Author Topic: What does ad blocking mean for net neutrality?  (Read 1473 times)

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Offline mayya

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What does ad blocking mean for net neutrality?
« on: October 24, 2015, 20:21:46 PM »
October 23, 2015, 02:30 pm
What does ad blocking mean for net neutrality?

By Mike Montgomery
After a month of controversy, Apple has dropped the ad-blocking features that it offered its mobile users. Apple removed the features that made it easier for developers to build and distribute ad blockers - pieces of software that prevent websites from serving up ads when you’re using Safari on your iPhone – over security concerns.

While Apple changed course for now, there’s a real risk hidden in facilitating ad blocking because it opens a new net neutrality risk. The ad blocking debate will, therefore, have a major impact on how the future of mobile content develops.

Whether we like ads, forms of advertising are what bankroll much of the online content available to consumers. One may not like sitting through a pre-roll before watching a video but chances are that the ad is what allowed you to watch the video in the first place. Otherwise, the video’s creator or distributor may have no other way to monetize their work and continue creating.

Already, plenty is being written about the ethics of ad blocking. What concerns me it its impact on net neutrality.

The foundation of net neutrality is a level playing field where everyone has equal access. Concerned about the possibility of broadband providers one day charging different prices for different speeds or blocking competitors’ content, the FCC recently approved a rule to regulate the Internet as a utility with a rule created in 1934: Title II of the Communications Act.

From the get-go, it’s extremely problematic to use an 80-year-old rule to regulate a rapidly evolving sector. Title II has bred regulatory uncertainty, and has opened the door to legal uncertainty that could ultimately negate the good intentions behind the FCC’s action.

Which brings us to Apple’s foray with ad blocking. By encouraging ad-blocking technology, Apple is essentially saying that it is OK for one entity to stop certain content from reaching consumers unless a special toll is paid to the operating system gatekeeper. During the net neutrality debate, the debate focused on whether certain types of data were getting preferential treatment while other types could be slowed down or even blocked. By stopping ads, wasn’t Apple doing exactly what the FCC was trying to stop?

To be clear, I am not advocating for any form of content blocking, nor am I arguing for the FCC to regulate edge providers (though the absence of a competitive market of operating systems is concerning). Rather, net neutrality – openness – needs to be an assumed, fundamental premise, so that the Internet can continue to grow and create incredible value in the form of innovation, content and economic opportunity.

But this latest controversy underscores why we need a new, modern law to deal with 21st Century technologies. Ad blocking would have a huge impact on the future of mobile content. Online advertising fuels the Internet, and sites big and small need it to survive. New forms of potentially discriminatory behavior will continue to arise as technologies evolve and that is why we need to enshrine openness in law.

Let’s hope discussions like this bring enough attention to force Washington to think a bit more deeply about net neutrality. If we’re serious about an open Internet, we need net neutrality to be affirmatively enshrined in law. A regulation that is full of holes and uncertainty and can be easily overturned by the courts, a new administration, or a new FCC chairman (who might not agree with the current regime) isn’t good enough. Congress needs to take note and take action in a bipartisan fashion.

It’s worth the effort to get this right.​

Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates, a technology advocacy organization based in California.