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Econet’s ad blocking is great, but it’s also a net neutrality violator, regulatory minefield & potential Mafia shakedown

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Extortion, Mafia business, illegal business,

Econet could be making advertisers  an offer they can’t refuse

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Recently, African telecoms Group Econet Wireless announced its partnership with Shine Technologies, an Israeli ad blocking company that provides mobile network operators with network level ad blocker solutions.

Shine and Econet’s proposition is simple – they want to provide subscribers with an ad-free internet experience that will limit the amount of data used to access websites bloated with adverts while securing subscribers’ privacy and offering a faster internet experience.

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All things being fair, this is is a brilliant proposition for subscribers and it will likely provide a better service experience for Econet broadband subscribers. By Shine’s estimates, this could reduce broadband cost by as much as 40% for Econet subscribers.

However, there are other perspectives to this deal that haven’t been given as much attention as they should.

Tucked away in Econet’s plans to deliver a better web experience there are risks of major regulatory violations as well as the unethical application of technology under the guise of  protecting subscribers.

How is ad blocking a bad thing?

There’s been a serious debate around ad blocking for a while now, stirred by arguments for the preservation of advertising because it provides internet content creators a way of monetising their efforts while providing their content essentially for free.

That is a serious concern especially for content creators that won’t be able to easily adopt new revenue models which could affect some services we have come to enjoy “for free”(at the cost of paying through the viewing of adverts).

As much as this is the primary form of disruption that Econet’s deal with Shine is bringing, it’s just one of the issue that this ad blocking deal creates.

One thing that Econet and Shine neglected to highlight is how ad blocking partnerships with Shine have also been sold on the basis of the revenue stream that mobile operators can create from blocked adverts.

Any advertiser that wants to reach the subscribers using an operator that has blocked ads has to pay the mobile operator for the privilege to do so.

This has been the case with Shine’s previous arrangements with two other telecoms groups – Three Group in Europe and Digicel in the Carribean and its part of the company’s business model.

The arrangement has been heavily criticized by the advertising industry with some officials like Randall Rothenberg the president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) referring to the practice as the theft of money from advertisers and publishers which is diverted “into the pockets of giant cell phone carriers.”

Econet hasn’t mentioned any plans to make advertisers play for the access to its subscribers. The telecoms company is still to respond to our request for clarification or comment on this.

However, in light of the strides that the operator is making to create additional revenue streams, it’s hard to imagine that the plans it has with Shine aren’t focused on the same outcome.

This is especially since Econet is well placed to do so. With a hold on over 70% of broadband subscribers in Zimbabwe, advertising to Zimbabweans who are using an Econet connection is a sure way of accessing the majority of Zimbabweans online.

Anyone planning on an online advertising campaign will have to consider paying Econet for the privilege to access this market and the fact that it’s a privilege is where it becomes extortionist in nature.

It’s almost as if operators that adopt this model (which Econet is likely to do as well) are offering subscribers Mafia style protection from irritating and costly ads while making revenue for themselves by forcing advertisers to pay for access to the subscribers.

Net neutrality issues & the regulatory concerns

Assuming, though, that Econet does forego all plans to monetise this arrangement there are also some regulatory concerns around this service, the first being that any form of ad blocking violates net neutrality.

This principle has often been overlooked by Zimbabwean mobile operators who have violated it time and again through services like biNuOver the Top bundles and in Econet’s case through zero-rated services like Ownai.

In any case, it’s still a major concern since Econet’s ad blocking is effectively creating an unfair delivery of broadband services.

When someone accesses the internet they shouldn’t be given a scaled down version of it, neither should there be content that has a lower priority set or determined by the internet provider.

It’s something that our own telecoms regulator, POTRAZ, ought to police, ensuring that every internet provider is not selling access to the internet in  parcels or with parts of it missing.

In the case of Digicel’s adoption of ad blocking, this violation of net neutrality has already been flagged by industry regulators in some of the markets where Digicel operates, indicating how active regulation shouldn’t just sign off on such a major change to how we consume the internet.

There’s also the case of how network level ad blocking has been viewed by other regulators as a potentially illegal service.

The same regulators that raised concerns about Digicel’s net neutrality violations also highlighted how the service could also be illegal because of the way it intercepts communications meant for subscribers.

