Consumers Deserve Control Over Advertising on Wireless Devices

None of us hope for adverts to be pushed onto our mobile phones.  There is no toggle switch to suppress these invaders, not even a fenced area to keep them under control.  They can arrive anywhere; top and bottom page banners, interstitial adverts between items you actually asked for, and adverts stitched into apps that you are using.  Adverts can even be inserted into text messaging sessions.

They eat up our gigabit allowances, distract us from purposeful work, and cramp the space available for information we wanted.  We don’t need them.  Each of us is capable of quickly finding and comparing products and services when we need them.  We don’t need guidance from a slick digital salesman.

Adverts on our mobile phone come from a complex process.  Tracker software puts cookies on your phone as you browse through websites, then analytics companies read the accumulated cookies and determine which market segments you fit into.  Companies such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook then insert adverts into the feeds going to your phone.  You can thwart displaying some adverts by using your browser’s popup controls, but ad blocker software is more successful.  A popular ad blocker is called Disconnect.  It blocks all adverts but allows you to list exceptions if you want them displayed.

Advert pushers claim that adverts are necessary to pay for the information we expect to receive. Most of us conclude the information often has less value than the time we waste on viewing their adverts.  At least one publisher gives visitors the choice of doing without an ad blocker or being blocked from the site (i.e.  Forbes).  But advertising revenue is not the only viable business model.  Many reputable publishers charge a subscription for access to their useful information (e.g. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Economist and The Financial Times).  Their adverts are usually few, small and related to the publication.

Consumers do not want unrequested adverts and advertisers have no right to force us to view them.  Despite being on the right side of this issue, we have few allies in our quest for control over the screens of our own mobile phones and the cellular service that we pay for.  Businesses operating mobile wireless apps should not have to tolerate other businesses’ adverts being insinuated into users’ experience of their app.  None of us wants our wireless service frittered away on unwelcomed adverts.  Even when heavily compressed, the addition of one large advertiser picture can consume 76 kilobytes that we ultimately pay for.  From a wireless operator’s perspective, advertising adds to the traffic that carriers must build networks to deliver.

Messaging applications (text messaging, multimedia messaging, and proprietary versions such as Verizon’s Messenger+, Facebook’s Messenger, and Google’s Whatsapp) are in the advertisers’ cross hairs.  One of the many messaging competitors, Twilio petitioned the FCC to classify messaging as a Title II service under the 1934 Telecommunications Act. That change could prevent messaging providers from exercising safeguards that consumers have relied on such as removing spam, viruses, and adverts from their messaging service, as noted in The American Consumer Institute’s filing.

“If messaging becomes subject to Title II regulations, consumers will stand to lose. Unlike emails, text messaging is often free of spam… because some text messaging services use filtering technologies to limit spam, advertising and fraudulent activity, and some require “opt-in” requirements that protect consumers from unwanted messages. This has made messaging a valuable means of secure, private and convenient communications… consumers can rely on these services to be generally free and “safe and trusted” communications.

The days of uncluttered screens and message products that work quickly and cheaply are being threatened by aggressive advertisers.  There are plenty of competitors offering messaging services and consumers can make informed decisions on which best suits their needs.  We don’t ask for more regulations because they usually are too invasive and costly.  But it would be useful to receive clarification that message service operators can block adverts that consumers haven’t explicitly asked to see.  Leaving the consumer in charge is always a good policy.

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