Expert Predicts Apple’s Web Eraser Ad Blocking Tool Is Imminent

Apple’s highly anticipated Web Eraser, an AI-driven privacy feature for iOS 18, was a no-show at WWDC 2024, leaving many in the digital media and advertising industry on edge. Although the feature didn’t make it into the final release, industry experts believe it’s only a matter of time before Apple reintroduces this ad-blocking technology. This development signals significant implications for digital advertising, pushing marketers (and publishers) to rethink their strategies in the Apple ecosystem.

WWDC 2024 was a mixed bag for digital media and advertising, delivering promising advancements and unexpected omissions. Apple introduced “Apple Intelligence,” a suite of AI-powered features designed to enhance user experience by leveraging personal context. Highlights included a more intuitive Siri, text-to-emoji generation, and a collaboration with OpenAI to integrate ChatGPT into Apple devices. These updates promise to transform app interfaces and streamline interactions, offering brands new ways to engage with users.

However, the absence of the rumored Web Eraser feature — an AI-driven tool, leveraging Apple’s language model Ajax, would allow users to erase unwanted web content, from ads and text sections — left many in the industry with bated breath. This feature, expected to debut with iOS 18 for Safari, could significantly impact digital advertising, raising concerns among publishers and advertisers about revenue and content accessibility. Despite its omission, the ad tech world is buzzing with questions and predictions.

Experts like Vegard Johnsen Chief Product Officer at eyeo suggest that similar ad blocking solutions are on the horizon. As Apple continues to prioritize user control and privacy, the industry must prepare for the potential impacts on their digital strategies. In this exclusive Q&A, Johnsen shares his insights on why he believes Apple’s Web Eraser is still on the horizon and what it means for the future of web browsing and digital advertising.

Lynne d Johnson: So, Apple didn’t end up announcing Web Eraser at WWDC and it doesn’t appear to be releasing in iOS18. Can you explain why the industry was so concerned about Web Eraser and what a service like this could mean for publishers?

VJ: Clearly, total ad blocking has been and continues to be a problem for the industry. Most publishers, in particular, small and medium-sized ones, are not in a position to demand a subscription, so total ad blocking leaves them without any good options for revenue.

There are also negative consequences for consumers, since it forces publishers into an adversarial position, putting up barriers (required registrations, etc.) to pay for operations, as well as the content creation that sits at the heart of their businesses. If Web Eraser were to remove those as well (presumably something it might be capable of) then even the conversation about the value exchange is shut down, and we’d be at an impasse.

LdJ: How much do you think the pushback from French publishers and advertisers, as well as UK news outlets, had to do with Apple’s decision to delay this feature?

VJ: It’s common for Apple to have features in beta that they don’t announce for a variety of reasons. Maybe they needed more time in the presentation for other things like Apple Intelligence or the feature just wasn’t quite ready.

Historically Apple tends to stake out a path and stick to it fairly consistently, despite industry concern. We saw this with ITP – they definitely took on feedback and made improvements, but they remained committed to its launch.

LdJ: Given Apple’s Privacy Push in recent years with products like ATT and Hide My Email, amongst other privacy-first features, do you think we can still expect to see a similar service in the near future?

VJ: While Web Eraser isn’t technically a privacy feature, we increasingly see users turning to ad blocking as a key way to help control their privacy online. In general, though, the trend is very much in the direction of features that give users more control over both their privacy and online experience. I would expect to see more of this, not just from Apple, but others as well, like Google, lest it be seen as too far behind (e.g. ITP vs Sandbox).

LdJ: What other ad blocking issues do you think publishers should be concerned about in 2024 and what strategies should they be implementing to mitigate these issues?

VJ: If the user experience continues to deteriorate, ad blocking usage will continue to grow. (Ad blocking has seen an average YoY growth of 30% worldwide since 2011 and there are already almost a billion ad blocking users today.) A significant portion of this usage is actually ad filtering rather than total ad blocking, but it could be seen as indicative of the potential for complete ad blocking to take further hold.

If publishers want to mitigate total ad blocking, they should be looking into user-centric solutions, ones that respect the user experience but can still be monetized. Research has shown that users don’t outright hate ads. They just don’t want to be bombarded with them. In fact, a recent IAB study showed that the overwhelming majority of consumers would react negatively, including being frustrated, disappointed, angry, confused, or sad if they had to start paying for the websites/apps they currently use for free. There is a middle ground for an ad-supported internet, as long as we put the user first.