Whatever happened to freedom of choice?

Econet has also mentioned that it will roll out ad blocking automatically without giving subscribers the option to opt in as has been the case in the other markets where Shine has partnered with mobile operators.

This isn’t illegal but it surely deserves some form of attention because of one simple principle – it denies subscribers of choice.

Considering that this is no minor tweak to how consumers access internet content, Econet should at least given subscribers the right to choose whether or not they want the ad blocking service.

Subscribers are paying to access the internet, they shouldn’t be robbed of the choice of what they want to see and what they’d rather have blocked.

It’s also worth noting that as much as advertising has been bastardised by a model that delivers a lot of its content in an irritating manner with costs associated with data consumption, it is still an important way of raising product and service awareness.

Some subscribers benefit from it and they have a right o decide whether or not they give up such content.

image credit – hitfix.com


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14 thoughts on “Econet’s ad blocking is great, but it’s also a net neutrality violator, regulatory minefield & potential Mafia shakedown

  1. well seing that ad blocking is the worst enemy of online news outlets, i can understand the one sided nature of the article. would love to hear more how this affects revenue from google adsense.

    on choice on could ask, do sites that put ads give users the option not to see ads.

    1. Ad blocking is not actually an enemy of publishers in a country like Zimbabwe. It’s enemies are more the Google, Facebook, brands that advertise as well as ad agencies.

    2. Some platforms do, i know a number of mobile apps that offer you the opportunity to remove ads but you pay for the app instead

  2. “That is a serious concern especially for content creators that won’t be able to easily adopt new revenue models which could affect some services we have come to enjoy “for free”(at the cost of paying through the viewing of adverts).”

    Which Zimbabwean content creators are providing good content for “free”, that relies mainly on ad-revenue? There’s a lot of “How will we survive talk?”. Who are you talking about?

    You also can’t talk about freedom of choice, when you agreed to terms and conditions of usage. Change to another service provider. That’s the choice that’s available to you. They are implementing ad-blocking for the benefit of the subscriber, not for content providers. Econet is not in the content provider business and hence it’s not in their interest to be concerned about them. Move with the times, ad-blocking is now becoming in-built into browsers, as it spreads who are you going to cry to.

    Besides, when airtime data “disappears” you complain, now they are doing something to save subscribers data you complain. We need to get rid of the complaining, whilst sitting around, attitude in Zimbabwe. Find sponsorship or a strategic partner. If you can’t secure alternate revenue streams and your business is no longer viable, shut it down. Don’t keep beating a dead horse, use you energy elsewhere. It’s unfortunate, but that is the future of it.

    Failure to adapt is what happened to the postal service, fax services and internet cafes. You should be writting articles on alternate revenue strategies, instead of complaining about Econet’s ad-blocking as if you are going to change their minds. Let’s adapt and grown, not complain and wither.

      1. You are labouring on the wrong points and preaching to the choir. That banner advertising is bad for both blogger and blog reader has been true for a long time and its a truth that bloggers, especially those that have been doing it for a while, know too well. This is not about bloggers trying to protect a revenue source, because that revenue source has never been good – hence Techzim Events, AMH conversations and other advertising models being pursued. Globally, the move is subscription for deep journalism and native ads for cheap journalism.

        By choosing to discuss blogging models, we’re missing the bigger issues raised in the article like Net Neutrality, Shine’s potentially extortionist (against advertising networks, not publishers) model, and the freedom of choice for consumers of content.

    1. Ad blocking is not actually an enemy of a business like ours. Not even an enemy of large online publishers in Zimbabwe like NewsDay and Herald. The negative effect is on Google, Facebook and companies that advertise through these networks.

      Blocking would only affect us if Econet decided its subscribers should not view any pictures at all.

    2. Which Zimbabwean content creators are providing good content for “free”, that relies mainly on ad-revenue? There’s a lot of “How will we survive talk?”. Who are you talking about?

      The ad revenue model has been the primary revenue streams for Zimbabwe’s online publishers, indicating how all their content, which is offered for free, is being paid for by adverts. It would be wrong to assume otherwise. That statement wasn’t a lamentation on how the industry, including our publication, would survive. The same applies for the entire article.

      You also can’t talk about freedom of choice, when you agreed to terms and conditions of usage. Change to another service provider.

