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Investigation shows ad blockers don’t just block ads – they block images, shopping carts & even entire websites


An investigation by Fortune into the effects of iOS ad blockers showed that they don’t just block ads (and thus prevent sites like ours from paying the bills), they also block images, prevent items from being added to shopping carts and in some cases block entire websites. The problem was first identified by ecommerce specialist Chris Mason.

Lots of sites will be missing content, have broken links or customers won’t be able to add certain items to their shopping carts. They’ll probably just think the site is broken, but it’s really their content blocker.

On the Bass Pro Shops site, product images were missing. On Lululemon, you could see product images but attempts to add products to shopping carts failed, and on sites like Sears and Walgreens, either the homepage or product pages were blocked entirely.

If you do choose to press ahead with ad blockers despite such issues, we encourage you to whitelist those sites whose content you enjoy to ensure that they are able to continue to provide free content.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

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  1. PhilBoogie - 8 years ago

    1) Strange assumption, to think users will think a site is broken when doing online shopping and not seeing a cart. The first thing that would come to mind, my mind, is the Ad Blocker I bought, installed and activated.

    2) So, in short, this is Lights Out v2¿

    3) Yup, 9to5 is whitelisted on my phone

    • iSRS - 8 years ago

      While those of us that visit sites like 9to5 may not immediately jump to the broken site conclusion, I do think the majority of normal users would.

      I have no skin in this game, as I don’t run anything that makes money from ads, but I still think the best approach to the types of ads most reasonable people don’t want to see is to (1) let the site know there is a “bad ad” and (2) if they don’t care/respond/remediate? Stop visiting.

      • PhilBoogie - 8 years ago

        Somehow you make a good point. Then again, what ‘normal user’ (ie non tech) would install an ad blocker and configure it? Not exactly for ‘everyday people’. Though my mind is techie, and may view things differently when it comes to tech.

      • Ben Lovejoy - 8 years ago

        Yep, we certainly appreciate people letting us know about any badly-behaved ads.

      • iSRS - 8 years ago

        Phil – the ‘normal user’ will hear about ad blockers and ask you and I to install one for them… then forget they ever did!


    • Ben Lovejoy - 8 years ago

      Thanks, Phil, we appreciate it.

  2. Nick Donnelly - 8 years ago

    This is bad news for those sites – who probably have nefarious things going on (hence the blocking). It is those sites that need to change – and fast – or people will stop using them. It is not the blockers who need to change.

    All hail our new ad blocking overlords.

    • - 8 years ago


      There must be tracking and the like going on associated with the images and shopping carts.

      • Mike Beasley - 8 years ago

        Doubtful. It’s probably just the blocker picking up on something normal and thinking it’s tracking/spying/whatever.

  3. Nick Donnelly - 8 years ago

    more technical users may work out what’s going on – but normal users won’t – so it’s up to Sears etc to fix this – not the ad blockers.

    • Mike Beasley - 8 years ago

      If you decide to make changes to your web browser and that breaks a website, it’s not on the website to fix it. It’s on whoever installed the modification that broke it.

  4. “If you do choose to press ahead with ad blockers despite such issues, we encourage you to whitelist those sites whose content you enjoy to ensure that they are able to continue to provide free content.”

    Ben, I certainly admire your sentiment and note that this is indeed one way to support 9to5mac.

    I am struck, however, by the attitude that allowing marketers to show us advertising should be, and always will be, the way that content producers make money. Has 9to5mac investigated any other ways to pay writers and run its suite of sites? Have you considered a subscriber model, including partnering with other websites to have a Netflix-style website subscription platform? Have you investigated micropayments, which were once thought to be the solution to website revenue issues?

    Further, if we are expected to whitelist 9to5mac, do we have any assurances that A) 9to5mac gets paid when ads appear, not when they are clicked on (that is, that whitelisting actually generates revenue for 9to5mac, as I specifically do not click on ads for a variety of reasons), B) that 9to5mac takes pains to ensure it controls who advertises on its site, and C) that ads on 9to5mac are ethically produced such that they respect “do not track” flags and other means to protect some privacy on the web?

