Category: News

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!

In 2016, 14% of Users are Blocking Ads

Data shows big differences in adblocking by country is building an adblocking service to help consumers, and we also give major websites tools to measure the rate at which users are blocking ads on their pages.

Below is a summary of data we’ve collected anonymously from over 30 million users from 1/1/16 to 2/13/16. We plan to release more aggregate information in the near future, especially to understand the many differences between mobile and desktop ad blocking. On this latter point for now I will only say that desktop adblocking is approximately 10x more prevalent than mobile adblocking (for the time being).

While our dataset has visits from over 240 countries, the traffic profile is somewhat skewed to the United States, so we ended up with an unweighted average blocking rate of 13.7% and a weighted rate of 14.0% (we used Internet Live Stats to weight by internet user%).

Here is the summary by top 50 countries for combined mobile and desktop ad blocking, with a comparison to the US% of 11.7%, ordered by their rank in our sample but also showing their rank when weighted figures are used:

As you can see, adblocking is far more prevalent in Europe with Poland leading the way at 31.2% on average! South Africa, the Philippines and South Korea are examples of large countries with adblocking rates under 10%. Smaller but still interesting, here are the next 50 countries, 51–100:

Data Source:, 2/14/16 All Rights Reserved

Advertising Needs to Become Harder to Buy

Can we shift to fewer, more expensive ads?

We trust television ads far more than online ads. We’ll get back to that in a moment, with some hard numbers.

Google built the world’s easiest-to-use advertising system, which now nets them over $67 billion in ad revenue per year (2015). Almost anyone with a credit card can start buying ads for a few dollars, and send traffic to a website (which can now be setup for free or very little, with free or low-cost tracking and optimization software — heck, Google Analytics is free!).

According to the Wall Street Journal, in addition to automated systems that stop many pattern-matched bad ads from ever being placed, “more than 1,000 of Google’s 60,000 employees monitor and remove ads”. And yet, while Google’s advertising growth was 13% from 2014 to 2015, the growth in the number of ads it removes was 3 1/2 times higher than that.

In 2015, Google removed over 780 million ads from its system! And undoubtedly, a lot of them were being uploaded by many of the the same questionable advertisers, popping up again and again. And for publishers, supply platforms/exchanges and networks without some of the scalable automation Google uses, it’s even more difficult to manage.



Source: WSJ, Google

Online advertising has also become easier to buy via other companies and intermediaries working with them who have launched self-service buying systems on top of ad companies’ APIs, like Facebook’s and Google’s.

In addition, “content ad” companies like Taboola, Outbrain, and RevContent aggregate thousands of small (sometimes fraudulent, and often whack-a-mole) advertisers themselves, and help them end up on premium publisher websites. Publishers throw up their hands and disclaim responsibility for what ends up on their site, except perhaps if the little image accompanying the ad is too NSFW.

Consumers still trust television advertising far more than online advertising — and their “trust” (loaded word that is) for online ads skews high because of the incredible depth and breadth of information available online (as seen by trust in search engine ads being higher than in other online ads). By the way, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Trust in Advertising Survey points out some significant differences between US and European users. Both groups have similar trust in recommendations from people they know, but Americans are far more trusting of all forms of advertising than Europeans are.


That said — at 63% vs. 39% for Americans, for TV ad trust compared to trust in mobile ads (62% higher), and 45% vs. 26% for Europeans (73% higher), the phenomenon is of a similar scale. But trust is a fragile thing, and can easily be lost.

In their widely-cited article in the Journal of Marketing Research, “The Defensive Consumer: Advertising Deception, Defensive Processing, and Distrust”(2007), Peter R. Darke and Robin J. B. Ritchie find that all advertising suffers when consumers encounter deceptive advertising, and that we then revert to some of the negative stereotypes we may already have about advertising and its claims in general.


Source: Darke and Ritchie, 2007

Even the best advertisers thus suffer when bad advertisers push consumers to distrust advertising. What is the solution? Could it be to drastically reduce the number of ads (which will increase consumer attention and response rates) while increasing the hurdles to buying them, not by inefficiency in creating or buying them (which has been a problem many online platforms have looked to address), but instead by drastically lowering the number of ads available online and increasing their prices.

While it seems easier than ever for people to get themselves onto (reality?) television, there’s evidence that we still judge the money it takes for a brand to get onto television as a barrier worthy of according some trust to (“why would they spend all this money to lie to us?”).

The average cost for producing a national 30-second TV commercial rose at a rate similar to inflation over the past 20 years, to over $350,000 in 2011. What’s important to note is that they did NOT come down significantly despite rapid technology changes over that time period — the barrier to creating big-screen advertising remains high. But of course, our point here is to mainly examine online ads, not television. The cost of creating an online ad, if video, could be significant, but on average it is a lot closer to zero than to $350k.