      The choice that you can exercise by moving from one provider to another does not overshadow or outweigh the right you should have to decide any major change that a service provider wants to make in what they are offering you.

      They are implementing ad-blocking for the benefit of the subscriber, not for content providers. Econet is not in the content provider business and hence it’s not in their interest to be concerned about them.

      Actually, every internet provider has a direct interest in content provision. Internet provision is affected by it in a major way. Econet’s move is a fitting example of that. If content wasn’t consequential we wouldn’t be discussing developments regarding its delivery.

      Move with the times, ad-blocking is now becoming in-built into browsers, as it spreads who are you going to cry to.

      That’s the beauty of it actually. The ad model is clearly broken and needs to change. There is no despair.

      I appreciate your points on the need for publishers to identify new ways of earning revenue and embracing the realities brought by the shift in technology. However, the discussion here isn’t about the failing ad business model. It’s instead focused on the other issues that this approach to ad blocking, in its current state, is raising.

      1. “The ad revenue model has been the primary revenue streams for Zimbabwe’s online publishers, indicating how all their content, which is offered for free, is being paid for by adverts.” Like I asked before, who are you talking about, name a few?

        “The choice that you can exercise by moving from one provider to another does not overshadow or outweigh the right you should have to decide any major change that a service provider wants to make in what they are offering you.” You are misguided in thinking you govern what your service provider does. They have management structures and the relevant experts for that. Besides, were you consulted when they decided to offer you mobile data? Or, 3G and 4G? No. So why consult you now?

        Don’t confuse content and it’s method of delivery. Econet provides a method of delivery via GPRS, 3G and 4G. They themselves aren’t content providers. You could be accessing free or paid services, they just get you there.

    3. i don’t believe for one moment this has the subscribers interests at heart and if so that is misplaced vision, IMO. what if as a consequence we begin to get locked behind paywalls, or our traffic is treated with less priority. Hameno. honestly these ads were not that much of a big deal to me & i spend a great amount of time online, if they want to do good by us why not offer me a chance to preserve some of the data i lose from unused bundles, get points, or even to remind you that your bundle is nearly expiring manje vanongovhara mozoti vane hanya nesu, mmmmmm i doubt very much

  3. Me hangu as a layman in these issues am all for people leaving my internet the hek alone, jus provide bandwidth. Ad revenue, i believe has played a major part in boosting content creation online and as Zim becomes ‘more online’ some will benefit from this model.

    By blocking ads u jus become a bad online citizen who wants to consume free content and not contribute in any way and were will it end surely, this is just a step towards eventually censoring the internet more and more. #handsoftheinternet

    Hope they don’t extend this rubbish to ZOL

  4. Econet is not putting ad blocking in place because they care a lot about their users data! No!

    Econet cares about their data pipes being constantly hit by massive unsolicited traffic, which is spam junk that doesnt bring any revenue to them. They need to earn money from traffic which passes through their network to keep infrastructure going and invest more.

    Its a better evil which people will have to learn to live with!!

    1. Econet cares about their data pipes being constantly hit by massive unsolicited traffic, which is spam junk that doesn’t bring any revenue to them.

      That is not true – subscribers pay for every bit of that data – so Econet already earns revenue. Econet already has dodgy data billing practices – I don’t think blocking ads will do the subscribers any good. On Econet, merely enabling data on your phone will steadily use up data, even with no data transfer. You’d get much better results on the very same phone when you insert a SIM belonging to a different MNO (locally or abroad).

  5. I have never been a fan of pop up or unsolicited ads. Content providers can’t lament that their ability to provide services for free will be washed away if their ads are blocked. That’s just hiding behind a finger. If someone wants something bad enough they will pay for it themselves not wait around for freebies. These guys should wake up and find other ways to make revenue not ride on other people’s backs.
    I am not tech savvy, but i get the feeling the people who clamour for net neutrality are the ones who spew the internet with things that we do not need. Local telecoms are serving local needs, and for local needs the term internet does not meen a free for all brethren where you are free to distract a dollar a day user with things that he doesn’t need. Internet for most local folks is facebook, Whatsapp etc. If you have outgrown this level of internet understanding then by all means go elsewhere.
    Ads providers complain when they are being filtered, but do they care when they litter our pages with whatever they spray all over the place?

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