    I would like to know more about 9to5mac’s advertising policies before adding 9to5mac to a whitelist.

    Thank you for reading and for your excellent content.

    • Ben Lovejoy - 8 years ago

      Thanks for your kind comments, Michael. We only partner with reputable ad networks like Google. We do get revenue from views as well as clicks. I would love to imagine that a subscription model could work, but those sites that have tried it have not succeeded – I think there are many people willing to pay for access in principle than in practice. We do, however, continue to investigate alternatives, such as (clearly labelled) sponsored posts which replace most ads on the day they appear.

      • Thank you for the info, Ben! I am sure it will help 9to5 readers and fans to make the best choice.

      • - 8 years ago

        I would be more than happy to pay a subscription fee to access the 9to5 sites ad and tracker free. Figure out what you would make in ad impressions per 10 visits a day, and I will pay that in a heartbeat.

      • Tommy C (@DJFriar) - 8 years ago

        A small subscription fee for access to full articles in the RSS feed would get my money immediately. In fact, I’ve removed the 9to5Mac feed from my reader a few times specifically because of this annoyance. With how many sites are generating content nowadays, I see your headline, and then almost immediately have two more matching ones from other sources that aren’t truncated, so I just mark yours as read and move on. It is very rare for me to click on an article unless I specifically a) want to see the comments; or b) want to see more or larger pics. A subscription model to the RSS feed would get you more money for my viewing and ensure you stay in my news reader.

  5. This is why I don’t use ad blockers, because I want to have my content free when possible. I don’t mind ads, and I think they are even helpful to an extent, when I’m looking for things to buy.

    • PhilBoogie - 8 years ago

      To each his own then. I prefer a paywall. That way I get to support the site by paying, so I know I am helping out and 2) I don’t get to see these annoying flashy ads. I already pay for sites like Wikipedia, because I’m ‘a returning customer’. It would also help on the troll front (not you) because I think they won’t be posting if they had to pay to get in. YMMV

      • Kevin Roa - 8 years ago

        I agree. Paywalls on every site for everything.

    • freediverx - 8 years ago

      I’m of the opposite opinion. I will happily pay for better products and services that don’t depend on intrusive advertising.

  6. Nandan Desai (@nnddesai) - 8 years ago

    quit bitching about the ad-based model. If i see ads, i hate you. its not like this site has best ads design.

    (In formal/other words, please have an ad-free model, i’d be happy to pay for it.:-( i pay for most content online, and i believe that’s the way it should be). If ad-free is too much work, just have donation widget so people who like your site can donate.

    There are too many ways one can go ad-free.

    • Mike Beasley - 8 years ago

      If you tried running a site of this size without ads, you’d quickly find that it was much easier said than done. Unfortunately ads are still the most effective way at monetizing content for the widest audience possible.

  7. Michael Perry (@Alticus) - 8 years ago

    This is a bit silly. You can create a content blocker to block ANY web content. And the ones currently available have options on what you can block – i.e.. you can choose to block java scripts, font injection, ads, just trackers, or… yup you guessed it – images. All of these options you can select individually or none at all. This is an article written to spin ad blocking negatively by the people who are impacted by ad blockers.

    Is your installed content blocker (by the way it is CONTENT blocking API and not an AD blocking API) blocking images on pages? Turn image blocking off.
    Is your installed content blocker blocking shopping carts from being visible? Turn off java script blocking
    Does your installed content blocker not have some of these options, install a better one with more granular control

    It’s not rocket science… And the same rules apply with content blockers being used to block ad’s on mobile Safari as they always have applied to content blockers on Safari on the desktop, Chrome on the Desktop, Firefox on the Desktop, Chrome on Android, Dolphin Browser on Android, and Firefox on Android. Stop treating this and perpetuating the false notion that Apple has somehow ventured into an dark avenue with this feature that never existed before and the users will be hurt by it. It’s not true. Don’t be dishonest in your “reporting” for goodness sakes. Stop with this insanity – it’s getting quite old and readers are becoming tired of it; just like they’ve become tired of privacy invading tracking scripts and intrusive autoplaying douche bag ads.

