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UPDATE Three UK to Trial Network-Level Mobile Ad Blocking on 13th June

Thursday, May 26th, 2016 (8:02 am) - Score 516

Earlier this year Three UK announced that it intended to become one of the first UK mobile operators to roll-out network-level advert blocking technology for its Mobile Broadband (3G and 4G) customers. The operator has now confirmed that their first 24-hour trial will be run in mid-June 2016.

Most people have a natural dislike for advertising, although at the same time much of the “free” content that we all consume online is either partly or totally dependent upon it, which is also true of many commercial services like TV and newspapers etc. Many information sites like ISPreview.co.uk simply wouldn’t exist in their current form without financial support to help cover the bills.

However Three UK, which is perhaps sensitive to the risk of upsetting the big advertising giants like Google and harming the Internet’s ecosystem, say that their intention is “not to eliminate mobile advertising” and they will instead focus on tackling “irrelevant and intrusive adverts which use up [customer] data allowances and can invade their privacy by tracking their behaviour without their knowledge or consent.”

The operator further claims that it will work with the advertising industry, brands and publishers to solve the problems and “create more relevant, less intrusive adverts that increase consumer satisfaction.” So far, so good.

3UK’s Three Principal Goals of Ad Blocking

1. That customers should not pay data charges to receive adverts. These costs should be borne by the advertiser.

2. That customers’ privacy and security must be fully protected. Some advertisers use mobile ads to extract and exploit data about customers without their knowledge or consent.

3. That customers should be entitled to receive advertising that is relevant and interesting to them, and not to have their data experience in mobile degraded by excessive, intrusive, unwanted or irrelevant adverts.

In keeping with this Three UK will soon be contacting customers to ask them to agree to take part in the 24-hour trial, which will test the ability of the technology to filter out advertising that “damages our customers’ mobile browsing experience without impacting their network experience“. Apparently the trial is scheduled to take place during the week commencing 13th June and customers who choose to take part will be able to sign-up via the Three UK website.

Tom Malleschitz, Three UK’s Chief Marketing Officer, said:

“This is the next step in our journey to make mobile ads better for our customers. The current ad model is broken. It frustrates customers, eats up their data allowance and can jeopardise their privacy. Something needs to change.

We can only achieve change by working with all stakeholders in the advertising industry – customers, advertising networks and publishers – to create a new form of advertising that is better for all parties.”

The service, which is being developed in collaboration with Shine Technologies, is likely to be very attractive for consumers, although there are questions yet to be answered about where Three UK will draw the line and who defines what is and is not an allowable advert. Similarly it’s unclear how Three UK intends to force advertisers into paying for their customers’ data usage, which might not scale well if lots of other mobile operators around the world join the party (Net Neutrality?).

Of course we all get sick of auto-play video / audio adverts that start the moment you visit a website and gobble up your data allowance (few will miss those if they die), but on the other hand Three UK have been responsible for making some of those too. Putting a commercial business in charge of such things always leaves room for vest interests and mission creep.

Ad blocking systems also rarely work 100% perfectly and even sophisticated local client based apps or software often make mistakes that can break completely unrelated systems on a website, which is something that Three UK will no doubt wish to avoid.

In any case we’ll be taking part in Three UK’s trial to see how it manages these issues. The operator has already pledged to conduct a “rapid roll-out” of the new system once it’s ready, although a solid time-scale has yet to be established.

Meanwhile the Government have separately raised concerns about network operators deploying default ad blocking systems that could harm the Internet economy, although like almost everybody else they’re probably waiting to see what happens before proposing any changes.

UPDATE 27th May 2016

A few other potential pitfalls have been suggested, not least of which could be the impact upon Three UK’s customer support agents and confused consumers when they realise that the ad blocking stops working as people roam back on to their home WiFi network or visit a secure HTTPS website.

The above a key point because there’s some suggestion that the ad blocking feature could come attached to a special paid data plan, which you’d have to opt-in for to use and remember that this plan would still allow some ads to be shown. Consumers who really want ad blocking might simply not bother and adopt browser-based filters instead.

At an extreme there’s also the possibility that some website publishers or app makers could also block people with a Three UK connection from visiting or force more publishes to adopt subscription based systems. But such blocking might be circumvented via VPN / Proxy and subscription based content won’t work for every site (it can also be counter-productive to visitor numbers).

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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