The Ad-Block Arms Race Intensifies

Mobile Operators and Internet Services Take Shots

Adbllock_Plus_lIn a recent interview with The Telegraph, EE’s CEO Olaf Swantee said the UK operator is considering enabling subscribers to block advertisements at the network level to optimize the user experience. Mr Swantee said that EE is evaluating options including blocking banner and app-embedded ads, stating that it’s a matter of “starting an important debate around customer choice”.

Last week, some Yahoo Mail users discovered that running the Adblock Plus browser extension on their desktop computers prevented access to their accounts. Yahoo stated that it was testing the concept via a few of its US users.

Other Web properties including the Washington Post in the US and City A.M. in the UK have begun preventing users from viewing full content if ad blockers are detected.

Ad-blocking software has been around for a long time, but its use in the past year has reached critical mass and forced publishers to take note — and action. iPhone and iPad users can now install ad blockers directly through Apple’s app store, making concerns more acute. Ad blocking has gone mobile and reached a new level of legitimacy in 2015.

Content owners and Web services reliant on advertising face growing layers of resistance as users gain awareness and network operators examine opportunities as ad gatekeepers and, potentially, toll collectors. We expect many operators to carry out ad blocking reviews like EE’s in the coming 12 months.

Some might say there’s a morality problem in the enablement of parasitic behaviour, and in the sincerity of motives. The optimization of the user experience and the filtering of content to make the most of data plans could become secondary to creating business models that elevate operators’ positions in the value chain.

The subject of ad blocking will become more complex in 2016 as users, regulators, operators, content owners, Web services and developers jostle for position. We expect whitelisting to become a controversial topic in the coming year as the owners of infrastructure and spectrum look for ways to better use their assets and as net neutrality rules are tested. There are hints of walled gardens here, but, in the end, cross-industry partnerships are likely to be needed to create a truce.

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