A number of wireless carriers are reportedly planning to block online advertising on their networks. Don’t like ads? Then that might sound like a good thing. But it poses a few interesting questions.

adblock plus

According to a report from the Financial Times, more than one mobile operator is considering flipping the switch on technology that would prevent ads from showing up on your smartphone, tablet, or other device when they’re used on the network.

It’s possible the service could be an opt-in thing, where customers would have the choice of whether or not to use the ad blocking software. But at least one operator is considering going all-in and blocking all ads.

On the one hand, this would probably help websites, games, apps, and anything else that includes advertising to load more quickly. On the other hand, if millions of people suddenly stop viewing and interacting with ads, that could have a big impact on the business of publishing content for mobile devices: news organizations, game makers: web publishers, game developers, and others might have to scale back their content or find new revenue streams.

It’s not clear that we’ll get to that point though, because there’s a chance regulators could put a stop to this kind of network-level ad blocking. Net Neutrality rules in the US and Europe basically assert that internet service providers need to treat different types of traffic equally: and that includes ads as well as the stuff you’d probably consider “content.”

There’s nothing stopping users from installing ad-blocking software on their own (at least on devices that support software such as AdBlock Plus or uBlock). But when ISPs start to prioritize traffic, there’s a question of whether they’re doing it for your benefit or their own.

In this case the question is already answered by that Financial Times article: one unnamed executive at an unnamed carrier said the ability to prevent millions of people from viewing Google ads, for a day or less could bring Google to the negotiating table, where the carrier would try to get Google (or other online advertisers) to pay for access to the ISP’s network.

In other words, ad blocking is being used as a bargaining tool, not just a way to make mobile content load more quickly on your phone.

via Techmeme

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29 replies on “Report: Some mobile carriers could block ads”

  1. Personally, I see this as a plus for a mobile device on the carrier’s mobile system. No sense in eating through that data plan for no reason. Also, this wouldn’t effect anything when connected to a wifi spot (if the switch is on the carrier and not on the device itself).

  2. I hate advertising with a vengeance in any shape or form and try to block it if I can. I don’t want to be bombarded with inane messages telling me what I “need”, stealing my precious focus, time, bandwidth and computing resources. I’m not much of a consumer and I’ve never needed/wanted anything that has been advertised to me; and if I would want something, I would not need ads anyway.

    But ISPs deciding what I see and don’t get to see is a dangerous path to go down on and a whole other cattle of fish compared to the mere nuisance of ads. Carriers should be dumb and not make subjective or “moral” guesses about the content that passes, with the possible exception of malware since that can be in many cases empirically proven to be purely that, i.e. it is not a matter of opinion, colour or taste.

  3. The naked dishonesty on both sides of this advertising issue is absolutely delightful.

  4. Should the people who operate and maintain roads also block vehicles with advertising on them?

    1. Actually government has tried that in the past. I think it was ruled unconstitutional in most instances.

  5. This could be a reason to just leave wi-fi turned off, except for large downloads. And that might benefit the carriers in that some people might buy an extra Gig per month.

      1. The ISP’s want to shake down Google for a share of their ad revenue. I’m not picking sides, but in the past this type of battle has been at the expense of the consumer, like when Netflix was throttled by ISP’s during a shake down so that paying subscribers could not use the service. Or when cable companies have all of the sudden pulled the plug on RSN’s so that fans can no longer watch their home teams by any legal means (even though they are paying for the service.)

        These fights would not be an issue if there were true market options. But in many markets there is just one broadband ISP (which is the case for me, despite living in a major metro area.) So if all of the sudden all of my google services get blocked because they are in a fight with my ISP, then I am without other options.

        It is a shame that net neutrality exists but seemingly cannot be enforced.

  6. As an app developer for iOS/Android/WM I rely on ad revenue.
    I really hope they don’t install these systems – either my revenue stream will be blocked off completely or if Apple,Google,Microsoft ad services pay the extortion money it’ll knock my revenue, and not theirs.

  7. We can always count on the ISPs, wired or wireless, to act in the worst possible way.

  8. That will separate the boys from men. Too much crappy websites and software are nothing more than just plain intrusive. Now they have to look at a different business model. 90% of the companies that depend on ads as their source of income are hardly worth it.

