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Wakey wakey, app developers. Mobile ad blocking will kill you all

It's not just web pages being nixed at source, you know

Two weeks ago we disclosed that CK Hutchison Holdings’s network-level ad blocking can not only block ads on websites, but it is capable of blocking ads served to mobile apps, too.

The move is hugely significant. If Hutch sets a precedent (operators are keen to introduce similar technology) with in-app ad blocking, and it is not certain that it will, this promises to bring about industry-wide changes.

Apps are used by two billion users globally and most apps rely on advertising networks for their revenue. And app users don’t seem to mind them; despite Apple’s success in popularising low cost mobile app purchases, users still prefer seeing ads to paying.

Yet Shine, the technology provider for Hutch’s blocking, doesn’t appear to give the app developer a choice. It’s likely this will spark a shift from an ad-supported model to an in-app purchase model.

The ad industry itself will also need to readjust – possibly striking deals with operators for “acceptable” ads.

The most remarkable thing about app ad-blocking is that that it isn’t well known. A fact brought home when the most widely read (and best) mobile pundit thinks otherwise. Venture capital outfit Andreessen Horowitz's Benedict Evans is very sharp, but his weekly newsletter contained this observation:

So how do we know Hutch can block adverts to apps? It took some detective work that Sherlock Holmes would be proud of. Actually, it didn’t. We asked them. And they told us.

At the time we suggested that network-level ad blocking would face a legal challenge. Copyright law might come into play, since the intermediary (which is making a copy) is altering the content. Restraint of trade could also be a factor, particularly if the route to market is blocked if all mobile operators act to block advertisements. We’ll keep you posted on these developments.

When we asked Three about whether it intended to block in-app advertising, it said: "At this stage, all we can confirm is that Three are still designing how the product looks and will reveal full details in due course.”

In the mean time, it pays to read The Reg: it’s the best way to keep fully informed. ®

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