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Ad Blocking on Mobile: Who’s Doing it and Why

John Koetsier

Mobile ad blocking installs just spiked 3X in the last three months. But who is installing ad blocking browsers and apps? And why?

A little slice of everyone, it turns out.

Based on the data collected in our recent survey of almost 4,000 smartphone owners in North America and Europe, it’s clear that there’s no one single demographic group is blocking ads on mobile. Rather, it’s a little chunk of everyone, from teens to adults, women to men, and Americans to Europeans.

Young vs Old

Young to middle-aged adults block ads on mobile just a bit more than others. But clearly, even those aged 65+ have installed apps or browsers that can block ads in some cases — or had them installed by others.

who is blocking mobile ads young old

Interestingly, teens are the least likely of any age group to report having installed an app on their smartphones to block ads. That’s surprising for a number of different reasons, including that teens are both a heavily marketed group and that they are, on the whole, fairly technically savvy.

Women vs Men

Women tend to block ads a little less than men, although the differences are fairly minor. 28.6% of men report having installed one more more mobile ad blocking apps, while 22% of women claim the same.

men vs women mobile ad blocking

Interestingly, while just under 18% of men say they’re “not sure” whether they’ve installed a mobile ad blocking solution, 24% of women are unsure as well. Traditional gender differences may play a role here, as men might be less likely to publicly admit a lack of knowledge.

Android vs iOS

Android users tend to block ads more frequently then iPhone owners. 27% of Android owners say they’ve installed ad blocking apps, but only 22% of iOS users.

ios android ad blocking usage

Americans vs Europeans

While Europe is widely regarded as more focused on privacy than the U.S., that’s not something we see a lot of with regard to ad blocking behavior. While 24% of Americans copped to using ad blockers on their smartphones, just a slightly higher percentage of Europeans admitted it:

A caveat here: we could only gather European data from the UK. Other nations such as Germany are generally more privacy and security conscious than the British, so it’s likely our European results would be higher if we had gathered more data from a larger number of countries — something for us to address in a future research effort.

So Who Is It?

When it comes right down to it, the ad blocking cohort is an almost perfectly representative demographic slice.

While ad blocking mobile users skew slightly to young and middle-aged adults, men, Android users, and Europeans, there really aren’t many huge, standout defining demographic differences. Instead, the more likely indicators of ad blocking behavior are technical proficiency and concern over mobile user experience or privacy.

So why are people installing ad blocking apps on their smartphones?

User Experience and Performance

A common fallacy about people who block ads is that they are paranoid about advertising, privacy, and being tracked. For a significant percentage of people, that’s not the case at all.

For them, it’s much more about user experience:

“I enabled ad-blocking more for performance than privacy concerns,” Christopher Caen, editor-in-chief of ReadWriteWeb, told me recently. “Once I checked a mobile website I was at, and it was making 42 separate calls to ad-tracking and delivering services.”

All those calls take time, and take data. When the New York Times studied this in late 2015, one example mobile site took 33 seconds to load without an ad blocker, and only 7 seconds to load with one enabled. That’s a significant performance jump.

Privacy

While performance is a real concern for many mobile users, privacy, of course, is still a big issue. About half of mobile users are concerned enough about digital privacy to say that advertisers should not be able to collect any data about them.

data advertisers collect mobile

The data that these users worry advertisers are collecting ranges from the perfectly reasonable, such as general location, and type of mobile device they are using to the fairly paranoid: credit card number, banking details, and personal photos.

Data Usage

An interesting category is those who prefer to block ads because they are concerned about data usage.

In the New York Times example above, the mobile page weighed in at a staggering 16.3 MB without an ad blocker, and a somewhat more svelte 3.5 MB with one. For people on a data budget, and particularly for users in developing nations or countries where mobile data is expensive, this can be a very big incentive to block ads.

A recent Adobe study found that ad blockers reduced data use by about 50%. For people who are paying for their data use with limited funds, that’s a powerful incentive.

More Details

For more details on mobile ad blocking, please see our free report. If you’re currently using a mobile ad blocker, tell us why in the comments. Or … if you’re a marketer or advertiser and have serious concerns about ad blocking, let’s discuss what you’re doing about it.

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Author
John Koetsier

As Mobile Economist at TUNE, I forecast and analyze trends affecting the mobile ecosystem. I've been a journalist, analyst, and corporate executive, and have chronicled the rise of the mobile economy. Before joining TUNE, I built the VB Insight research team at VentureBeat and managed teams creating software for partners like Intel and Disney. In addition, I've led technical teams, built social sites and mobile apps, and consulted on mobile, social, and IoT. In 2014, I was named to Folio's top 100 of the media industry's "most innovative entrepreneurs and market shaker-uppers.” I live in British Columbia, Canada with my family, where I coach baseball and hockey, though not at the same time.

  • Are you using an ad blocking solution on desktop? On mobile? If yes, why … and if no … why not?

    • On desktop. Mostly because the ads I get are irrelevant. Also because they take too much time to load/performance. I have AdBlocker enabled all the time except for a few select websites I want to support 🙂

      For some reason, mobile ads don’t bother me as much.

      Good article John, thanks a lot!

      • Thanks, Nathan.

        Interesting that on mobile, ads don’t bother you as much. Is that because you’re typically in apps and they have restrictions on the number/frequency/intrusiveness of ads, so they’re not quite as annoying?

        • True, I’m typically in apps. Maybe I also expect everything to be slower on mobile and that’s why loading ads doesn’t bother me? Not sure 😛

  • I am using ad blockers both on desktop and mobile for a combination of basically all reasons you pointed out in this interesting article:

    – time consumption (adding tons of HTTP requests slows things down really bad, especially on 3G networks)
    – data consumption (when I’m using a mobile phone I pay for a certain amount of data, if I cross the line my connection gets slowed down to 32kbps by the carrier, so I can only use Whatsapp or similar low traffic services)
    – privacy (there is no reason why advertisers should know exactly all the sites I visit and profile every single move I do)
    – annoying placement (it’s really crazy to think I should open a page just to see a full-page modal ad covering the content, or a mobile app where the bottom 48 pixels are ads, even in landscape mode)