Popular iPhone Ad Blocker Will Let Users Decide Whether to Allow Unannoying Ads

Crystal joins white-listing initiative, sparking some backlash

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In what could be seen as a positive sign for advertising pros, popular iPhone ad blocker Crystal plans to let users opt in to viewing nondisruptive ads.

The developer behind Crystal, currently the No. 2 blocker in the App Store, has announced he will join the "Acceptable Ads" initiative and add a setting for users to allow mobile ads that meet the project's standards.  

Developer Dean Murphy also says the app's upcoming update, scheduled to release in the next six to 10 weeks, will allow users to white-list ads on specific sites.

Early reports of his planned update sparked some backlash against Crystal, with news sites and users calling it a cash grab:

But Murphy said many of the criticisms stem from a misunderstanding about how the Acceptable Ads system works. The move is optional and is intended to help encourage advertisers to start embracing more user-friendly approaches, he said.

"By blocking all advertising with brute force, it doesn't promote a healthy mobile Web that is sustainable and allows publishers to make a living from the free content they provide," Murphy wrote. "By including the option for a user-managed white list and Acceptable Ads, I'm hoping to empower users to be able to support the mobile Web in any way they see fit."

Acceptable Ads is an effort that "encourages and promotes the use of better advertising on the Web," backed by Reddit, Adblock Plus and several other partner companies. The coalition has drafted a manifesto against ads that are annoying, disruptive or deceptive.

Working through Adblock Pro parent company Eyeo GmbHadvertisers must first apply to have their ads white-listed. The group then works with advertisers to build ads that fit the criteria. From there, the ads are sent to a group of more than 27,000 users for seven to 10 days to make sure they stand up to the Acceptable Ads guidelines.

The costs of the service hasn't been disclosed, but 90 percent of websites that run Acceptable Ads do not pay. "Only the absolute largest companies pay for inclusion, assuming they meet the criteria of course," Murphy wrote.

Somewhat ironically, this move driven by ad-blocking services mirrors one of the largest trends within the ad industry itself: native advertising, which is intended to create promotional content that's nondisruptive and tailored to the site or app where it appears. Yet, native ads are also often getting wiped out by blocking software.

In addition to allowing Acceptable Ads, Crystal users will also be able to unblock ads from specific websites by managing their own settings.

Murphy wrote that he ran a small survey on his users, with 50 percent of them saying they would be OK supporting sites that feature Acceptable Ads, while 20 percent preferred to manage which sites they see ads for.

Even if Acceptable Ads do not turn out to be a huge boost to his business, Murphy has had some initial success with the app. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal and data from app marketing company Apptopia, he has already made $75,000 off of his 99-cent app.

"In the long term," Murphy wrote, "I'm hoping this convinces advertising agencies and publishers to reassess the kind of advertising they are using and bring them in line to either the Acceptable Ads (or similar) criteria."

@laurenjohnson lauren.johnson@adweek.com Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.