European carrier Three to add ad-blocking tech at network level

The wireless network aims to banish irrelevant and intrusive ads from your phone in the UK and Italy.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Mobile advertising can be annoying.

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A major European mobile operator seeks to banish pesky ads from your phone.

Three will implement ad-blocking technology for customers in the UK and Italy in a bid to stop irrelevant or distracting ads from overwhelming you.

Ad blocking is the latest battleground for the beleaguered publishing industry. Advertising revenue pays for publishers, including this very website, to offer articles and content at no charge to the reader. Ad-blocking software that hides those ads undermines that source of revenue. Three argues that advertising can be intrusive, which is a particular problem on mobile devices that have limited screen space.

Three, which is owned by Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison, said it's not trying to eliminate the mobile advertising that funds online content, but aims to give customers "more control, choice and greater transparency over what they receive."

The system will give you the choice to opt in to have ads filtered and removed, according to TechCrunch. Three has yet to announce the full details or give a date when the new system will begin blocking ads.

Three said it has, appropriately enough, three goals in blocking ads: preventing you from paying data charges for them, protecting you from being tracked by them and ensuring you receive only relevant ads.

The network will use ad-blocking tech developed by Israeli company Shine. Three said it will also work with advertisers to improve the quality of mobile ads that do make their way onto your phone or tablet.

Shine's technology has yet to be adopted by US carriers, but the company is bullish about recruiting more networks. "We are changing [the online advertising industry] whether it likes it or not. Shine now has boots on the ground in Europe," the company said in a statement. "Network-level ad blocking in Europe is now a fact. Three is Shine's European beachhead -- expect more European carriers to roll out Shine this year."

The first operator to adopt Shine was Digicel, a Caribbean carrier. Digicel has also called for Google, Facebook and other high-traffic Web companies to share their revenue, attracting controversy with advocates of Net neutrality, the principle that all online traffic is treated equally.

The biggest player in the ad-banning game is cautious about service providers dealing with ads. "We explored network-level ad blocking but ultimately decided against it for a variety of reasons," said Ben Williams, head of operations at Adblock Plus.

"It will be interesting to see whether users favour ad blocking far up the chain at the network level or closer to their devices by way of apps," Williams added. But he clearly isn't an unbiased observer because if your mobile network bans ads, then you don't need the Adblock Plus software.

The alternatives to advertising are paywalls and subscriptions for your favourite websites, apps and services. An individual using ad-blocking software is one thing, but a high-level blanket ban on ads could undermine the publishing model that keeps the Web free.

"An ad-funded Internet is essential in providing revenue to publishers so they can continue to make their content, services and applications widely available at little, or no cost," according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, a UK digital ad industry group. "We believe ad blocking undermines this approach and could mean consumers have to pay for content they currently get for free."

Many websites already show messages to people who use ad-blocking software, requesting that they turn it off. Some sites, including those for GQ and Forbes magazines, even lock ad-blocking users out of some content or charge a small fee to view an article without ads.