September 30, 2015

How ISPs Will Royally Sucker the Internet, Thanks to Ad Blocking

Largely lost in the current controversies about users blocking ads from websites is a dirty little secret -- users are about to be played for suckers by the dominant ISPs around the world, and ad blocking will be the "camel's nose under the tent" that makes these ISPs' ultimate wet dreams of total control over Internet content come true at last.

There have been a number of clues already, with one particularly notable new one today.

The big red flashing warning light is the fact that in some cases it's possible for firms to buy their way past ad blockers -- proving demonstrably that what's really going on is that these ad blocking firms want a piece of the advertising pie -- while all the time they wax poetic propaganda about how much they hate -- simply hate! -- all those ads.

But these guys are just clowns compared to the big boys -- the dominant ISPs around the world.

And those ISPs have for so very long wanted their slices of that same pie. They want the money coming, going, in and out -- as SBC's CEO Edward Whitacre noted back in 2005 during their takeover of AT&T, when he famously asked "Why should [Internet sites] be allowed to use [my] pipes for free?" -- conveniently ignoring the fact that his subscribers were already paying him for Internet access to websites.

Now -- today -- ISPs sense that it's finally time to plunge their fangs into the Net's jugular, to really get the blood gushing out into deep scarlet pools of money.

Mobile operator Digicel announced today that they intend to block advertising (except for some local advertisers) on their networks across the South Pacific and Caribbean, unless -- you guessed it -- websites pay them to let their ads through.

And while their claimed targets are Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and the other major players, you know that it will never stop there, and ultimately millions of small businesses and other small websites -- many of them one person operations, often not even commercial -- who depend on those ads will be decimated.

Germany's Deutsche Telekom is known to have been "toying" with the same concept, and you can be sure that many other ISPs are as well. They're not interested in "protecting" users from ads -- they're all about control and extorting money from both sides of the game -- their subscribers and the sites those subscribers need to access.

Where this all likely leads is unfortunately very clear. No crystal ball required.

Some sites will block ISPs who try this game. Broad use of SSL will limit some of these ISPs' more rudimentary efforts to manipulate the data flows between sites and subscribers. Technology will advance quickly to move ads "inline" to content servers, making them much more difficult to effectively block.

But right now, firms such as Israeli startup Shine Technologies are moving aggressively to promote carrier level blocking systems to feed ISP greed.

Yet this isn't the worst of it. Because once ISPs have a taste of the control, power, and money - money - money that comes with micromanagement of their subscribers' Internet access and usage, the next step is obvious, especially in countries where strong net neutrality protections are not in place or are at risk of being repealed with the next administration.

Perhaps you remember a joke ad that was floating around some years ago, showing a purported price list for a future ISP -- with different prices depending on which Internet sites you wanted to access. Pay X dollars more a month to your ISP if you want to be permitted to reach Google. Pay Y dollars more a month for Facebook access. Another Z dollars a month for permission from your ISP to connect to Netflix. And so on.

It seemed pretty funny at the time.

It's not so funny now -- because it's the next logical step after ISP attempts at ad blocking. And in fact, blocking entire sites is technically usually far easier than trying to only block ads related to particular sites -- most users won't know about workarounds like proxies and VPNs, and the ISPs can try block those as well.

These are the kinds of nightmarish outcomes we can look forward to as a consequence of tampering with the Internet's original end-to-end model, especially at the ISP level.

It's a road to even more riches for the dominant ISPs, ever higher prices for their subscribers, and the ruin of vast numbers of websites, especially smaller ones with limited income sources.

It's the path to an Internet that closely resembles the vast wasteland that is cable TV today. And it's no coincidence that the dominant ISPs, frantic over fears of their control being subverted by so-called cable TV "cord cutters" moving to the Internet alone, now hope to remake the Internet itself in the image of cable TV's most hideous, anti-consumer attributes.

Nope, you don't need a Tarot deck or a Ouija board to see the future of the Internet these days, if the current patterns remain on their present course.

Whether or not our Internet actually remains on this grievous path, is of course ultimately in our hands.

But are we up to the challenge? Or are we suckers, after all?

I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so.
All opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Posted by Lauren at September 30, 2015 03:47 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
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