The Creator of the iPhone’s Top-Selling Ad Blocker Just Pulled His App off the Market

Peace's success 'just doesn’t feel good'

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Just 36 hours into its phenomenal achievement of becoming the iOS App Store's top-selling paid app, ad blocker Peace has been pulled by its creator.

"Even though I'm 'winning', I've enjoyed none of it," wrote developer Marco Arment in a blog post today. "That's why I'm withdrawing from the market."

Arment says he realized quickly after the app began to explode in popularity that it could cause widespread financial damage to publishers and other sites that subsist on ad revenue.

This morning, his app was one of three in the Top 5 paid app leaderboard on the App Store, where ad blockers have been booming thanks to Apple's recent decision to enable third-party apps to block ads in the Safari browser.

Here's an excerpt from his post about why Arment feels ad blockers are the battleground in a rapidly escalating digital war:

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.

Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren't black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn't serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we're going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.

I still believe that ad blockers are necessary today, and I still think Ghostery is the best one, but I've learned over the last few crazy days that I don't feel good making one and being the arbiter of what's blocked.

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. 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.

The post illustrates a dramatic change of heart from Arment's earlier writeup announcing the app. Just two days ago, he seemed to be an unapologetic critic of online ads, especially in mobile:

Web advertising and behavioral tracking are out of control. They're unacceptably creepy, bloated, annoying, and insecure, and they're getting worse at an alarming pace.

Ad and tracker abuse is much worse on mobile: ads are much larger and harder to dismiss, trackers are harder to detect, their JavaScript slows down page-loads and burns battery power, and their bloat wastes tons of cellular data. And ads are increasingly used as vectors for malware, exploits, and fraud.

Publishers won't solve this problem: they cannot consistently enforce standards of decency and security on the ad networks that they embed in their sites. Just as browsers added pop-up blockers to protect us from that abusive annoyance, new browser-level countermeasures are needed to protect us from today's web abuses.

And we shouldn't feel guilty about this.

Clearly, Arment's experience since launching the instantly popular app have made him realize that the issue isn't quite so cut and dry.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."