Category: Blog

iOS app always free but optional tips for publishers


We launched a better FREE ad blocker for iOS 10 called “Optimal BLOCK” (it will always be free! See based on DNS, which works very well to block ads in multiple browsers and apps. We hope the app helps consumers reduce their data usage (ads on the mobile web double a user’s bandwidth and battery use!) and lets publishers have a chance at getting donations from people instead of interrupting their mobile usage. Here’s how:

  1. We offer a separate and optional way to tip websites amounts ranging from $0.01 to $1.00. We are able to give publishers 100% of these tips by charging a $1/month membership fee to participate
  2. There’s a lot of potential for this to help publishers benefit when they write great articles: conducted two online surveys asking consumers to value news content: (a) 9% of people felt the average online news article they read was worth a $1.00 donation; (b) Most people felt fewer than 10% of news stories were worth a 10c donation; (c) For comparison, it costs you more per MINUTE to drive your car (23c) than you are worth in ad revenue in an HOUR of watching TV in the US (18c). Detailed data from a survey we conducted on attitudes towards advertising and blocking are at
  3. We’ll open up a web interface for publishers to confirm the websites they own and claim their funds on 12/15/2016

You can register and sign up here. Thanks and, as always, let us know your thoughts!

Featured on Product Hunt & Tipping Update

Our Optimal BLOCK iOS 10 app was featured on Product Hunt yesterday (>100 votes and counting) – and our CEO replied to a few questions there about the app and our service.

One thing the team is working on is a lower price-point start for being able to tip websites small amounts (1c to $1.00). Stay tuned for that, more details will be posted here when that is ready to be tested.

As always, please try the app if you’re on iOS (we also just added a FAQ we’ll continue to expand) and let us know what you think!

Optimal BLOCK now live on iOS 10!

Our new FREE cross-browser iOS 10 ad/tracking blocking app, Optimal BLOCK, is live on the App Store:
• use 52% less mobile data
• stop unwanted distractions and malware
• avoid fake and deceptive websites
• use less battery by loading 66% fewer URLs per page
• gives you the option to support your favorite sites
Turn blocking on or off immediately with this app.
It’s totally free, and we look forward to hearing your feedback!

The ad blocker beta launch!

You can now try our beta cross-browser ad blocker. It’s free and always will be.

Give it a try and let us know what you think! Lots of hard work went into it, but we anticipate a lot more so please guide us as you try it out (US and UK only for now).

Update -> No more blocker ratings, new product coming!

After spending a lot of time talking to various ad blocking companies and surveying the landscape, we realized that what we wanted to achieve (a way to protect your data, privacy and attention that doesn’t destroy the publishing world!) would require us to build a better ad blocker which also gives people the opportunity to express which sites and articles they love most. Thus if you visit today, you’ll notice you can still subscribe to a $5.99/month payment to reimburse publishers for some of the revenue they lose via ad blocking, and you can still “tip” individual sites one-time amounts ranging from $0.01 to $1.00, but we no longer have the listings of various ad blocking tools on platforms. (If you’re a publication interested in licensing that test data from us please send me a DM on Twitter to discuss).

Our blocker will work across multiple browsers and platforms and give users a great experience, reflect all that we’ve learned over the past many months about what works and what doesn’t, and will provide a future path for publishers to participate in a new consumer-centric data-driven ad economy that does not disrupt the user’s attention with irrelevant ads. I wrote about what I think the future holds for interactive advertising, and I encourage you to read it to see the direction we are headed.

It’s almost ready. Sign up to be notified when you can try it.

“From Around the Web” and Other Fictions

This first appeared on Medium.

Using my organic followers as well as running Twitter ads to get this in front of a general US consumer base of people I’m not connected to, I surveyed consumers on Twitter in a few different ways about their perceptions of ad disclosures. Per my reading of the new FTC guidelines on Native Advertising, “From Around the Web” (which is widely used) doesn’t appear to meet their standards for disclosing that the items in that section are, in fact, advertisements. Consumers appear to agree, selecting “Paid Advertisement” 6.5 times more frequently than “From Around the Web” in this poll. “Paid Advertisement” is disclosure language that is specifically mentioned as acceptable by the FTC.



