Rumored iOS 18 Web Eraser AI feature puts Apple on a collision course with a media whose ads it could delete

iPhone 13 mini in hand
(Image credit: Future)

Apple's plans to bring new AI features to the iPhone with the release of iOS 18 later this year are well known at this point, and while Apple hasn't confirmed too much it's done its best to hint that there's much to look forward to. All of the new features look set to be aimed at making the lives of users easier, but in doing that one of them in particular could actually make some people's lives harder.

If the rumors are true, one of the features that iOS 18 will debut is called Web Eraser, and it's designed to allow people to choose which parts of websites they see. More accurately, it allows them to pick the parts of websites that they don't see, and it isn't too much of a leap to assume that one of the first things people will try to erase is web-based ads. And that, one industry group warns, could be very bad indeed.

Perhaps understandably, that group is the News Media Association (NMA) which represents UK-based newspapers. And they're worried that people will use Web Eraser to block the ads that publishers often rely on to make money.

"Ad-blocking is a blunt instrument"

The Financial Times (via Pymnts) reports that the NMA has written to Apple to make its concerns known, arguing that the Web Eraser feature could remove ads, adding that "advertising is a key revenue stream for many publishers.”

The blocking of ads has long been a controversial topic, with users arguing that increasingly intrusive ads can make reading content on websites almost impossible at times, especially on a device with a small screen like an iPhone 15.

Web Eraser isn't aimed specifically at ads, but as reported, will give users the ability to select sections of a website that they never want to see. Ads are one example, but others could be videos, links to other articles, and more. Removing those components has its own problems, but it's ads in particular that are often vital to keeping publishers afloat.

The NMA's letter warns that “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.” It can be difficult to argue against that point, especially in a world where asking people to pay for online content isn't always viable. That isn't to say it's impossible, however, and plenty of smaller websites have been extremely successful at doing exactly that. But as newspapers watch their circulation figures fall, it's ad-based online publishing that they're turning to — and asking people to pay for that content seems a fool's errand.

While some will no doubt point to the many different ad blockers already available in the App Store, the number of people using them is still relatively small. But by making a feature like Web Eraser available to every iPhone user, it's likely the dynamic — and the number of ads served — will change considerably.

While it's unlikely that the NMA's letter will change Apple's plans, it still has a while before the iOS 18 will impact anything. The next big iPhone software update is expected to be unveiled at WWDC on June 10, but it won't ship to the public until around September time.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.