AdblockPlus (one of the saviours of the Internets) has released a mobile browser for Android and iOS yesterday. This is after Eyeo, the company which makes the extension for browsers, encountered problems in creating adblocking software for mobile devices.
The Adblock browser allows the company to integrate adblocking into the browsing experience, given the limited extension environments (Firefox is an exception because Adblock Browser is based on Firefox for Android). The company, whose open source browser was in beta for a couple of months, said in May that it encountered 2 problems it could not solve:
The Google Play store threw us out for “interference with another service or product”. Doing anything on mobile that doesn’t appear in the major app stores is, unfortunately, pretty hard. We’re practically invisible to the vast majority of mobile users.
Adblock Plus for Android can only block ads over HTTP (i.e. unencrypted) connections. We were always quite unhappy with this – we want to protect our users’ privacy, not hurt it by encouraging unencrypted connections.
The first problem Adblock is facing manifests itself on the Play Store: If you search for “Adblock browser”, it actually throw up results for CM Browser, Firefox for Android, AD Blocker (not the same company), AirPush Detector etc, quite surprisingly, given that the query is pretty direct.
Eyeo had first tested Adblock for mobile in 2013, but Google had pulled the app from its store for “interference with another service or product in an unauthorized manner.” It said that the purpose of the app store was to let you install any apps which were not malicious (the app should do what it claims to do and not have a hidden purpose), saving the user the trouble of rooting a phone to install Google-unauthorised apps on Android.
Google, on its part, said that the adblocking apps were violating section 4.4 of its Developer Distribution Agreement which states that:
4.4 Prohibited Actions. You agree that you will not engage in any activity with the Market, including the development or distribution of Products, that interferes with, disrupts, damages, or accesses in an unauthorized manner the devices, servers, networks, or other properties or services of any third party including, but not limited to, Android users, Google or any mobile network operator. You may not use customer information obtained from the Market to sell or distribute Products outside of the Market.
However, at that time, users who had already installed Adblock would not get updates and would have to download them from Adblock’s site manually. Its second concern is even more intense, because not only do all major websites use https, there’s a reason the protocol exists: for security and user privacy.
The browser’s UI displays recent tabs, history, top sites, bookmarks and a reading list (where saved articles show up. It also has private browsing (like incognito tabs in Chrome and Firefox), a feature to request for the desktop site and sessions for guests. Other than this, users can customise their home page, search providers, the ability to restore tabs on restart and import bookmarks and history from other browsers. Its main offering is also visible through settings of whitelisting and blacklisting the ads, along with other blocking options. There is also an option for allowing non-intrusive advertising, but it can also be disabled.
Content publishers are already quivering at the fact that Apple will likely make it easier to install ad block software on the mobile Safari web browser at its event later tonight. With the launch of an adblocking browser, there are large (not good) implications for publishers, given that almost all of content and apps require ads for monetisation. It will be, however, good news for users who do not want any exposure to ads. Currently, alternative methods of adblocking do exist: Routers running Linux offer code to block ads on their network, while the Raspberry Pi can also be turned into an adblocker.