Commentary

Developer Pulls Plug On Top-Selling Ad-Blocker

The developer of the ad-blocker Peace pulled the popular app from Apple's App Store on Friday, just two days after it launched.

"Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have," Marco Arment wrote today in a blog post. "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."

The $2.99 app, released Tuesday evening, quickly became one of the top paid apps sold by Apple. Around 12,000 people reportedly purchased the app within the first hours it was available.

The ad-blocking app licensed Ghostery's list of around 2,000 domains that serve third-party ads and trackers. Peace then prevented those domains from loading scripts on users' devices.

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Arment, who also created Instapaper, said today that the "all-or-nothing" approach was "too blunt."

"Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough," he wrote. "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."

Ghostery CEO Scott Meyer adds that Peace's approach "doesn't give the user the level of granularity and control that we think is consistently with the Ghostery brand."

"We tried it in beta, and didn't love the direction it was going," Meyer tells MediaPost.

People who have already purchased Peace can continue to use the app, but it won't be updated, Meyer says. Arment intends to issue refunds to app purchasers who request them.

Ghostery powers the ad industry's self-regulatory program, which requires online ad companies to notify consumers about tracking and allow them to opt out of receiving some forms of targeted ads.

The company also offers its own ad-blocking service. Unlike Peace, Ghostery's ad-blocker requires users to choose which domains to block on a company-by-company basis.

It seems likely that Ghostery will soon come under pressure to revise its own ad blocking service.

Stu Ingis, counsel to the ad trade group Digital Advertising Alliance, says that the recent events have focused more attention on Ghostery's own ad blocker. He says that while the industry hasn't developed a "formal" position, his clients "don't think ad blocking has a role" in protecting users' privacy.

"Tools that empower ad blocking ... really cut to the heart of the economic model and, if adopted, would and will really hinder consumer offerings," Ingis says.

Obviously, however, Peace's popularity during its brief existence demonstrates that consumers not only want ad-blocking services, but are willing to pay for them. Even though Arment has pulled the plug on the project, other developers almost certainly will step up to meet that demand.

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