A prior poll I had conducted, compared “Ad Content” directly with “From Around the Web” and asked which was preferred, or if neither was acceptable. Turns out 35% of people thought neither was clear disclosure, and 8 times more thought “Ad Content” was okay versus “From Around the Web”:



It’s Getting More Confusing

Some websites have slight variations like “From the Web” (NBC News or theDaily Mail). Other sites have resorted to new euphemisms like “You May Like” (Huffington Post), “Sponsored Stories” (Ars Technica or ABC News), or “Sponsored Stories you May Like (FoxNews). Slightly better is “Paid Content” (CNN), but then that same page also has “Content from LendingTree” with lighter text above it saying “Advertisement”. Sometimes the vendor like Taboola or Outbrain adds smaller text on the right hand said saying “Sponsored links by”, but sometimes nothing, or simply the text “Recommended by” and their logo. It’s all Very Confusing!

I’d ask as a consumer that the language around these ad units be standardized, and I hope the FTC will take a closer look and present some better guidelines.

Free iOS Content/Tracking Blocker

My team (cofounder Jamie McCrindle to be precise) built a free ad- and tracker-blocking app for iOS 9+, that is available in the Apple App Store here. We ran it through the same tests we’ve done for 200+ other blockers, and it turns out to be one of the best.


We hope you’ll use it in conjunction with our subscription service, but you don’t have to. It’s totally free, so give it a try. Remember, that you’ll need to be running iOS 9 or newer, and it works in the Safari browser only.

Did I mention that it’s FREE? Try it here.

The Subprime Ad Crisis is Here

Troubling Similarities Between Ads 2016 & Mortgages 2008

This first appeared on Medium.


In the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book ‘The Big Short’, Mark Baum (played by Steve Carell) explains the shortsighted thinking that led to the subprime mortgage meltdown:

We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball… What bothers me isn’t that fraud is not nice. Or that fraud is mean. For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that? I thought we were better than this, I really did.

The advertising and media world have likewise wrongly been focused on short-term outcomes, and via disjointed incentives have either perpetrated outright fraud on their customers and/or the public, or have stood by while other companies they’ve trusted have done so.

