Brit publishers beg Apple not to hurt online ad revenue

Breaking news, perhaps literally: AI content blocking tool in Safari for iOS

The UK News Media Association (NMA) has written to Apple, warning that its reported plan to provide AI-powered ad blocking in iOS 18 threatens the revenue of news publications.

The iGiant is reported to be preparing to introduce an AI-powered privacy tool in its Safari browser called Web Eraser as part of its forthcoming iOS 18 update. The browser tool is supposed to provide users with a way to remove unwanted portions of web pages – whether those are ads or other content.

The NMA [membership PDF] argues that further enabling ad blocking will harm journalism, which already is feeling the impact of social media platforms de-emphasizing news distribution.

The May 10 letter, addressed to Apple's head of UK government affairs Emma Haselhurst, notes that professional journalism requires funding, and that advertising revenue is a major revenue stream for many publishers.

"Ad blocking is however a blunt instrument which frustrates the ability of content creators to sustainably fund their work and could lead to consumers missing important information which would otherwise have been very useful to them," the letter argues.

"In addition to this, the use of AI in the reported new 'Web Eraser' tool from Apple could also raise serious questions over editorial accountability, as AI tools selectively remove or change the content of articles, and the context around them."

The letter asks Apple to consult with the NMA and notes that the organization is already talking to UK lawmakers about the pending Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

Apple, which has been building its own advertising business, did not respond to a request for comment. The biz doesn't get a cut of web advertising and thus may be less concerned about ad blocking than revenue flow on iOS apps.

Since at least 2017, Cupertino has offered a similar mode in mobile Safari called "Reader." And it has actively pitched the technology as a way to hide ads: "You can use Safari Reader to view a web page article in one page, formatted for easy reading, and presented without ads, navigation, or other distracting items. You can adjust font, font size, and background color for Reader."

At the time, the Columbia Journalism Review observed that if Apple devices default to this mode, publishers will be unable to customize what readers see, get analytics beyond page views and read time, or generate ad revenue.

The CJR also claimed that "unlike ad blockers, publishers are unable to check whether a user’s device is running in reader mode." But documentation on MDN suggests that Reader Mode can be detected. Mozilla's Firefox offers a similar feature called Reader View.

Various browser extensions provide similar web page altering capabilities, though these tend to be less comprehensive on iOS than macOS or other desktop operating systems. While they are popular, they haven't entirely killed online journalism. Yet.

In 2021 Cupertino introduced another privacy feature called App Tracking Transparency that limited tracking in native iOS apps. According to a 2023 paper [PDF] from researchers based in Germany titled "Economic Impact of Opt-in versus Opt-out Requirements for Personal Data Usage: The Case of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT)," the privacy technology led to "a 21 percent fall in ad revenue from Apple users for publishers."

Web ad revenue may also suffer as a result of AI integration with search, which IT consultancy Gartner expects will reduce search volume by 25 percent by 2026. ®

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