Take the two big, most recent challenges to the way digital advertising works. First, we have the European Court of Justice (ECJ) saying that safe harbour rules no longer apply and that data about our Internet use cannot be sent to America to help the tech giants serve us ads targetted around our behaviour. The reason provided is snooping by American spooks, namely the National Security Agency (NSA), following Snowden's revelations that eavesdroppers on the other side of the pond can intercept messages and even take control of smart phones remotely.
Two thoughts spring to mind. The most obvious is that the security agencies probably don't need data to be sitting in -- or flowing to -- America in order to eavesdrop on it. I have no idea about the finer details of their work, but I'd wager the ruling will hamper them in the short term but not set them back to square one. Another point, for anyone in the know, is that American data protection rules are as tight, if not tighter, than any European country's. If there's a leak in America, it's the law that affected people have to be informed. In the UK, big brands will typically sit back and try to ride it out. Ask anyone in data where they would rather have a leak and they'll tell you, without a doubt, that the UK and the EU are far preferable to the United States.
Which brings us neatly on to Apple approving an in-app ad blocker. What on earth is the tech giant doing? Consumers may, wrongly, claim they don't realise Internet services that are free are subsidised by advertising, but there is no excuse with apps. There is just about always an option to have the app for free, supporting by advertising, or to turn off the ads for a small fee. The amounts charged for apps are tiny. Most cost under a pound, and a few might go over to a couple or even as much as a fiver. Bear in mind that these are often cut-down versions of games that would cost twenty to forty pounds for a game console version and you get an idea how ridiculously cheap the new app economy we live in truly is.
The vast majority of app developers make no money. They really don't, and those that do will generally make some money up front and then the revenue will dwindle as the app gets opened less frequently until it is eventually culled to make space on the device.
Clearly, the ad blocker developers do not care. They will sell an app for a couple of pounds and amass considerable revenue. For the rest of the industry, where does it leave us? Well, you can only imagine fewer apps will be made available on an ad-supported model and will instead be sold for a higher fee -- one that more closely reflects the work put in and the value to the customer.
It's the same with ad blocking on desktop and mobile Internet. The digital pickpockets must surely understand that advertising pays for the services they wish to consume, yet they seem more than happy to let other people receive their ads while they carry on blocking.
At what point is common sense going to kick in and people realise they have never had it so good? A small device in your pocket can pick up news articles and video clips around the world, more often than not for free. If people seriously think that can continue by blocking ads on the Internet -- and now, within apps, then they are seriously deluded. If they want to get righteous about data on their Internet browsing crossing the Atlantic so they can be fed more relevant ads, then they can learn to live with the consequences of ads either being less targeted or previously free services being forced to bring in subscription fees. Make no mistake -- this will hit startups more than it will ever affect a Google or a Facebook that can simply order a bunch of servers and get EU data crunched within the EU.
The point is that the authorities and the public have to wake up. This amazing Internet we have now started to take for granted has people behind it who need to get paid. If you don't want to swap data in exchange for free services and if you don't want to consume ads for free information, then there are two outcomes -- receive untargetted ads and reach for the credit card to pay for what you thought would always be free.