The App Store's Leading Ad Blocker Just Took Down His App Out of Guilt


To take sides in the war against advertising, you have to ask yourself this question: Are you willing to watch an ad to support the creators of the articles and stories you love reading, or should those creators starve until they find a better way of doing business? 

It's a popular war too: This morning, the top app on the Apple App Store wasn't Minecraft, Facetune or some new puzzle game. It was Peace, an ad blocker, one of the greatest tools consumers have against ads on their iPhones. But the general who was leading that front has fallen on his own sword.

Jack Smith IV/App Store

Marco Arment, the creator of Peace, wrote on his blog Friday that he can no longer take away revenue from writers and publishers who rely on ads to support their creative work.

"Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn't feel good, which I didn't anticipate, but probably should have," he writes. "Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: While they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don't deserve the hit."

The ad blocker made Arment one of the greatest arms dealers in the online war against advertising. While he still acknowledges that ad blockers are worthwhile and that the war is worth waging, he says he couldn't stomach being on the front lines of that battle and seeing the damage he was doing.

"Ad blocking is a kind of war — a first-world, low-stakes, both-sides-are-fortunate-to-have-this-kind-of-problem war, but a war nonetheless, with damage hitting both sides," Arment writes. "I see war in the Tao Te Ching sense: It should be avoided when possible; when that isn't possible, war should be entered solemnly, not celebrated."

Advertising still powers the Web. Apps like Peace and new favorite contender Ghostery are part of the destruction of Web-based content, driving creators away from having their own websites and into the iron grip of platforms like Facebook or Apple, which are building their own places to keep news and articles.

As Nilay Patel writes for the Verge, "[T]he collateral damage of that war — of Apple going after Google's revenue platform — is going to include the Web, and in particular any small publisher on the Web that can't invest in proprietary platform distribution, native advertising and the type of media wining-and-dining it takes to secure favorable distribution deals on proprietary platforms. It is going to be a bloodbath of independent media."

Finding peace of mind: As for Arment, he is encouraging people to seek a refund for Peace if they want one. For now, he's going to be working on Overcast, a podcasting app. 

Helping people find great content, incidentally, is more conscionable to Arment than helping people undermine the way content creators make a living.