Why Three’s ad-blocking proposal is terrible

The UK network Three announced yesterday that, staring later this year, it would be blocking adverts at a network level. Justifying the move, Three’s chief marketing officer said that “We don’t believe customers should have to pay for data usage driven by mobile ads.”

Here’s the thing. I don’t pay Three a monthly fee to deliver me a certain type of content. I pay them £15 a month for make sure whatever data my iPhone requests actually reaches my phone, regardless of what that content is: it shouldn’t matter to Three what content I’m receiving as long as I’m receiving the content I requested! As a service provider, Three should be — and is mandated to be by EU law — agnostic.

Any moves to block any form of content on mobile devices is in direct breach of net neutrality. Strangely, the opposition on this has been strangely quiet: nobody likes adverts, so any move so that people see less of them is welcomed. However, what we’re forgetting is that adverts exist for a reason: most of the videos and news articles you browse on your phone are supported by advertising. If Three go ahead with these plans and start blocking certain types of adverts —more on this further on — then we’re stripping revenue streams away from writers and developers who rely on the adverts Three are blocking to earn a living. Three makes lots of talk about how it’s “the [advertising] industry’s” fault, and how we all need to “work together”, but it’s individuals and the UK web publishing sector who will suffer most at the hands of this decision.

Update: Shine’s CMO has got in touch to clarify that Three will be rolling out an opt-in system.

If we delve a little deeper into what Three are saying, what they hope to gain from this becomes a little clearer. Three’s own press release has a very telling quote:

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

That’s right. Three wants advertisers to pay Three to carry their adverts, with the inference being that if they don’t pay then Three will block their ads. In mafia terms, that’s a mob shakedown. I already pay Three to get that traffic to me. Why should an advertiser pay Three to show something I’ve already paid them for? Should Twitter pay Three so that you can access twitter.com? After all, they make money from it. If that’s the case, should I pay Three so you can access hoyle.io? This doesn’t just affect advertising: it’s a rabbit hole that goes deep.

Make no mistake: the web publishing industry needs to change revenue models fast as ad-blocking gets even more prevalent, and if you want to block advertising on your own machines, that’s your decision. However, Three implementing this on a network-wide level is no more than a racketeering attempt to try and squeeze a little more profit out of the traffic they carry, and for a once-lauded mobile network that’s very sad indeed.