European regulators just put a major roadblock in the way of one of the most ambitious and aggressive ad blocking startups as well as the telecom that had hoped to benefit from it.
The company, an Israeli tech firm called Shine, had planned to partner with the European wireless carrier Three to block all mobile ads from reaching its 30 million subscribers.
But a European Union agency said this week that such a plan would violate net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should treat all web traffic equally.
The ruling comes as good news for the publishers and other web entities whose revenues have been diminished by the widespread upsurge in ad blocker use.
But the broader set of guidelines with which it came were also seen as a victory for advocates of the open web, a group that tends to support the spread of ad blockers because of privacy and security concerns.
While consumers should be free to install individual ad blockers, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) said in its guidelines, proposals like Shine’s, in which ad blockers would be installed at a network-wide level, would essentially give internet providers a floodgate with which to control the flow of traffic.
What is Shine?
Shine’s ad blocking technology is especially feared by online industries because it enables a scorched-earth approach across browsers and apps that would encompass more of the mobile web than any other ad blocker currently on the market.
Shine has made similar deals with Caribbean telecom Digicel and South Africa-based carrier Euronet.
Three has argued in the past that the deal isn’t a net neutrality breach because consumers have the choice of whether to opt in or not.
Unlike in Shine’s other two deals, Three decided not to enable the ad blocker by default in a bid to strengthen its case to stricter European regulators.
But the distinction doesn’t matter, a report accompanying the guidelines counters even user consent doesn’t give service providers the right to control traffic.
Not first up to bat
This isn’t the first time a European telecom has faced off with regulators over ad blocking. Free, the second largest internet provider in France, blocked ads by default for a week in 2013 before the French government intervened.
That standoff, like this latest ruling, had less to do with the tussle between the scrappy ad blocking industry and publishers and more with one between two warring corporate interests.
Internet providers have long believed that they should be able to take a cut of the billions of dollars made by companies freely disseminating information with their infrastructure; it’s the incentive at the heart of the entire net neutrality conflict.
Charging a toll
Deals like Three’s would accomplish part of that mission by effectively letting carriers charge a toll to advertisers who want their ads to pass through the blocker granted they meet some set of yet-to-be-determined acceptable ads criteria.
Not only that but they could do so under the guise of consumer protection clunky mobile ads waste a huge amount of bandwidth to load and can sometimes even cloak malware.
“When users do ad blocking, it’s awesome … when ISPs do ad blocking, it becomes something else entirely.”
When Free struck out against advertising in 2013, it was widely seen as a show of force against Google. Indeed, analysts found that Google’s ads were the only company’s affected, and Free head Xavier Neal had griped in the past about how much bandwidth the search engine’s content consumed.
Shine’s outspoken public face, chief marketing officer Roi Carthy, has kept the focus of his company’s various deals on consumer protection by regularly antagonizing the ad industry in appearances at conferences.
Shine responds to the block
Shine responded to the EU’s ruling in the same fashion, blaming it on the ad industry’s lobbying.
“European citizens have the right to protect themselves from being tracked, profiled and targeted by AdTech,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.
As the Financial Times points out, Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man and head of Three’s parent company CK Hutchinson, is also an investor in Shine.
Holmes Wilson, cofounder of net neutrality advocacy group Fight for the Future, said he’d rather see the fight over ad blockers fought on the individual level than a network-wide one.
“When users do ad blocking, it’s awesome,” Wilson told Mashable. “When ISPs do ad blocking, it becomes something else entirely.”
“It becomes much less of a user control thing and more of a way to use their market power as the last mile provider to mess with the intentions of both websites and users,” he continued.
Originally found athttp://mashable.com/