  8. freediverx - 8 years ago

    Who the hell shops at Sears, especially online?

  9. freediverx - 8 years ago

    iOS content blockers need to evolve to provide the user with more control over what is blocked. On desktop browsers, extensions like uBlock allow the user to easily identify and block specific page elements. So for instance if you visit a site that doesn’t work with ad blocking turned on, you can turn the ad blocking off but then individually block any the annoying ads on the page individually.

    Bottom line, though, this is just the latest round in an endless cat and mouse game between users and the unethical advertising industry. It’s not surprising that the sites with the most belligerent attitudes towards ad blockers are generally the ones with the most obnoxious ads and the crappiest content. I welcome this escalation as it has made it easier for me to blacklist sites that are not worth visiting at all.

  10. dear 9to5, I love your content and hate the way you do ads. They look terrible, they’re terribly placed and the site is terribly slow. Now I have JS blockers everywhere. Why not make your content available for a monthly fee? I’d gladly pay $10 a month and experience your content the way it should be.

    • I agree on the first 2 sentences … but only when browsing from my iphone. Embedded ads fill more than half screen, it is nearly impossible to swipe up or down with out tapping them and go to their homepage.
      Please, try to change that.

  11. sevallis - 8 years ago

    I am using Crystal on my iPhone, and both of those example sites load as expected. Crystal does not have a whitelist unfortunately, but most of my browsing happens inside the Feedly app, so I don’t block 9to5’s ads the majority of the time.

  12. Howie Isaacks - 8 years ago

    No problem. The developers of the ad blockers can simply tweak their apps to fix the problems. I have whitelisted 9to5Mac, but I WILL NOT stop using an ad blocker. Period. I believe that this whole story was written with one goal, and that is to get us to stop blocking the excessive ads all over the sites we go to. The solution to this problem is not to white about ad blocking. The solution is to stop placing the ads in a manner that make us want to block them. Stop using ad feeds that slow down page loading. Adapt or die.

  13. Graham J - 8 years ago

    If your site doesn’t display properly with ad blockers running, fix your site.

    If your site can’t make money with ad blockers running, fix your business model.

    • Mike Beasley - 8 years ago

      To your first point, it’s not the site’s fault that the modification (to hurt their revenue) that you made to your browser breaks something. It’s the responsibility of the people who make the blocker or the people who installed it. There is absolutely no way every website should be responsible for making sure their pages work with every possible combination of content blockers, especially that are, again, designed to harm their revenue stream. The sites have absolutely no reason to fix those problems. There’s zero incentive.

      As to your second point, until you run a site of this size and attempt to monetize it for a large number of writers, you’ll never know how ineffecitve other methods of monetization can be. They’re expensive to build, they often place a financial burden on users who expect everything on the internet to be free, and they generally don’t bring in as much as ads. If you don’t like the business model, feel free not to participate in it by not using the web.

      • Chad Mark (@ChadsFault) - 8 years ago

        If your site is using similar methods to display content as ads, it is the sites responsibility to address this, as many of the complaints like performance and bandwidth can be applied to the site as well as ads. Some people do block ads to improve performance, if that type of blocking impacts your content, you have a problem. The only reason I read 9to5mac is because it’s on my RSS feed. I’d never read it if I actually had to navigate the site, it’s a dog after you scroll for a while. As for other methods; thoughtful advertising is never blocked. It can’t, because if it’s done right, it’s simply native content like the rest of the site. Your 9to5 deals and sponsored/promoted posts (if you choose to provide them) would always get through. It’s hard to believe that a site that relies on pumping out posts manually couldn’t do the same for sponsored content. Selling out to companies who make money by tracking users, and complaining when users revolt is just easier.

