Marco Arment, internet pundit and creator of Instapaper, has decided to stop selling his wildly-popular ad blocker, Peace, for iOS 9. His reason? It “just doesn’t feel good.” But there’s more to it than that.
Like many other entrepreneurs, Arment released his ad blocker on Wednesday, when the release of iOS 9 meant Apple mobile users could finally block ads. Like many publications, Gizmodo pointed out that Apple’s strategy here wasn’t about protecting consumers. Ad blockers destroy the revenue models for many small publishers online, who depend on ad money to pay their writers and editors. And with its News app, Apple is clearly exploring the publishing platform business. So Apple had good reason to undermine other publishers.
Arment says that Peace was the number one paid app in the App Store for 36 hours, and that was part of what made him rethink his choice.
Wrote Arment on his blog today:
Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. 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. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. 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 ... I’ve learned over the last few crazy days that I don’t feel good making one and being the arbiter of what’s blocked.
He notes that he still feels that ad blockers are necessary, and he still supports Ghostery’s efforts.
But it sounds like Arment has also realised that ad blockers aren’t a perfectly ethical solution to the problems with spyware-laced advertising online. The situation is complicated, and he’s looking for a “more nuanced” approach. Which — this is a pretty rare thing for an entrepreneur to do.
Let’s hope that his decision inspires other developers, publishers, and entrepreneurs to rethink their strategies too.