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Ad-blockers posing ‘serious threat’ as 1 in 5 smartphone users using tech: Study

More than one in five of the world's 1.9 billion smartphone users are blocking ads when browsing the web on their devices posing a "serious threat" to firms relying on advertising revenues, new research suggests.

At least 419 million people are blocking ads on smartphones, up 90 percent between January 2015 and January 2016, according to report by analytics company Priori Data and Pagefair, a firm that helps publishers battle adblockers.

There are also now twice as many mobile ad-blockers than desktop ad-blockers, as an increasing number of people begin to browse the internet more on their smartphones.

Of the total ad-blocking users, in March, 408 million people used an ad-blocking browser on their smartphones, which block ads by default. Browsers such as Adblock Plus and Brave are an example of this.

Apple's Safari for iOS 9 on the iPhone is compatible with ad-blocking software for example, but it is not the default setting so was not included in Pagefair's calculation.


‘Serious threat’

Interestingly, ad-blocking usage was driven by emerging market users. In China, 159 million ad-blocking browsers were installed, compared to 2.3 million in the U.S. India was the second-biggest market for the software with 122 million users.

In March 2016, the Asia-Pacific region contained 55 percent of global smartphone users, but 93 percent of ad-blocking browser usage.


Ad-blocking advocates say that ads are using too much mobile data, slowing down page load times and collecting user information. In emerging markets where the data plans are not as big and are more expensive than places like the U.S. or U.K., ads can be a problem. This is the reason behind such a high concentration of ad-blocking users in countries such as India and Indonesia.

The rise of ad-blocking has posed a challenge to business models that are dependent on ad revenues.

"Mobile ad-blocking is a serious threat to the future of media and journalism in emerging markets, where people are coming online for the first time via relatively expensive or slow mobile connections," Pagefair said in its report.


Klaus Vedfelt | DigitalVision | Getty Images

And usage in Western economies is "likely to grow" as more manufacturers and browsers integrate ad-blocking, according to the report.

Next billion ‘invisible’ to marketers

Use of the software comes in many forms. For example, browsers such as Firefox for Android or Opera Mini for Android allow users to opt in for ad-blocking. At the same time, there is now the possibility to block ads within apps.

And the software has also been employed at a network carrier level. Last year, Caribbean carrier Digicel employed ad-blocking technology from Israeli start-up Shine to block ads for people browsing the web using its mobile network. And European carrier Three followed suit in February. Pagefair said that blocking at the network level could increase where regulation does not prevent it, making the next 1 billion internet users "invisible to digital marketers."

"Ad-blocking browsers will continue to grow wherever data costs are high. Wireless carriers will follow Digicel's example to remain competitive and reduce costs for their subscribers," Pagefair said in the report.

"Unless the bandwidth cost of current advertising is addressed, the ad-funded digital media industry will never get a chance to flourish in many developing economies."