A view from Gurjit Degun

Could legislation solve the problem of ad-blocking?

Is more needed than better ads and enforcement of current laws to resolve the issue, Gurjit Degun asks.

The media industry is facing a crisis as a rocketing number of people are choosing to block ads. It’s not just that consumers hate poor commercial messages. They are sick of intrusive ads invading their mobile screens and eating into their data allowance.

Last week, Eyeo, which owns Adblock Plus, said its software had been downloaded on more than 100 million devices around the world. There are also fears about phone carrier Three’s plan to allow its 80 million users to block ads at a network level.

The problem took off after Apple allowed ad-blocking extensions on Safari as part of its iOS 9 software update in September last year. 

Publishers have been feeling the strain, especially as some ad-blocking companies have introduced paid "whitelists", which some claim is tantamount to holding media owners to ransom if they have to pay to be "unblocked".

"If the media industry suffers a drop in ad income, it could harm the British economy" - Steven Chester, Internet Advertising Bureau

The issue has escalated to such an extent that culture secretary John Whittingdale has tried to bring the warring parties together.

He has recently held a series of meetings with trade bodies, publishers and portals, ad-blockers, mobile operators, non-governmental organisations and consumer groups.

Whittingdale has not indicated whether the government is looking to introduce legislation around ad-blocking but he has not ruled out such a move. However, he is known to favour self-regulation rather than intervention on most media matters.

Steven Chester, director of data and industry programmes at the Internet Advertising Bureau, who discussed the issue with Whittingdale and industry leaders earlier this month, believes that if the media industry suffers a drop in ad income, it could harm the British economy.

Chester does not want additional red tape – just better enforcement of current laws, where consumer privacy and net neutrality are being infringed.

This doesn’t leave ad agencies, media shops, publishers and chief marketing officers off the hook. Many in the industry believe there must be a drive to make better ads and ensure they are correctly formatted for mobile and less intrusive.

The IAB is working on a recommended list of best-practice principles as part of its "Lean" initiative, which stands for light, encrypted, ad choice-supported, non-invasive ads.

If self-regulation doesn’t work, there is still the possibility of legislation.