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May 14, 2024

No consultation from Apple on plans to block publisher ads and summarise articles

UK News Media Association extremely concerned by expected changes to Safari browser.

By Jim Edwards

Apple appears to have had no conversations with publishers about plans to roll out an aggressive ad-blocker and new text summarisation tool on its Safari browser.

The changes could not only stop publishers from supporting their content with advertising on Apple devices, but they could mean Apple summarises articles for readers without need for them to click on the page.

No UK publishers, and no one outside of Apple, has yet seen the tech giant’s new “web eraser” and AI text summary tools, but they are likely to be launched on Apple devices later this year, sources tell Press Gazette.

The new functions will be available with the iOS 18 and macOS 15 updates to Apple’s iPhone and MacBook operating systems.

The web eraser tool will be available inside Apple’s Safari browser, according to Apple Insider. It will reportedly resemble the 1Blocker app, an aggressive ad blocker available in the Apple App Store. 

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1Blocker allows users to block ads, trackers, social media widgets, cookie notices, mobile web banners and comment sections. Its blocking is persistent, meaning that once a user has switched off aspects of a web page they stay switched off in future sessions.

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When Press Gazette tested 1Blocker on the Daily Mirror’s web page, it stripped story pages of almost all their ads. It also removed the Mirror’s GDPR consent module and disabled its content navigation bar, which unfolds if your mouse hovers over it.

The AI text summary option will likely use Apple’s Ajax large language model and function “on device” — meaning your phone or laptop will not need to contact the cloud or the internet in order to generate AI-driven responses to your requests, according to Apple Insider.

Of particular concern to publishers is how the tool might function with Apple’s planned “Intelligent Search” update, which could give users the option to read a summary of a web page generated by Apple’s software rather than clicking on the page itself.

Safari accounts for just over one third of the UK internet browser market and Google Chrome accounts for just over half. Google is planning to stop supporting publisher cookies on Chrome next year, in a move which some fear could lead to a 50% fall in programmatic ad-revenue on that browser.

‘An extremely concerning way for a tech giant to do business’

“I’m not aware of any publisher who’s had any conversations with Apple or any engagement between Apple and publishers on this,” News Media Association chief Owen Meredith told Press Gazette. “So to develop a tool that has potentially significant consequences … on how publishers’ content is used or displayed on Apple devices, for that to happen without any engagement with publishers is an extremely concerning way for a tech giant to go about doing business.”

“It’s another classic example of take-it-or-leave-it terms and conditions from large tech firms.”

The NMA has written to Apple to protest about the way the new software will hurt publishers’ ability to generate the revenue that sustains their journalism.

“Ad blocking is … a blunt instrument which frustrates the ability of content creators to sustainably fund their work and could lead to consumers missing important information which would otherwise have been very useful to them. In addition to this, the use of AI in the reported new ‘web eraser’ tool from Apple could also raise serious questions over editorial accountability, as AI tools selectively remove or change the content of articles, and the context around them,” the letter says.

“We don’t have a clear view, we are only going on leaked reports,” Meredith said. “We want to have that conversation with them before it’s deployed rather than afterwards.”

Adtech developers are also in the dark about Apple plans

Multiple adtech developers who follow Apple closely also told Press Gazette they had not seen the new functions.

Although both “web eraser” and AI text summary are still in development, it is unlikely that Apple will cancel them, according to Marko Zivkovic, the associate editor at Apple Insider who first revealed Apple’s plans. “Apple would have to scrap something that’s effectively complete — so it seems unlikely,” he said.

“It’s absurd to expect a response ahead of Apple’s [Worldwide Developers Conference] next month. If Apple were to acknowledge the journalists’ concerns, they would confirm the existence of Web Eraser in the process. You’d start seeing headlines like ‘Apple confirms Web Eraser feature in letter to UK media association’ — so that’s not likely to happen,” he said.

Although both new tools potentially remove content or interpose Apple’s version of events in front of the original news source, Zivkovic said he did not believe this raised issues of censorship.

“Intelligent Browsing is not something that is automatically enabled, Apple is not actively trying to suppress original content. Web Eraser also requires user action — Safari will not automatically erase things by itself, even if there are obvious banner ads on a webpage. Basically, the choice is entirely in the user’s hands — if they want to erase or summarize something, Safari will give them the means to do so. I disagree with the idea that Apple is in some way encouraging summarization or content-blocking, as neither of these are enabled from the get-go.”

While Apple’s plans look bad for publishers, the media has successfully fought off challenges like this in the past. Many publishers now refuse to serve stories to readers using ad blockers, or insist that those users register to see their content. Ad blocker usage has declined as a result

More details on what web eraser and AI summarisation might do can be seen here and here on Apple Insider.

Apple did not respond to two requests for comment.

In February Press Gazette revealed Apple had apparently filed a patent for new technology which would track the performance of advertising across Apple devices.

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Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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