Apple’s Doublespeak About Ad Blocking

The announcement that Apple was building hooks for ad blockers into Safari with the release of El Capitan and into its mobile platform with IOS9, combined with the forcefulness of Tim Cook’s big speech on how Apple respects the privacy of its users has raised the level of confusion or maybe pure hypocrisy around the use of consumer data to target ads to an astronomical level.

Who can blame the consumer for thinking large companies are “selling” their data, and with it their privacy to evil third parties.
Unpacking what Cook said: “of course Apple will not sell your customer data because we value your privacy and selling data isn’t our business model,” we look at it in juxtaposition to “come over to our iAd platform with your ad dollars because we have the best data about the most desirable users on our own platform. Of course Apple isn’t selling your data to someone else, because they’re using it themselves. And do you think the ad blockers will work for the ads served by Apple’s own iAd network? We don’t.

Facebook and Google aren’t selling your data either. They, too, are using it themselves to target ads. It would destroy their business model if they sold data at low prices instead of using it to sell advertising at high prices.

The language (data and privacy) with which the entire issue of free content, advertising and ad blockers is being presented to the consumer by the big platforms is misleading to say the least. Consumers are installing Ghostery and AdBlockerPlus not because they mind ads but because they fear surveillance and loss of privacy. But ironically, the issue isn’t privacy or surveillance. It is seeing advertising in return for free content.

We are long overdue for a broad conversation, probably best led by a collective of premium publishers, on the trade offs involved in keeping content free. We’re also long overdue for the kind of opportunity presented by native advertising and kick butt creative.

Why did users tolerate the kind of mass advertising presented on TV? Because television brought us the most creative content and creative moments in advertising. There were three components of ads during the Golden Age of advertising:
1. Ads weren’t targeted, so users didn’t feel threatened that someone was referring to them specifically.
2. Ads were clever and often compelling, telling memorable stories with high production values. Creative directors like Don Draper were prized.
3. Ads were often presented as sponsorships, in the way the Milton Berle show was “brought to you by Texaco.” Thank you, Texaco for bringing us Uncle Milty. Consumers understood: if you want to see this, you watch the ad and maybe end up humming the jingle.

Now the ad and the content are often quite removed from each other, leaving the consumer unenlightened about her role in the bargain.

It’s time to remind the consumer that there is no Uncle Milty without Texaco. We did it for TV and we can do it again for digital publishing.