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Phone network-level ad blocking

Bobby Ghayouri

Ad blocking is increasing at a rapid rate which is mainly due to it being easier than ever to install software on a computer system or browser that makes the process of blocking ads painless. There are many anti-virus/malware software suites that now include this software and for web browsers there are a growing number of plugins. Recently Adblock Plus, a browser based ad blocking plugin, claimed to have their software installed on over 100 million devices worldwide.

At this point, the software or plugins need to be installed for ad blocking to occur and in most cases this is not a default application/setup. Well what would happen if the ad blocking was no longer controlled by this software and instead controlled at a higher level? What if that higher level was the service suppliers themselves?

Well, last week Three, the UK mobile operator, started running a 24-hour trial to block all ads served via the mobile network*. Believed to make up around 20% of the average customers bandwidth, Three believe this trial will not only provide a better service but also a faster and more secure service.

Three’s rationale behind this is, naturally, threefold:

  • Customers should not pay for data charges accrued by ads being served
  • Customers privacy and security should be protected at all times
  • Customer should be able to control the ads they see (if any)

They believe that this will force mobile ad suppliers to rethink how they target mobile users, with Chief Marketing Officer, Tom Malleschitz stating: “The current ad model is broken. It frustrates customers, eats up their data allowance and can jeopardise their privacy. Something needs to change.”

Although this is the first test like this within the UK, Europe is no stranger to talks and actions with network-level blocking. Many European mobile operators, including Three Italy, have introduced the Shine framework in to their network meaning they can switch on ad-blocking at any time at network level. This is the same service Three UK has implemented and it is already in place to run.

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So what type of impact can we expect? At this time, this service is still in its infancy, in testing and opt-in only. Although the impact will be minimal, if left unaddressed, advertising mobile users would become increasingly difficult. However, Three, and no doubt others, are doing this with a goal in mind; force mobile ad suppliers to change the game.

Google are very mobile focused so I am sure they will have a number of things in the pipeline and no doubt have a team of mobile specialists talking about this very change and how they can work with mobile operators to offer ‘fair, safe and secure’ ad content to users. Likewise, Bing, Yahoo etc. will be having the same discussions to ensure they do not lose mobile market share.

This is going to be an interesting journey and all at ARM are along for the ride, remaining at the forefront of this as it unfolds.

* Subject to the customer approval. Three customers are being contacted with regards to opting-in to the trial.