  1. Lying to, and trading against, your customers. Investment banks lied to, and have traded ahead of (“front-run”), their customers over the years. In this regard, Goldman Sachs in 2016 agreed to pay a $5 billion settlement, for issues stemming from the 2008 mortgage crisis. The subprime advertising equivalent: the ANA released a report claiming that advertising agencies defrauded their own customers by failing to disclose rebates they received from vendors, and also routinely act as principals in buying ad impressions and then reselling them to clients at 30–90% markups.
  2. Low quality + high quality = high quality(?). Mortgages were bundled together into tranches by quality, but the poor quality tranches didn’t actually diminish the credit rating of the overall product even as they were failing at higher-than-expected rates. The failure of these poor quality mortgages in many cases caused the entire mortgage-backed security to default. Online, (as highlighted in this ‘clickbait & traffic laundering’ report by Kalkis Research) aggregators like Taboola, Outbrain and RevContent help publishers launder suspect or NSFW traffic, and in so doing let them buy extra impressions they need to fulfill their highest CPM ad campaigns. This is something called “sourced traffic” and the majority of advertisers have no idea this is happening.
  3. Big sales commissions could mean lower standards. You didn’t need a college education to make $250,000 a year as a mortgage broker (see the title image, above) back in 2004–2006, the go-go days of “poor credit? accepted!” adjustable-rate mortgages. Subprime mortgages paid the banks more and they in turn gave sales bigger “rips”: salespeople focused on getting those generous commissions worked extra hard to make sure almost anyone could qualify for a mortgage, and fueled by online refinance leads they bought from companies like NexTag, LowerMyBills and LendingTree they did just that. In online advertising, ad networks and their salespeople have continually lowered their standards to allowalmost anyone to run an ad campaign with just an email address and a valid credit card. White Ops has shown at a security conference how a hacker could theoretically distribute malware to user’s machines thanks to lax online ad policies. And don’t kid yourselves — malware ad campaigns show up even on sites like
  4. You and your data being resold. Mortgages are packaged up and resold, with the entity that you initially did business with often having no stake in your financial product in future. Similarly, your personal information is being resold by the sites you visit, via third party data brokers, ending up who-knows-where. This creates incentives for data collection for entities with no concern for the consumer (the “nosy neighbor” I described here), since the collector doesn’t have to deal with any of the downstream consequences.
  5. Regulatory entities paid by the firms they regulate. The major ratings agencies like S&P and Moody’s failed to sound the alarm about potentially toxic CDOs and mortgage-backed securities from 2006–2008, partially since they were paid by the banks whose products they are regulating. A comparison could be made to the IAB, who takes a great deal of money from ad technology companies and ad networks, even as it supposedly tries to set standards and lobbies to retain self-regulation for the online ad industry. The loser ends up being the consumer.
  6. Trying too hard to make something a commodity. The fundamental premise behind creating these toxic mortgage and debt securities was that you could take dissimilar things (a $120,000 loan to an insurance salesman in Naples, Florida, and a $400,000 loan made to a BART driver and his wife in Alameda, California, for example) and find enough similarities to turn them into a tradable commodity for Wall Street. Over time, these representations become more and more disconnected from reality as the fundamental characteristics of the underlying data/items change, and the nuances are ignored. Ad exchanges and “programmatic ad buying” have also perpetrated this fiction by letting ad buyers ‘trade’ online ad impressions, and buy user data segments like ‘auto intenders-last 14 days’. The more this is done, the easier it is for bad actors to game like introducing bot-impressions into this commodity mix, bundling lower-quality impressions (e.g. the 7th ad on a single page), stretch the definition of these categories (reading a motorsport article is kind of like intending to buy a minivan, right?) and worse.
  7. Nobody knows who is actually paying the bills. Wall Street built proprietary trading operations where (in many cases) a group of 100 or fewer professionals could be making more profit than the other 10,000 employees of the company. I don’t believe that journalists understand how their salaries are paid, and do not have a notion of which ads are making the most money for their employers (and troublingly, the extent to which these ads and offers are outright fraudulent). I’ve yet to see any journalist from a major publication address this in an article.
  8. Buying stuff you can’t afford. There is recent evidence that celebrities hired by big food companies appear in food ads aimed at children that are helping to make our kids fat. Too many financial institutions relaxed their standards and pushed unsuitable mortgage products (no-interest periods, and/or negative-amortization loans) on consumers, putting them into homes and loans they couldn’t afford. Ads with false claims (with a bit of help from our overconfident human nature) help us convince ourselves we need things we really don’t need.
  9. Taking advantage of the weakest among us. As Professor Scott Galloway of NYU says, “Advertising is increasingly a tax that poor people or the technologically unsophisticated pay,” — if you’ve ever signed a mortgage agreement, you’ve agreed to lots of fine print spread across hundreds of pages. Hidden in these pages may be hidden time bombs like adjustable “teaser” rates (which were heavily advertised by those aforementioned companies in online ads) that are going to disappear quickly, and could leave the consumer with monthly payments that double or triple. I’ve spoken to consumers who clicked on online ads on major websites, signed up for a free trial of weight loss pills and who ended up being charged hundreds of dollars and/or wasting their time in disputes with credit card companies. While you and I *might* pride ourselves on never clicking on these ads and not being fooled, those that do are the people paying for the news content that we consume.
  10. Gone before the music stops. Sadly, shady ad networks, agency- and ad tech execs alike have more in common with investment bankers and mortgage brokers than they’d like to admit. Everyone wants to collect their bonuses and cash out before the music stops. Look at that ad sales guy’s laptop while they’re camped out at Starbucks (hoping to “run into” the agency media buyer who sometimes stops in there); I bet you $5 they’re running an ad blocker. They know the risks.

“Ad blocking” can magnify these problems quickly

As Lewis’ book explains, the subprime debt crisis was created by the crazy, opaque leverage that banks and mortgage investors had, which magnified the impact of losses in loan portfolios to a catastrophic extent that threatened the entire economic system. If the marketing and media business implodes, it may not cause a collapse of the same magnitude, but these firms are trusting too many third parties who are now magnifying their problems. I currently trust the quality of content from the New York Times and also implicitly the quality of the ads they show, but as they outsource their ads to others, these two things become more and more disconnected — and the leverage multiplier can be a simple tool called an ad blocker, that if I decide to install, immediately destroys not only the New York Time’s ability to show me ads, but the ability of every other website too. Leverage!

The Subprime Ad Crisis has arrived

Joe Marchese wrote a great post back in 2014 called “The Coming Subprime Advertising Crisis”. He summed it up well (my emphasis): “I don’t think we have the sense of urgency we need. And we need that because, unlike the financial services industry, advertising is not too big to fail… because online display ads are so terrible and so oversaturated, most ordinary people don’t particularly like advertising and wouldn’t care if it went away.”

The wolf is at the door. All is not yet lost, but it is time to get serious about fixing it.

Download the Ad Block Survey & Forecast

We have made the / Wells Fargo Securities ad blocking consumer survey and our 2016-2020 US Ad Blocking Revenue Loss Forecast available now in two formats, PDF and as a Slideshare. You can also download the chart data by visiting this link.

We Hope the FTC Takes a Close Look at Ad Blocking

learned from a reporter’s phone call last Friday that the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) has filed a complaint with the FTC that mentions several companies in the ad blocking arena, specifically, (where I am the CEO), Eyeo GmbH (the creator of Adblock Plus), Flattr who is partnering with Eyeo, and Brave Software, Inc.

