The lonely bully: China issues edict to ban ad blockers · 2016-07-20 14:00 by Ben Williams
We can all remember the bully from our playground or neighborhood, right? But what we forget is how they were finally defeated, because even though they usually fall to the “hero” during the “big scene” in our films, in our lives they generally just fade away. After a time their game just gets stale, so people start going the other way – doing their own thing. It’s slow isolation that drops the bully, not a lightning bang.
There are apparently 159 million people who block ads on their mobile devices in China. Desktop numbers are relatively low by comparison. All of them, though, are going to have a fundamental right snatched from them come September, when their government will take away their right to block ads. That’s because just last week China issued its Internet Advertising Interim Rules, Article 16 of which will place a ban on ad blocking … thus spake the Bully.
Aside from the oppressive part … the new regulations will seek to define what constitutes online advertising. Among other things the rules seek to target false or misleading online advertising for prescription medicine and tobacco; require government approval to run ads for health products, medical supplies, veterinary medicine and pesticides; necessitate that paid search results be clearly differentiable from organic results; and oblige advertisers to be responsible for the authenticity of their ad content.
These are pretty good noises, but hidden among them is language that would seem to all but ban ad blocking. The concept of ad blocking has always been about putting power back into the hands of the consumer, so this robs them of what has become a basic right.
There are many reasons users need this control. Take, for instance, online safety. Most recently, in China itself actually, almost 10 million Android smartphones were infected by malware that generates fake ad clicks. Now, I’m not saying that those users would necessarily have been completely safe if they’d been running an ad blocker, but ad blocking and other tools that would fall under the ban help to mitigate or obliterate that risk.
Besides, that’s not the main reason people choose ad blockers: security, page-load speed, privacy protection and data costs are other factors for downloading one. But all these are just vying for second place behind the mother of all motivations: annoyance. In fact, we just commissioned a study with HubSpot in which respondents to a global survey again said that annoyance/disruption is the main reason they’d installed ad blockers.
Frankly, we don’t know at this point where this will all shake out. If we need to, we’ll pull ABP from China to protect users from any wrath. It’s at least comforting to know that such actions aren’t likely to be replicated elsewhere, at least if German law – where ad blocking as a right has been upheld in six straight court decisions – is anything to go by. In the meantime, let’s not follow the bully down its lonely path.
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