LONDON: UK mobile operator Three has announced plans to introduce ad blocking technology for its British and Italian networks in a move that is likely to alarm digital publishers and advertisers.
The company issued a statement, explaining that it had successfully worked with Shine, an Israeli start-up, to implement its ad blocking technology across Three UK and Three Italy before a "rapid roll out" across its operations in other countries.
"Our objective in working with Shine is not to eliminate mobile advertising, which is often interesting and beneficial to our customers, but to give customers more control, choice and greater transparency over what they receive," the company said.
Three outlined three main reasons for the move – that data charges to receive ads should be borne by the advertiser, full protection of customers' privacy and security, and that customers should receive only relevant and interesting ads.
"Irrelevant and excessive mobile ads annoy customers and affect their overall network experience," said Tom Malleschitz, CMO at Three UK.
"We don't believe customers should have to pay for data usage driven by mobile ads. The industry has to work together to give customers mobile ads they want and benefit from. These goals will give customers choice and significantly improve their ad experience."
Three has 30m customers and operations in several European countries, including Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Sweden. Its initiative would make it the first European mobile network to block advertising.
Also of potential concern for advertisers is that CK Hutchison, the Hong Kong conglomerate that owns Three, is currently seeking a £10.5bn takeover of O2, the second-largest mobile operator in the UK. Li Ka-shing, the owner of CK Hutchison, is also an investor in Shine.
Shine is also reported to have said that Three was its "European beachhead" and that other operators in the region will implement its technology this year.
IAB Europe responded to the news by expressing concern, saying ad blocking threatens the internet, penalises consumers and small companies who depend on ad-funded online services, and undermines media diversity and independence in Europe.
"Moreover, imposition of ad blocking at the network level is at variance with the principle of net neutrality and a clear interference in freedom of commerce," IAB Europe stated.
Data sourced from Three, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff