Newspaper groups warn Apple over ad-blocking plans

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British newspaper groups have warned Apple that any move to impose a so-called “web eraser” tool to block advertisements would put the financial sustainability of journalism at risk.

Apple is preparing to include an AI-based privacy feature in the Safari browser in the next iOS 18 software update that will remove ads or other unwanted website content, according to reports.

In a letter sent on Friday to Apple’s government affairs chief in the UK, the News Media Association, which represents 900 national, regional and local titles, raised concerns about how this would affect digital revenues in the industry.

The letter, seen by the Financial Times, said professional journalism required funding “and advertising is a key revenue stream for many publishers”. Members of the NMA include The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

Online platforms such as web browsers and social networks are important routes for the public to access journalism, the NMA argues, but also for publishers to “monetise their content in the digital marketplace”. 

The prospect of an automatic block on online ads has caused considerable alarm among publishers, which are already facing a squeeze on revenues given separate moves by tech groups that have throttled news traffic and a broader slowdown in spending in many parts of the market. Apple declined to comment.

The NMA’s letter said “ad-blocking is a blunt instrument, which frustrates the ability of content creators to sustainably fund their work and could lead to consumers missing important information which would otherwise have been very useful to them”.

Serious questions over editorial accountability would also be raised, the letter said, if AI tools were used to selectively remove or change the content of articles. It called for a meeting between publishers and Apple to discuss the potential implications of the web eraser.

Media groups have been left reeling in recent years after the large tech groups they rely on to deliver their news and content have made it more difficult to make money. 

Apple’s attempts to position itself as a guardian of its customers’ privacy in recent years have come at a cost to a broad range of businesses that rely on data to target ads, from Meta to local newspapers. 

A 2021 software update introduced an Apple feature called App Tracking Transparency, which banned apps and advertisers from collecting data about iPhone users without their explicit consent. 

Most users declined to grant permission and Apple has tightened its privacy protections in subsequent iOS updates, including further restrictions on device fingerprinting and email tracking.

Google had threatened to follow Apple in blocking third-party cookies used by advertisers to target audiences — a move that has since been delayed in the face of regulatory concerns.

Meta last year decided to cut back news on Facebook, including axing Facebook News and Instant Articles in Europe, which has throttled traffic for media groups. It also ended a scheme to fund local journalism in the UK. 

These moves have led to a drop in digital revenue for many newspaper groups. Many media executives are especially angry given social media platforms have used free newspaper content to help build their audiences.


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