It could end up being the most devastating own goal since someone at KPN said “I’ve got a great idea: let’s surcharge WhatsApp”.
The UK’s Financial Times is reporting that an unspecified number of (also unspecified) European mobile operators have loaded up ad blocking software from Israeli company Shine and aren’t afraid to use it. In fact the story says there are plans to activate it by the end of the year and that one customer is poised to make an announcement within the next couple of months.
The conclusion being drawn is that the moves are a concerted strike against Google and other OTT players whose business models rely on advertising. The idea, it’s thought, is to threaten to use ad blocking to bring them to the table to share out the loot.
If this is even close to the case it would be a professional foul of the first order and is probably the quickest route yet devised to what would then be seen as urgently needed, extra teeth added, net neutrality laws.
The more likely course is that some operators intend to use ad blocking to nibble at the edges of the ad flow and diminish the power of the Internet-based companies by doing so.
Firstly, by using the technology to allow their mobile subscribers to ‘opt out’ of ads, thus claiming to be acting on behalf of their users. It would be interesting to see how the content companies responded to that.
Another route may be to selectively block ads as part of a congestion management process - that would at least be to some degree defensible. But the idea that mobile operators would simply block ads that didn’t give them a cut and use this as a way to advance their own advertising plays (the fact that Verizon is buying AOL principally for its ad business is oft being mentioned) must surely be a move too far even for the most blinkered operator. Such an approach would be especially toxic, on every level, if it were to be retro-justified by dragging out all the old arguments about Google and the others ‘business-stealing’.
There are a few signs that at least some in the industry think blocking and then hard-bargaining might be a fruitful direction to take. Let’s hope they’re a distinct minority.
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