In an attempt to counter Google’s dominion on digital advertising revenue, European mobile carriers are considering ad blocking on mobile devices.
A Financial Times report revealed that major European operators are already preparing (and installing) ad-blocking software which shields users from what they consider unfriendly and unwanted advertisement.
This particular software doesn’t allow ads to load, though other types of advertising, such as “in-feed” ads will remain untouched.
Initially, the ad-blocking service will be an opt-in service for all users who desire to join, however, some carriers are also weighing the possibility of automatically extending the software to its entire network.
The Potential Negotiating Table and Google’s Dire Predicament
Of course such massive moves almost always come down to leverage and money. And curiously enough, this is also the case here.
The Israeli company responsible for developing the ad-blocking software is called Shine. Recently, Shine received a significant investment from Li Ka-shing, a Hong Kong business magnate who owns Hutchison Whampoa.
Ad blocking would, of course, be the best solutions for specific companies to compete with Google, an obvious target. Whether the carriers would then require Google (and other affected companies) to share revenue if their ads are un-blocked or whether the companies will be forced to pay for unblocking privileges remains to be seen.
Previous blocking attempts have been made. In 2013, a short-lived ad-blocking feature was added by the French provider Free, which argued that Google hadn’t correctly contributed its share when internet service providers had to improve infrastructures so as to be capable of running bandwidth-intensive services.
The legality of such blocking endeavors, though, remains disputed. While some blockers are considered legal, there is also the issue of ad-blocking tampering. Amazon, Google and Microsoft have all been involved in the Adblock Plus controversy which claimed that the companies had been paying contributions in order to have specific ads pass through the blocking service’s filters.
Net Neutrality Concerns
Perhaps well intended, this initiative will certainly be met with massive resistance from both sides of the Atlantic. After all, it stands against the idea of internet neutrality and the notion that all traffic should (and must) be treated equally.
Some nay-sayers may even invoke censorship arguments, and while all these points are valid, there is a bigger picture.
Advertising funds most of the services that people love to access. In a response to the Finacial Times’ story, google released a statement saying:
“People pay for mobile internet packages so they can access the apps, video streaming, webmail and other services they love, many of which are funded by ads.”
So surely, the negotiating table will not be the place where this battle is fought. In 2014 alone, online advertising haled in a whopping $141.2 billion worldwide. It’s therefore understandable that suddenly blocking mobile ads will be fought to the nail.
Free applications and services are mostly funded by revenue stemming from advertising and Google hinted that without ads, the development of such applications and services would be greatly affected. Everything from service development to behind-the-scenes infrastructure relies on such revenue and delivering the services users are accustomed to requires advertising.
Google’s Hegemony and Upset Competitors
This seemingly endless tug of war does embroil noteworthy arguments from both sides. Yet corporate ad blocking is considered by many out of line and such attempts seem unlikely to prevail in courts.
Shine is convinced that by adding such blocking services, it will force Google to compensate internet service providers for using their networks.
Various non-profits dedicated to net neutrality protection have already expressed opposition, explaining that such a move is tremendously harmful. Because, in effect, advertisements are also content, there is no reason for it to be blocked.
“That’s true whether it’s an ad or a blog or your Facebook articles or whatever,” Josh Levy, Access Now representative said.
Since the majority of Google services, such as search functions, Gmail, maps, news and many more are offered free of charge, ad blocking seems a ridiculous attempt at forcing a major company’s hand. In the end, it will be to no avail.