Source: American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Television Production Cost Survey
Source: American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Television Production Cost Survey

Big Brands Don’t Have TV Advantages as Easily Online

Brands could have (but typically don’t exercise) a lesser- but significant advantage of being able to spend lavishly to build a high-impact, super-engaging digital ad, that they are used to (and in fact, have to be) doing in the television world. But I think they’re afraid and confused, perhaps rightly so, because their spend is routinely marginalized by direct response advertisers who know when they can put in a dollar to make three, and have found that they can sometimes piggyback on others’ production values (by straight-up cheaply copying the look and feel of legitimate websites) and they aggressively ferret out the online ad spaces that convert into weight-loss or muscle supplement subscriptions, auto insurance quotes or mortgage applications.

In TV, the top 200 national advertisers account for two-thirds of TV spending…


Change is Hard

Nobody is going to get rid of the advertising dreck overnight, and big advertisers aren’t going to suddenly pay 5x higher prices… unless that is, there is an immediate step-function change in advertising space and availability. People will have to be able to make hard decisions and weather the storm of temporarily reduced revenue.

One way that is happening (sort-of) is via adblocking, but the problem is this:

A 50% reduction in ad space because 50% of people are blocking ALL ads is NOT the same as everyone blocking 50% of the ads they would otherwise see

One problem with adblocking is that blocking is currently mostly an all-or-nothing proposition for an individual. We need to reduce ad supply and increase demand as response rates presumably increase, but we also need to create innovation and new models that split up the results of this binary-adblocking-decision users are (being pushed into) making.

That said, we’re going to have to get rid of 60+% of the ad space out there, maybe even more, and with increasing prices and improving consumer acceptance and response rates, I think we have a shot at a stable or growing ad market if we do it right. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to happen, just that it has to: time to start thinking creatively once again.

“Turn off your Adblocker” is a Mistake

Websites should fix their ads before asking users to take risks

I applaud for being one of the first to take a stand and do something to protect their ad revenue. When I was at Root Markets in 2006, Forbes and the New York Times were two of the first publishers with whom we tested our unique approach to online advertising (that was ultimately a failure, but more about that some other time). Forbe’s initiative to block adblockers, however, is a big mistake and here are the three reasons why:

1. The “Circle of Trust” is still too big. The problem isn’t that websites like Forbes can’t trust their partners. It’s that they can’t trust who their partners choose to trust. As my friend Don Marti points out, even Google is serving malware through its ads. I’ve written several other items about this problem, but let me be clear for publishers: If you’re asking consumers to turn off adblockers that currently may protect them from malware that your ad partners may serve, the onus is more than ever on YOU to be absolutely sure that you won’t serve them that malware. This means that you need to take down all third-party ad tags/javascript because you simply cannot be sure they’re not going to serve bad code. Realize too the following important aspect of this issue:

Adblocking is no longer only about annoyance; it’s now also about protecting your device(s) and network from malware

2. The Adblocking Prisoner’s Dilemma. Forbes’ Lewis Dvorkin shared the following statistics about their recent ad blocking test, asking a subset of their users to turn off their adblockers in order to continue reading Forbes’ content (Source: Lewis Dvorkin,


manyarticlesThe Prisoner’s Dilemma in this case refers to the situation that faces the majority of website publishers, in my opinion. If every site could block ad blockers, all publishers would be better off. But in a world of multiple sources for the same story, users can easily hit the back button or choose a different source for a story, from aggregators like Techmeme. This means that websites that “defect” and don’t block adblockers, will potentially see more users for commodity content than their brethren that block adblockers.


To me the important numbers I’d want from the Forbes test are the ones in yellow below, to see retention rates of those users in these groups compared to the average visitor:


3. Consumers may tell their friends about you. Look at the tweet I started this piece with. Over 4,400 retweets and counting. If the average retweet gets (let’s say) 100 impressions, that’s 440,000 people from one tweet alone who now may think twice before clicking a link on social media or elsewhere, if they are adblock users. They don’t think the website will respect their adblocking wishes, they may never visit. This effect is more difficult for the publisher to measure directly but make no mistake, when combined with other (I am sad to say but it is true that these are) everyday occurrences like malware being served to a Windows user via your website, the anti-consumer sentiment from blocking adblockers may just not be worth it. Here is a quick example:

It might be the case that we are headed back to a world of premium publishers serving up their own ads, knowing who the actual advertisers are, and so being able to assure the consumer that turning off the adblocker will have no negative consequences. But we are a long way from that — the adtech-industrial complex is deeply embedded with premium publishers and that won’t unwind quickly or easily.

OTOH I believe that you should get to have your cake and eat it — adblocking users should have an opportunity to still support websites AND block ads. Hopefully over time, paid-adblocking will become a standard. To learn more, visit to sign up for updates -> we’re launching soon. Business Insider did a nice write up about what we’re planning. So did Forbes (oh, and Techcrunch).

Here are some other things I’ve written related to the Brave New advertising world, all of which I hope you will read some time!

  1. The Mobile Video Ad Lie
  2. Carriers are making more from mobile ads than publishers are
  3. Mobile video ad lies continue
  4. Your TV attention is worth just 18cents an hour
  5. Do mobile websites deserve to die?
  6. Why real-time bidding is a big bust
  7. What consumers deserve from digital ads
  8. The downward spiral of deceptive ads
  9. Thanks, Network Advertising Initiative!
  10. The future is about filters
  11. Let’s not talk about privacy
  12. An allegory about the online data business
  13. Who the f*** is that advertiser?