It appears to me that while the NAA does want the FTC to look at the practices of the aforementioned companies, they also wished to avoid consumer publicity (which research has shown might inadvertently increase the adoption of ad blocking by increasing consumer awareness) — which they might achieve by posting this late on the Thursday before a long weekend.

I quickly wish to point out a few inaccuracies in this document, and also offer, as I have previously to publishers, trade organizations (I’ve twice spoken at Digital Content Next events and explained in detail what we’re doing to their premium publisher audience, including at least one NAA representative in the last few weeks) and consumers, to speak about / debate / and describe the problems that the online advertising ecosystem faces and offer potential solutions to these problems. As an example, this unfortunate issue should not be happening today. While largely due to third parties who serve this traffic, malware is a huge problem that ad blocking helps millions of users avoid.

This is the first bit in the document I want to address:


First, we’ve clearly specified publicly (including in the aforementioned presentation) that 70% of the amounts we collect will be paid to publishers. We’ve also said that we chose that amount so that the aggregate publisher share reflects the amount of mobile display advertising revenue in the US (per eMarketer publicly-shared data), excluding Facebook’s native ad revenue, that is available to mobile web publishers.

Second, since we only launched very recently, we have built but haven’t yet made available to publishers the mechanism available to claim their funds from us, but we will soon. We have already started outreach to publishers to come and sign up for a mailing list to be informed when that is. We will also give them ample time to come and do so (a minimum of 12 months from when we launch this feature).

Third, while we’ll be using industry best practices for domain confirmation (as pioneered by companies like Google), and we’ll be reaching out directly to publishers to establish direct payment relationships, we’re open to a variety of mechanisms for publishers to help us make sure that fraudsters don’t attempt to collect the funds we’ve set aside for them, just as fraudsters and ad tech companies currently eat up (according to the IAB/PwC, the majority -> not a typo -> 55% of programmatic ad revenue goes to ad tech companies, not publishers) a lot of revenue that advertisers might think is intended for website owners. Happy to consider: just send us your thoughts, you know how to reach us!


We are providing a mechanism for people who are blocking ads to pay for it. It is a subtle distinction, but think of if like National Public Radio (NPR). Anyone can listen to NPR for free (just as most can and do, block ads for free with no payment to publishers), but some portion of users are encouraged by NPR to make a donation of some nonzero amount. There is no set scale, no validation of whether someone has paid, and the end product is no different whether you pay or not, but these donations represent (I believe) 39% of NPR’s operations budget. Also, very important to note that users can always see how much money each publisher is getting from them, and can upvote/downvote a publisher mostly to provide a signal of quality to other subscribers. The publishers creating the best content should do well with consumers’ votes! And although that does to a very small extent influence their revenue share, it’s an order of magnitude smaller than the third-party traffic figures that determine their starting share which publishers also control.

We provide two major mechanisms for the user to voluntarily increase the amount of money they pay a given publisher:

  1. The user can “tip” any publisher an amount of $0.01 to $1.00 per month, that gets added to their subscription. If you read a great article, you can immediately reward that publisher an amount far in excess of what a few extra banners would bring.
  2. The user can favorite up to 5 sites, immediately increasing their revenue share in a visible way in the interface.

These are clearly outlined in a slide that we presented at the DCN event, whose audience included an NAA representative, and of course are on the website for subscribers:


I want to help explain TODAY’S ad ecosystem to the FTC

I’ve helped the Federal Trade Commission before, and I welcome the opportunity to do so again, about ad blocking and more broadly the online advertising market and it’s problems. They have not been very visible nor vocal in the debate so far despite my recent attempts to engage them! Previously, I presented at their Consumer Information Security Workshop (when I was an analyst at Jupiter Research), and a few years ago when Facebook had announced plans to acquire Instagram, I provided expert opinion to the FTC upon their request about the effects of the deal on the then-nascent mobile advertising market. But today’s ad environment is getting worse by the day, and plagued by disjointed incentives that put the consumer last (if they consider her at all)!

Readers of my Medium posts will know well where I stand on many of these issues. I’d encourage the FTC to read some of the articles here and the survey research we’ve released along with our partner Wells Fargo Securities that you can find here.

A consumer has a right to block ads and protect themselves from malware — we’re providing a way for users to pay more than they currently are ($0.00) when they block ads. We welcome the dialog!

PS. the reporter who called me happened to mention that he uses an adblocker on his personal computer. He is not (yet) an customer paying publishers to do so.