Steve Dempsey: Explosive news from the Ablockalypse
In February, mobile operator Three announced that it was to introduce ad blocking across its UK and Italian networks, with a roll-out to follow in other countries. That's 87 million users who'll be given the option to turn off the ads they see in apps and on the mobile web.
Three, of course, is pitching itself as the consumer champion. "Irrelevant and excessive mobile ads annoy customers and affect their network experience," goes the press release. But they may only be protecting a small number of consumers. Remember 50pc-90pc of smartphone use, and the majority of tablet use, is over WiFi.
So you'd be forgiven for cynically deciding that this is a move by cellular carriers like Three and Digicel (which is doing something similar in the Caribbean) to stake their claim to even a small part of the ad revenues that the likes of Google, Facebook and others are making on mobile.
The problem is that it's the little guy that suffers. And in this instance, the little guys are publishers.
Ad blocking is a serious threat to the ad-funded internet, which allows online publishers to make their content and applications available to consumers for free.
And some of Europe's biggest publishers recently met up in Frankfurt to discuss ad blocking. The event was organised by WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. On the day, Sweden's Aftonbladet discussed its seven-point plan for dealing with ad blockers; Axel Springer's WeltN24 revealed that under 30pc of its readers used ad blockers during 2015 and that their current mobile ad-blocking rate is less than 3pc; while Germany's FAZ revealed details of a recent survey of over 30,000 readers who use ad blockers. They found that 35pc of respondents used them to avoid malware; 3pc of the participants didn't even know they had an ad blocker installed and 33pc said they would never turn off ad blockers.
"When it comes to ad blocking, we see three clear priorities for our members," says Ben Shaw, director of global advisory for WAN-IFRA.
"First is to improve the overall ad experience for users without ad blockers. This will help to ensure readers are not tempted to install them. And we must also find ways to giving readers better control over their ad experiences.
"Second, we should find ways to encourage users with ad-blockers to agree to whitelist our sites, be served ads again or to sign up for a subscription.
"Third, we must focus on other mobile-ready advertising opportunities that diversify online publishers away from display, such as branded content, in-stream ad formats, video, audio and e-commerce."
Shaw also believes that there may be a role for legislators to play in protecting advertisers and publishers that rely on an advertising model to provide content. "While I don't believe that governments should be journalism's great protector, they should ensure that publishers are able to continue to serve their communities without undue interference from telcos or internet service providers," he says.
Shaw is bullish in relation to Three allowing ad blocking on a carrier level.
"Ad blocking at the mobile level is a direct challenge to the sustainability of the media industry," he says. "While we must continue to find new and compelling ways to support journalism online, we should not just roll over and allow another industry to interfere with or alter our final works. We must also remember that advertising done properly is relevant content and interfering with those messages without the publisher's or reader's consent should not tolerated."
It's clear ad blocking isn't going away. If anything, it's set to become more readily available - especially on mobile channels. For example, mobile browsers like Alibaba's Maxthon, which have ad blocking turned on by default, are growing in popularity in Asia, while AdBlock Plus is soon set to be baked-in to ASUS' mobile browsers, and turned on by default for all users.
The rise of ad blocking is an unintended consequence of how the ad-funded internet has evolved.
Publishers, under the cosh to deliver any revenues from digital, haven't always protected their users from invasive ad tech or disruptive ads.
Faced with a deluge of pop-ups, pre-rolls, auto-plays and interstitial ads, it's no surprise that consumers are using the tools at their disposal to block out the noise.
One platform that may point the way to a better ad experience is Snapchat - which is also beloved of cellular carriers, as it drives huge levels of data consumption. The secret of its success? Ads are short, enjoyable and users' anonymity is preserved.
Last year, CEO Evan Spiegel said his company was lucky not to have any legacy internet ad-serving infrastructure and didn't want to go down the route of building profiles on users that marketers could exploit.
"We're going to stay away from building really extensive profiles on people because that's just bad and doesn't feel very good," he said.
Sunday Indo Business