Mobile Carriers Explore Ad Control and Blocking Options

November 25, 2015 Updated: November 29, 2015

Some mobile networks are about to crack down on what they deem to be annoying ads. The U.K. mobile network carrier O2 is looking to introduce an ad-blocking feature for its users, according to Business Insider, making it the second carrier this week to announce possible plans for deploying ad-blocking technology.

The U.K. carrier EE said earlier this week that it was doing a review of features that give customers control over what ads they see. The goal of both these initiatives isn’t to block ads completely, but to improve the browsing experience and reduce excessive data usage stemming from bloated ads.

“We are holding ourselves to the highest standards with our own advertising,” O2’s managing director of digital commerce Robert Franks told BI. “We are looking at these technologies to see if they can help our customers with some of the bad practices and disruptive experiences that are happening.”

We are looking at these technologies to see if they can help our customers with some of the bad practices.
— Robert Franks, O2 managing director of digital commerce

For instance, a New York Times survey in October found that half of the data used when browsing 50 top news sites was spent loading ads. For the worst offender, the ratio of data used for ads to news content was 4 to 1.

Ad-block features for mobile browsing was a niche but growing market until September, when Apple enabled ad-blocking mobile browser extensions on iOS 9, kicking off the “adpocalypse.” Soon after the iOS 9 update, ad-blocking extensions shot up to the top of the chart on the App Store, provoking many in online publishing to cry foul.

The developer of the popular ad-block app “Peace” pulled it from the App Store in late September because of concerns that it would damage the online publishing industry, but by then the technology had already become mainstream, a status that will be further cemented by the moves by O2 and EE, which together have more than 50 million customers.

The threat to mobile advertisers and sites relying on ad revenue is far from existential. A growing number of desktop websites already use ad-blocking technology, and as an alternative to mutually assured destruction, advertisers are working toward making their ads less intrusive to get on the “white list” of ad-block extensions. In some cases, websites can also pay to get themselves white-listed on ad-block extensions.

Some purveyors have shied away from the freighted term “ad blocking” altogether, opting for a more cooperative stance.

“For EE, this is not about ad blocking, but about starting an important debate around customer choice, controls, and the level of ads customers receive,” EE CEO Olaf Swantee told The Telegraph.

EE is exploring the creation of tools that will allow customers to selectively block the more intrusive forms of advertising, such as pop-ups, videos that play automatically, and the ability to control the volume of mobile ads.