        PS: Ghostery finds 32 ad/analytic scripts on the home page, one of the highest counts I’ve seen. If the “adpocalypse” only leaves behind the sites that can post enough quality content to generate revenue through less intrusive means, I’d be all for it.

      • Kevin Roa - 8 years ago

        Zero incentive? How about staying in busy? And where do all these writers get the idea that they should be paid? Maybe they need to realize they aren’t as important as they think they are.

      • Ben Lovejoy - 8 years ago

        I know, writers should do it for free, just like you do your job for free, right?

      • Kevin Roa - 8 years ago

        If I wasn’t making any money at my job (like my old job) I’d find one that I did (like I have now) make money.

  14. chrisl84 - 8 years ago

    The amount of data saved by these for mobile devices is a blessing to many people. I dont use adblocking on desktops but after playing with it on my iPhone I think it will stay on that device. Sorry but I dont want to waste data on nonsense, bring back unlimited plans and I’ll remove it

  15. afedz - 8 years ago

    I’m with everyone else on this. If the site is broken with ad blockers (not content blockers, which most content blockers on iOS have an option for ads only), then your site is flawed.
    I will use ad blocking on mobile. And up until recently I used to read 9to5 sites on Play Newsstand and occasionally clicked on some of the ads that appeared (some intentionally, some not). However the Feed has become truncated yet once more. So I will definitely visit the site less frequently now, as I have a plethora of options to get the quick info without having to resort to opening the website in the browser.

    Sorry, but content is king and if I’m being forced into a website that, by the way is poorly designed for display on a mobile screen, I will gradually stop using it.

    • Mike Beasley - 8 years ago

      So let me get this straight: if a site doesn’t work with ad blockers—the purpose of which is to harm the income of those websites—then something is wrong with the sites? Sounds to me like something is right with the sites. I mean, if the ads are the price you pay for the content, and you block the ads, then it makes sense you don’t get the content. You can’t have a product without paying for it, right?

      It’s not the responsibility of websites to make sure that their stuff works with every possible ad blocker, it’s the responsibility of the people making the browser tweaks to ensure they work properly. Sites have zero incentive to help users that block ads get a better experience. It’s counterintuitive. Why would they be willing to invest the time to test all the ad blockers and fix the site so that you can keep blocking their income?

      • afedz - 8 years ago

        If it’s breaking the usability of a site like Lululemon, Sears and Bass Pro Shops, whose income doesn’t come from advertising, it is the website’s fault.
        I’m not referring to sites that offer content “for free”, but those websites that have you pay for content, or products in this case. They are the ones that should revise their websites to make them accessible to people using ad-blockers, since there is obviously something wrong there.
        Most screen reader technology will “block” ads, and if I remember correctly, according to the ADA, those websites are in breach of US law by being inaccessible to the visually impaired.

        My complaint on 9to5’s approach to advertising was that the mobile website doesn’t load ads correctly as it most of the times loads them half-way under content or with weird touch areas that overlap. Meaning it either forces clicks or hides the ad to begin with —which I know is not the intent, but coding bugs. That is why I dislike the mobile version and I consumed through a reader that still showed the ads and gave income. However 9to5 apparently don’t like the idea of consuming content that way, and instead direct users to the website.

  16. Alexander Trust - 8 years ago

    That’s no news at all and shows that Fortune is not into this topic.

    And to all who have previously mentioned that it is the website’s fault – it IS NOT.

    It was like this since the first adblocker introduced swarm intelligence and user generated filters. So any CSS class or id which might be used for the website’s content and the ads will evoke a situation like this, as well on the desktop. And as a website owner you don’t always have control over your ads and what CSS classes or ids they’re using. What you “could” do is, constantly change your own CSS classes and ids but this won’t help at all because it’s more like tilting against windmills. And at the tip of the iceberg there are some nasty guys from a competitive website who have fun adding all your legitimate css classes and ids to the filter. Then your site might end up looking broken to others. There is a lot of nasty people on the web and I am saying this based on experience. Because the more honor there is, the more danger there is, too.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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