Report Finds Gulf Between U.S. And European Ad Blockers Isn't So Wide

A research report from TUNE, a Seattle-based mobile marketing technology company, recently took a look at the differences between Americans’ and Europeans’ views regarding ad blocking.

Given that the world went upside down with this week’s news that Adblock Plus, the company whose software helps consumers block ads, is now in the ad sales business and will run an exchange, consumers’ views on ad blocking may become even more relevant.

TUNE’s report assumed that Europeans would be far more concerned about privacy than Americans, and that Europeans would block ads at much higher frequencies than Americans. The report also assumed that  Europeans would activate smartphone settings to limit the data that advertisers can track at a much higher rate.

But research findings revealed that this wasn’t exactly the case. In fact, in spite of Europeans’ reputation for being more privacy conscious and ad-averse than Americans, it turns out that Americans and the English report blocking mobile ads at just about the same frequency, with the U.K. just a hair in the lead at 24% vs. 27%.

Other findings:

-- Attitudes about what data advertisers should collect are almost identical, with many EU countries only being 4% to 6% higher than the U.S. when it comes to an interest in limiting ad tracking.

-- Americans are about twice as likely as Europeans to say they’ll pay to not see ads—at least at the $1 per year and $1 per month levels. TUNE also learned that while some consumers would pay to avoid ads in mobile apps, the amount they’re willing to give is actually less than 9% of the revenue that mobile publishers already take in from advertising.

-- Mobile ad blocking has jumped 3 x in just three months, and while some consumers would pay to avoid ads in mobile apps, the amount they’re willing to give is actually less than 9% of the revenue that mobile publishers already make from advertising. 

-- As far as “limit ad tracking” (LAT) usage goes, U.S. and EU smartphone owners report nearly identical levels: 30.4% vs. 28%, respectively.

While citizens of the EU may have different ideas than those in the U.S. about privacy regulation, Europeans and Americans might not be quite as divergent as their governments. For example, self-reported use of ad blocking and the built-in Android and iOS privacy setting, to limit ad tracking, are both very similar across the U.S. and the U.K. Hard data from hundreds of millions of devices corroborate that statistic, according to TUNE, with just 4% to 6% of EU citizens in countries such as Germany, France, Spain, and Sweden more likely to turn on anti-ad tracking settings.

In case you’re confused about what “limit ad tracking” usage means, it’s when the tracking setting on your phone is off, so you won’t offer advertisers your location and they won’t know the apps you use and  topics you favor. Advertisers can use data from ad tracking for frequency capping and for conversion measurement that tells ad networks that you actually did click on an ad. Turning ad tracking off limits the amount of data advertisers can use to target, explained John Koetsier, Mobile Economist, TUNE.

TUNE’s survey data found that ad blocking frequency is growing quickly, with downloads spiking 3x in the last three months. TUNE also analyzed data on 1.3 billion mobile app installs by about 150 million people globally, to find that global usage of the iOS and Android Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) privacy setting is significantly decreasing.

Where digital privacy is concerned, the EU has an overarching, general approach; in the U.S., it’s much more of an ad hoc and siloed approach, according to Koetsier. “One of the things we wanted to learn from the survey portion of our research was what data people think advertisers should be allowed to collect from them while serving ads,” Koestier explained.

“Clearly, people on both sides of the pond are thinking alike, as most believed that advertisers should collect ‘none at all’ [data] and very similar percentages of people selected each of the other answers. Slightly more Americans believe that advertisers should collect ‘very little data,’ and a few more say that ‘any data that is not personally identifiable’ is okay, but again, the differences are not statistically significant,” the report stated.

Some surprising findings: When asked whether consumers would pay to block ads on all apps, “the vast majority of consumers in the U.S. [65%] and Europe [nearly 80%] said they’ll spend nothing to block advertising in all their apps,” Koetsier said. “That’s shockingly high in both cases. The reality is that on mobile, ad blocking is extremely ineffective. It doesn’t work. Probably nearly 70% of apps will block ads but they’re all for the mobile web, not designed for mobile apps. People spend most of their time in apps, and those ad blockers don’t work in apps,” Koetsier explained.

TUNE surveyed nearly 4,000 smartphone owners and analyzed 1.3 billion mobile app installs by 150 million people in more than 200 countries. The research data was gathered in 2015 through January 2016 and the survey was fielded in the spring of 2016.

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