What Consumers Deserve From Digital Ads

am still a bit stunned at learning that the majority of “programmatic” ad spend goes to the technology intermediaries that power it. Website revenue optimizers, ‘trading desks’, agencies, ad exchanges, real-time bidders and ad serving companies get 55% (some have suggested it’s more!) leaving the content creators — website publishers and their employees — with a mere 45% of ad dollars?!

Below I’ll suggest some fundamental changes to the digital advertising ecosystem, including giving up 10–20% of the real estate on every single advertisement. Keep reading!

For this much money, consumers are getting a shitty deal, so we should at least demand a far better experience.

Some of this will cost a lot of money (I know!) but that’s the point — we have a lot of smart technologists (many of whom dislike the ad industry they’ve helped build) and in the words of a former adtech CTO I spoke to “there’s a LOT of good stuff our tech COULD do but we choose not to”. Here’s a few things the industry owes consumers:

1. To know the identity of the advertiser. This seems stupid, trivial, and yet it is a fundamental problem. There needs to be a central registry of advertisers including physical addresses (nobody should be able to run JavaScript on a website from an anonymously-registered domain), and any “agency” relationships need to be documented and binding. Any technology an advertiser/agency is allowed to use to serve videos, ads or pixels needs to be associated with their account.

2. No malware, popups, adware. A lot of this is a result of ad networks and exchanges working with advertisers they don’t really know. What should be added is a three-strikes/appeal process for all providers including analytics companies who are associated with such ads. They should be forced to disclose the identities of all entities they contracted with — who should all be on the advertiser or tech provider lists anyway.

3. Universal adserver/analytics provider approval. Not just anybody should be able to serve code on a website but nor should new tech companies need to go through dozens of separate approval processes with networks, exchanges and publishers to do so. Centralize and streamline this process and tie adserver account identifiers to advertisers and agencies so that they’re easily identified if something goes wrong.

4. No more than 3 pages of retargeted ads, over one week, period. Retargeting is useful to remind users to come back and finish a registration or buy something from their shopping cart but after a while it gets annoying, and that timeframe continues to shrink. Ideally this would just be three ads total, but sometimes there are technical reasons making this difficult (but see next point — we’ll have fewer ads per page anyway!). But once that week is over, no more creepy ads following me around please.

5. No more than 3 ads visible on a page. Mentioned in my article here — this may actually be long-term a lot better for publishers and advertiser ad performance. Fake content stories count as ads (one for each story) by the way!

6. Know what data was used to target this ad. Why did I see it? Which data providers and why —provider identities and human-readable reasons please! (Eg “Anon user purchased ‘Colored Socks’ assortment. User provided email address (see) at Macy’s checkout Palo Alto, CA on 3/16/14. No other data appends. Facebook Custom Audiences uploaded 7/30/15″). Indicate if my data was used anonymous or tied to any identifier, which I can also see.

7. The ability to see, delete or change the data non-merchants have about me. The natural follow on from (6) above — I should be able to correct problematic data or just get rid of it. Merchants who sell stuff to me should also show me what data they have but they need longer time periods/rules for keeping it, I won’t address those here.

8. A transparent whitelist/blacklist for advertisers I can always see and change. This should help advertisers and save them money when their presence otherwise would cause consternation (even though for me this applies mostly to airlines, it’s more broadly useful I am sure!). Newer platforms like Facebook or Twitter let you report or block ads or advertisers but they don’t provide a history that the user can see — yet.

9. Correct labeling. “From around the web” is nonsensical — these are ads dressed up as content, and should be labeled as advertising.

10. Rate ads as a consumer (optionally) to give feedback to both websites and advertisers. The consumer doesn’t have to but will over time if it’s easy to do and they know the data are actually being used to improve their experience. It’s important that the feedback is visible to the publisher as well so they can assess if a particular ad or advertiser is negatively affecting their audience and take action — often this creates longer-term problems in a world of competitive (sometimes commodity) media.

11. Devote 10–20% of ad space to soliciting feedback. Show the user that their voice matters, and that they have the ability to take control of their data. Convey how important this is to a well-functioning ecosystem. This space inside ad units can also serve as the path to seeing all the other data the ad system has about them including a history of the ads they’ve seen, and the ability to report “bad ads”. Those silly little “AdChoices” icons are a joke which most consumers don’t get, as multiple non-industry-funded studies have shown. Also, they only allow opting-out and won’t really improve the marketplace as the above suggestions can.

12. Different fonts, voices for ads vs. content. In addition to correctly labeling something as an ad (the feedback widget can be helpful in this regard too!), the practices that some “native advertising” adopt in using the same writers, voice/screen talent and typefaces should be modulated so as to not overtly deceive the consumer.

Seems simple? It’s not! So there’s no time to delay. Who’s with me? Let’s get to work!!!