While mobile ad blocking has yet to catch on in the United States, one Israeli startup is doing its best to make sure it does everywhere else in the world.
Shine, a longtime tormenter of the ad industry, just inked a deal with South African telecom Econet Wireless that will provide each of the network’s 40 million subscribers with Shine’s aggressive brand of mobile ad blocking technology.
The agreement marks Shine’s third partnership of this kind, following a deal with Caribbean carrier Digicel last fall and another with European Three Group in February that’s still in a trial phase.
But Shine’s latest collaborator is bigger than either of those networks Digicel boasts just 13 million subscribers and Three Group has 30 million across its various European brands.
Zimbabwe, home to about a quarter of Econet’s subscribers, will be the first market to get the blocker, followed by Burundi, South Africa and Lesotho.
The deals come as the growing worldwide popularity of ad blockers has locked the media and advertising industries in a heated battle with the makers of the software that drains their revenue.
But in the United States and Europe, publishers have taken some solace in the fact that mobile ad blockers haven’t been widely adopted at least not yet.
Unlike most, if not all, of its competitors, Shine’s scorched-earth ad blocking method operates at the network level rather than on an individual device. Its software is installed in a given cell carrier’s data centers, where it uses a combination of “deep packet inspection” and algorithms to strip ads before they make it to a phone.
That means it can filter ads with discretion across apps and browsers pre-rolls and banners alike though it’s not entirely clear if it currently does so on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Its less encompassing mobile rivals are relegated to the Safari browser app, in which they operate at the mercy of Apple’s walled-garden rules.
Scarier yet for those who depend on ads for a living, Shine’s ad blocker is switched on by default for customers of Econet and Digicel, meaning one would need to consciously decide they want to see ads in order to opt out.
In Three’s case, stricter European regulators decided such a setting would be a violation of net neutrality (the legality of the entire deal also seems to remain an open question there).
Unsurprisingly, Shine’s approach has drawn a lot of ire from the industries it victimizes; its public face, chief marketing officer Roi Carthy, has been called the “most hated man in publishing.”
For his part, Carthy seems to relish the reputation. He’s an antagonistic fixture on the industry conference circuit, where he’s prone to describing his mission in militaristic terms Shine’s technology is “a nuclear weapon,” he has said, against the “consumer abuse” that is advertising.
Shine sees its ad blocker as a consumer savior, cutting out the immense waste of cell data spent loading clunky ads and fending off the malware sometimes cloaked within them. That’s also essentially the proposition it makes to its telecom partners.
But Shine will sooner or later run into the counter-intuitive reality that all ad blockers face that most of them make money not by doing what their name suggests, but by letting certain advertisers through their wall for a fee.
AdBlock Plus, the biggest player in the desktop ad blocking space, has couched these business ambitions in its “Acceptable Ads Program,” a nebulous master list of whitelisted advertisers who’ve either paid for the privilege of being there or been added on the merit of their clean and efficient ads.
Industry trade groups and consumer rights advocates have criticized the program for its lack of transparency.
Shine seems to be headed down this same path; its executives frequently claim that the company doesn’t want to block all ads only the irrelevant and dangerous ones and it recently began testing an ad verification service, according to Business Insider, effectively putting it in competition with many ad tech companies.
Such a business model could once again raise the specter of a net neutrality breach, since Shine’s ad blocker would ultimately be a floodgate controlling what web traffic people see.
Regardless, Shine’s game plan represents an unprecedentedly brazen threat to publishers, app companies and other ad-supported web entities at a time when much of the internet’s traffic has increasingly shifted to mobile.
Facebook, currently the most dominant force in the mobile ads industry along with Google, started cracking down on desktop ad blockers last week with a change to its code meant to render them ineffective. But the company now gets less than a fifth of its ad revenue from desktop a threat to its mobile app would no doubt be taken more seriously.
Shine has said in the past it doesn’t block ads within Facebook, but Carthy more recently hinted to TechCrunch that it now has the ability.
As the startup continues the drumbeat of its expansion, its battle with much of the rest of the internet can only heat up.
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