CBC Radio technology columnist Dan Misener explains how it works.
It works by partnering directly with the mobile operators. So it’s not your phone blocking the ads. It’s your cellphone company blocking the ads before they ever reach your phone.
And now, a cellphone network in the U.K. called Three has a deal with Shine. Starting June 13, they’re going to run a test of the technology before rolling it out to their entire network later this year.
So essentially, we’re talking about the ability to block ads automatically for every customer on a cellphone network.
So those are the reasons Three says they’re using ad-blocking techology. Of course, there may be other reasons, besides the customer-facing benefits.
For instance, we’ve seen some ad-blocking companies charge advertisers to get “whitelisted” — kind of a pay-to-play scenario where your ad is blocked, unless you pay.
To be clear, neither Shine nor Three has said they plan to do this, but it’s where my mind immediately went.
Part of the concern here is that it’s a blunt instrument — all ads are treated equally and all ads are blocked, regardless of their quality.
Reputable ads from well-known companies would be blocked, just the same as scam ads that point to malware and want to steal your data.
And, of course, there’s the controversy around ad blocking more broadly. Free content and services online are funded, largely, by advertising. And if a company like Shine makes it possible to block ads without ever having to download or configure a piece of software, that could hurt content creators and online services even more than the 200 million users who already use software like Adblock Plus in their browser.
The first limitation is pretty obvious: because Shine blocks ads at the network level, with your cellphone provider, it only works when you’re using your cellphone’s data connection. If you’re at home or at work, and you’re using Wi-Fi, you’re still going to see ads.
Second, while Shine can block most forms of display advertising — like banners and pop-ups, and overlays — there are certain types of ads it can’t block. For instance, it can’t block native advertising — like the kind you might see on a site like Buzzfeed, where there’s an article sponsored by a brand.
Finally, ad blocking technology really is a cat-and-mouse game. As ad blocking technology improves, ad display technology improves. There are now a number of companies out there that say they can sneak past ad blockers.
And of course, some websites can now detect if you’re using an ad blocker and refuse to show you content. So even if technologies like Shine are adopted by more cellphone operators, there will always be ad companies trying to one-up them.
Here in Canada, of course, we have rules around net neutrality, and it’s possible that the ad-blocking technology Shine is proposing could run afoul of those laws.
According to one expert I talked to, if a Canadian cellphone company wanted to do ad blocking at a network level, they would need to get prior approval from the CRTC, and it’s difficult to tell how the CRTC would rule on something like that.
We do know that Three is planning to test this technology in the U.K. on an opt-in basis in June. If this technology makes it way to Canadian cellphone operators, it would likely be on an opt-in basis as well.
Needless to say, a lot of people will be watching this roll-out very closely, and I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of the ad blocking debate.