    1. Marc I hope you are right but I think its more like shoots fired at Google and Facebook for making billions on their networks

    2. This is not how the system works.
      It’s a two way street with the networks and Google. They need each other. They rely on each other for their business models to work.
      If I were Google, I would issue a statement saying something like, “Google services are financed by Google Ads. If you don’t show our ads, we cannot afford to let you use the services.” And then shut off access to gmail, youtube, google search, and drive for these mobile users. Let’s see how long the carriers can withstand that… VZW wouldn’t be able to gouge people outrageously for bandwidth without subscribers wanting to use their network to visit the Web. (Bandwidth is actually very, very cheap. You can get unlimited bandwidth with any old $5 hosting plan)

      It’s also not how advertising works. Advertising pays for stuff we like. It pays for Facebook, TV, websites like this one, Twitter, and all the aforementioned Google services, all of which we get for free. It’s not just app developers relying on income from Adwords, it’s stuff we all use a lot, everyday.

      The other side of the advertising coin is that it provides access to a market for all the businesses that rely on it to generate customers and cash flow. If the networks shut off Adwords, many, many businesses would suffer a loss of income. There are a lot of small businesses selling normal products that rely on Google Adwords to bring in the customers. If the networks turn that off, there’s gonna be a lot of payroll not being met, and mortgages not being paid.

      I think jackygreen is right, it’s more like “shots fired.” But, I think they are very ill considered shots fired. Those who live in glass houses…

      edit: I’ve thought about this some more. If I were the carriers, I really wouldn’t want to piss Google off. Google owns Android. Google makes phones. It seems to me Google could become a major carrier with less effort than just about any other competitor.

        1. I see you are making a humorous over-generalization and I would add one of my own:

          Money makes the world go ’round.

          What the carriers are not getting is that the advertising is how they make money too, just not as directly as Google.

    3. Net Neutrality is the best way.

      ISPs must follow Net Neutrality rules, skipping neutrality could be unfair for everyone else.

    4. Crappy websites? how do you feel about Liliputing? Slashdot? Ars?

      And using advertising in an app doesn’t mean the maker company is “hardly worth it”. Paying for apps is one revenue stream, but most app users (that is those outside the US) cannot afford many apps and prioritize other everyday purchases over apps – their buying choices can be influenced through advertising. It’s a win-win.

      But why stop at websites and apps? Why don’t you complain about sponsored product placement in TV shows and movies?

      You’re being a snob.

      1. Internet ads are a frequent source of malware, so maybe that is the carrier’s concern?????

        1. Never had a problem, nor know anyone who has been infected by malware via ad.
          Not saying it doesn’t happen, but I don’t believe for a second that the mobile carriers are threatening to block the ads for that reason.
          I think the reason is financial. It’s a shakedown. Especially considering they’re also saying they may inject their own ads.

          1. Ok, irrespective, it’s not why the carriers are doing it (nor should it be a solution to the problem), and it’s also not the reason @marcvangeel:disqus offered for getting rid of ads. He seems to think it’ll make apps or content better. It won’t.

          2. This isn’t really new, but usually deals with ads on less reputable sites… Normally targeting people who enter financial data online to access certain sites, etc.

            But malware is always evolving and looking for new attack vectors…

            Windows users are still the primary target by far but Android is being targeted by about 67% of the malware that specifically targets mobile devices… So it’s a growing issue…

            It’s true you usually don’t have to worry about Flash on a mobile device but many people enable Flash to visit sites that use Flash and it’s an older version now and thus more vulnerable than the latest PC version… but it’s also true that most such malware won’t target a mobile OS but still something to be aware could happen…

            The main problem with many malware is the user isn’t aware they are infected unless it’s malicious and makes its presence known… Such as ransomware, etc…

            But Spyware, etc can go a long time without the user ever being aware… and most people still won’t even bother to check on a mobile device…

          3. I was thinking more that malware designed to infect Windows is unlikely to infect Android. Some Android devices are (stupidly) set up to run Flash.

          4. Mostly true but some vulnerabilities, like browsers, can be universal… Especially, as the number of effect-able target devices grows and they push for more cross platform compatibility… but it’s not a big deal to worry about yet… just something to keep in mind as things develop…

            Just like the growing number of mobile specific malware…

  9. There was a time there were ethics in business (at least some). these days in the business world if you have any ethics at all you may well go out of business.

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