Three UK maintains ad-blocking strategy in face of net neutrality guidelines

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Three UK intends to press ahead with plans to introduce technology to improve how advertisements are served on mobile devices, even though several reports suggested the operator could be prevented from doing so under new European guidelines on net neutrality.

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (Berec) last week published its final set of guidelines on net neutrality that proved to be somewhat more stringent than desired by the telecoms industry.

Buried within the text is a clause -- specifically paragraph 78 -- that suggests network-level ad blocking should be prohibited.

The guidelines state that ISPs “should not block, slow down, alter, restrict, interfere with, degrade or discriminate advertising when providing an IAS [internet access service]”. This does not affect end-users that wish to make use of ad-blocking technology on their individual devices.

Three UK -- which is implementing ad-blocking technology from Israel-based Shine Technologies on its mobile networks -- has not directly commented on the Berec guidelines but did indicate that it would press ahead with plans to improve mobile advertising for its customers.

The company said it is confident it would be able to work with the advertising industry and publishers to create a new form of mobile advertising that would be more appealing to its customers. Like its UK rival EE, the company has previously stressed that its primary aim is to give consumers more control rather than eradicate ads altogether.

Speaking ahead of the UK trial in June, Tom Malleschitz, chief marketing officer at Three UK, said: "The current ad model is broken. It frustrates customers, eats up their data allowance and can jeopardise their privacy. Something needs to change."

The Three Group has also announced plans to implement the technology in Italy, and previously said it intends to roll out the technology to other Three Group markets within an undisclosed timeframe.

It should also be noted that the Berec guidelines are just that: they merely provide guidance on how national telecoms regulators should implement the net neutrality legislation introduced by the European Commission.

As pointed out by CCS Insight principal analyst Kester Mann, “Berec’s proposals are open to interpretation, meaning that Ofcom will still make the final decision [in the UK] as to whether to allow [Three UK] to press ahead.”

Mann added: “A key issue is whether Three’s focus to allow customers to opt-in to ad-blocking -- rather than implementing a network-wide ban -- is a violation of net neutrality guidelines. Network-wide blocks seem likely to be outlawed.”

Roi Carthy, chief marketing officer of Shine Technologies, said European citizens had a right to protect themselves from being “tracked, profiled and targeted” by advertising technologies, or AdTech.

“We are confident that paragraph 78, which bars AdTech protection technology to be provided as a service, will be challenged and fail, as it infringes on the rights of European citizens to defend their private communications from unlawful tracking and profiling,” Carthy added.

Mann also pointed out that CK Hutchison’s head Li Ka-shing has a stake in Shine Technologies, “so Three is well positioned to make this move. In this sense, any rebuttal by authorities would represent a blow.”

For more:
- see the Berec guidelines

Related articles:
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Three UK to trial ad-blocking technology in June
Three deploys Shine ad-blocking technology in UK and Italy