Oooh, this is fun!

Three is poised to become the first major European mobile operator to block online advertising on its network, signalling a clash with digital publishers and advertising companies.

What? Why?

They will also fear that Three could pursue a similar model to Digicel, the Caribbean operator controlled by the Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, which last year became the first to implement Shine’s technology. The operator has blocked almost all mobile advertising and demanded that publishers and web giants such as Google and Facebook share their revenue with it.

Ahhh…..yes, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

20 thoughts on “Oooh, this is fun!”

  1. With many websites now detecting ad-blockers and refusing to serve content until it’s turned off (forbes and for example), let’s see what happens when people start seeing “we can’t show this website on your phone as your provider has blocked it so nag them” messages.

    Interesting to watch the power play out here.

  2. So….. The Royal Mail will now demand that Screwfix Direct share their profits with them. ITV will now demand that Unilever share their profits with them. My newsagent will demand that the Daily Mail share their profits with him.

    Can’t they understand that they are just a service provider being paid to provide a product, data transmission, not a shareholder of their customer.

  3. The move to encryption of everything will stop Three doing this.

    On the subject of adblockers, I’ve found it weird that websites like The Guardian are able to detect that you are using one. Surely a good one wouldn’t be detectable?

  4. With many websites now detecting ad-blockers and refusing to serve content until it’s turned off (forbes and for example),

    I’ve not bothered with Forbes since I encountered this, but the Torygraph website still works with ad blocking. I also block all their cookies and trackers (with Ghostery), so maybe you aren’t blocking hard enough? 🙂

  5. Presumably Three will replace website ads with their own.

    I vaguely recall a company in America trying this on: they picked up local TV stations and re-broadcast them on the Internet, swapping in their own ads. Needless to say they were demolished in court.

    There are technical differences with websites; but the principle is the same.

  6. @J – Not sure encryption makes any difference there – Current ad blockers running in the browser work on url’s not content – hence the ability to define what to block by URL regexes.

    But, given 3 will obviously be blocking it on their network, presumably they can just do the same with refusing to resolve URL requests to the ad server domains

  7. The question is whether Digivel is working.

    I suspect Three will have to relent in this for the reasons Noel points out. They’ll piss off their customers. And Three don’t have much power here. Phone operators are just a dumb pipe, one of a number of pipes including free Wi-Fi, home broadband and work PC’s.

    You ask most people if they want Facebook or Three, I bet they’ll say Facebook.

    They’ve also now given people fair warning not to take out a long contact with Three.

  8. Not sure how long that will last, given the EU’s posture on ‘net neutrality’.

    That said, I’m not going to take this story entirely at face value just yet (not least of all because it’s from The Buzzgraph).

  9. Do any IT chaps here know how the ad-block “detecting” technically works?

    For example, and apols if this is simplistic, do they serve up their own “quasi ad” first (before the rest of the content) and if that doesn’t load then don’t load the rest?

    And if yes, is that their own ad as in or a different third party www that they can monitor?

    Or what?

  10. OK, for what it’s worth re Forbes.

    IE, with JS, and with a host’s file, but no separate ad-blocking software, Forbes tells me to switch off the ad-blocker.

    Opera, no JS (nor cookies etc), but with a host’s file, and Forbes will load just fine.

    Which suggests that JS is involved in the process, and that if JS is switched on, it also then knows if you are using a basic host’s file.

  11. Probably a mix of both, and varying for each site.

    Server-side request checking (ie, did the browser load the test ad?) would be more reliable, but I would expect that could be countered by ad blockers loading particular requests then making sure they didn’t display.

    Javascript can be used to tell if a particular element in the HTML is displayed, so that might be one way around the above. But again, it’s easy enough to stop particular chunks of javascript from executing (or just feed it bogus results.)

    The problem for the advertisers is that the user (given sufficient clue) is in complete control of the browser. And even if, for example, Chrome tried to make life difficult for ad blockers (somehow without breaking every other extension) there’s always the option of running your browser through a proxy server that filters the content.

  12. PF, looks like noscript (for Firefox) or uMatrix (for Chrome) would be handy for Forbes then. If I get time I might test that.

  13. PF,

    Presumably it’s JavaScript that reports back when it’s page element gets rendered by the browser, or when the ad content fails to load, which would explain the effect using a hosts file. Presumably the same thing can occur when going via a proxy or using something like OpenDNS. Possible that parental control stuff will have the same effect.

    Note that some organisations may block JavaScript and/or cookies for security reasons, so anything relying on JS will fail anyway.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset

    Not surprised that the MNOs are trying this. They’ve gone from running EBITDAs approaching 50% when mobile was in its growth stages and most countries allowed a duopoly to something like 5% to 10% now, and its its not getting better.

    The nature of the business has also changed. In the late 90s we were looking at ways to make money out of data when planning the early 3G networks ome pretty big brains couldn’t come up with a “killer app” and the data revenue streams always looked flaky, at best. It didn’t matter then because data was carried over what was essentially a voice network and the MNOs made their money out of voice anyway.

    It turned out that the killer app was the Internet and as we all know the Internet is free and the MNOs haven’t been able to monetise all that data which was taking taking an ever bigger slice of network capacity and requiring expensive upgrades, especially backhaul (from site to core network), which is the eye watering part of the cost. At the same time the world was moving to higher fixed fee voice services with lower variable revenue per call, which didn’t help them.

    The move to 4G means that the mobile networks are now designed to carry data and voice and other services over the top (OTT). This is making it even harder for the MNOs to make money. They tried walled gardens, and that failed miserably, so now all they can do is try to grab a slice of the revenue stream they are carrying, but as others have pointed out, they are now basically a dumb pipe offering a utility service and they don’t like it.

    Expect to see many more attempts to monetize data over the next couple of years and all doomed to fail.

    This is also why we’re seeing a spate of mergers and network sharing deals, something that the competition authorities are quite rightly getting very concerned about

  15. PF.

    In essence it’s just a variation on cookies. The ad needs to be retrieved and active in order to send a signal and allow the rest of the page. It’s an arms race, the more intrusive and insistent the ad the more effort people will put into blocking, or they decide the content isn’t worth the irritation.

  16. Quick update, and no idea if others have tested it, but basically forget what I said above.

    More playing – re Forbes.

    It seems that no matter what settings I change in either IE or Opera, allow or disallow etc – JS, cookies, frames, etc – Opera (11) always loads (no matter how I set it) and IE (9) never loads..!? Host’s file throughout, but no ad-blocker.

    Remove the host’s file for IE (but must allow JS and all that etc) and obviously it loads, but oh so very, very slowly and CPU through the roof – not that useful…:)

    I haven’t tested IE line by line, but can see that “restricted” zones doesn’t load and “internet” zone does.

    Above my pay grade…

  17. It seems that no matter what settings I change in either IE or Opera, allow or disallow etc – JS, cookies, frames, etc – Opera (11) always loads (no matter how I set it) and IE (9) never loads..!?

    In case anyone reads this thread later – I just tried loading something else from Forbes, and at the moment Opera does need JS active to load the site. No cookies or anything else, just JS. And that’s with a host file in place, but it still loads the content.

    If I try Opera without JS, then nothing loads at all, not even the page telling me to switch off the blocker.

    Internet Explorer, with JS active (and lots else), still refuses to load the acual content, but does keep telling me to switch off the blocker.

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