Adblocking became almost as popular on mobile devices as on desktops and laptops at the end of last year, just months after Apple introduced the ability to block ads on iPhones and iPads.
Data from the last three months of 2015 from GlobalWebIndex recorded a rise in those reporting they had used an adblocker on mobile devices within the last month, compared to 38% on computers, which was also up by 10 percentage points on previous quarters.
The figure is skewed slightly by the high prevalence of adblocking in Asia, where the practice has been common for longer and where at the end of 2015 it was approaching half of all those surveyed. However it is still almost a quarter of mobile users in Europe and almost 30% in the US.
In a further worrying sign for companies who make money from digital advertising, more than 40% of those surveyed by GlobalWebIndex said they were interested in blocking ads on their mobiles in the future.
GlobalWebIndex research and insight director, Jason Mander, said: “Arguably the most striking aspect of this data is the huge potential for adblocking to continue growing. Across every single age and gender break, it’s at least 70% who say they’re either blocking ads already or are interested in doing so in the future.”
The survey, which assessed more than 50,000 internet users globally, is one of the few independent sources of data on adblocking.
Apple began allowing iOS users to download apps that block ads, in an update in September. As well as opening up a huge new potential audience for adblocking, coverage of the move also made more people aware they could block ads.
“A number of factors have combined to cause this rise, from the almost-constant media coverage enjoyed by the subject to the proliferation of free and easily available tools,” said Mander. “But the arrival of adblocking on mobile has also been encouraging people to adopt this approach across all of their devices.”
The incentive for users to block ads is stronger on mobiles than other devices, as they slow down page-load times already constrained by mobile data connections, increase the amount of data used and take up screen space. However, blocking rates were slightly higher for those with 4G connections, suggesting that faster load speeds were not enough to make people put up with mobile ads, though people who pay for faster connections may also be more sensitive to delays.
The sharp increase in adblocking on mobiles is an especially big problem for publishers who are seeing more and more of their traffic coming from smartphones and are already making less per mobile ad than they did on desktops and laptops.
Apple, Google and Facebook have all been working on solutions that promise to make articles and ads load faster on mobiles. However, only Google’s, which is yet to launch, offers a high degree of control over how articles and advertising are delivered. Publishers are also wary of handing over significant control of their relationships with readers to companies that compete for advertising revenue.
The GlobalWebIndex survey also recorded significant variations in enthusiasm for adblockers among different demographics. Younger users are more likely to have used an adblocker, with more than 40% of both 16-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds saying they have used one, compared to just over 20% of over-55s.
The only bright spot for publishers from the data is that the proportion blocking ads is lower in the top 25% and middle 50% of incomes than among the lowest 25% of earners. These high-earners are worth more to advertisers and thus generate more revenue.