to install Ad Block software is up to you. But Apple's support of Ad Blocking is having a real impact on the internet. And it won't go unnoticed that Apple is more than happy to profit from adverts in their apps using their own ad platform - some might say that the company has double standards here.
Some apps, like Adblock Plus, are showing adverts that it deems "acceptable". These are adverts that companies are paying Adblock Plus for. So one aspect of this seems to be allowing a third-party to extract a fee from advertisers to allow their ads to be shown. Very few people are wholly comfortable with this system when they get to know of it.
It sounds like rather than getting control of content, we are just handing control to the Ad Block companies.
And Apple can happily continue to take a cut from advertising in its apps, while advertising on the web suffers. Some might suggest it's uncompetitive. Others might suggest it's a direct attack on Google.
How this will play out in the long run is anybody's guess. For the short term, at least, users are getting to enjoy the internet without ads... and essentially committing theft.
Additional reporting by Karen Haslam