The Technological Balkanization Of The Web

The IAB this week said ad blocking is costing the industry $781 million a year. In addition to lots of browser-based ad blockers (some of which are said be simply schemes to extort money from ad-serving companies), Apple's iOS 9 blocks ads and attribution -- some say aimed squarely at AdSense, which happens to be owned by one of Apple's biggest competitors, Google.

Meanwhile, an Israeli ad-blocking tech company now blocks ads for 13.6 million Digicel telco subscribers in 31 markets across the Caribbean, Central America and Oceania. AdExchanger says that EE -- the U.K.’s largest mobile carrier, with 27 million subscribers -- and O2, second with 25 million, are both seriously exploring network-wide ad-blocking options.

All of this should be — and increasingly is — of great concern to the ad industry. But I think this is just as worrisome: Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp is blocking outbound links to Telegram, the secure messaging service that has grown in popularity to more than 12 billion messages sent daily, effectively blocking anyone who wants to facilitate a conversation on Telegram.



For years, the online industry has fought against every attempt to limit net neutrality, which in theory would prevent one interactive entity from harming another. The fear was that if you allowed those who control the pipes to decide what can be seen (think Comcast, Cablevision, TW Cable) it would eventually lead to an Internet that is no longer a free flow of ideas and information, but one chopped into bits, with companies arbitrarily controlling what users can and cannot see.

Already, Netflix and others have to pay a premium to ISPs to compensate for the amount of bandwidth their users require. Since this gets charged back to the consumers, you are talking about a de facto tax that may limit the ability of some to afford Netflix. There goes net neutrality right there.

But now, with Facebook's link-blocking, we are seeing the start of the technological Balkanization of the Web, where the most powerful players can use the weight of their income and technology prowess to violate the spirit of net neutrality. Is all fair in love and war? Perhaps, but if you project this out over time and scale, what used to be the World Wide Web will devolve into the "Internet as [insert big ass company] wants you to experience it."

For a while there, we acted in the spirit of "the rising tide lifts all boats,” and were focused on winning the hearts and minds of the public and government (and advertisers). But that sentiment now sounds trite and naive. If the Big Winners of the Web put their minds and resources to it, they can quickly wipe out 25 years of pretty extraordinary progress.

1 comment about "The Technological Balkanization Of The Web".
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  1. Michael Elling from IVP Capital, LLC, December 5, 2015 at 10:36 p.m.

    Welcome to the final end game of bill and keep or settlement free peering.  Rather than being generative and promoting competition, it is instead fosters monopolies and silos.  Every actor for themselves and G-d against all, according to Herzog.

    Time to rethink the model and the role of interactor settlements that will be more generative as supply and demand clears more rapidly and naturally north-south (between app and infrastructure) and east-west (between networks/actors/users).

    And do it quickly because the FCC is getting rid of all settlements by the end of the decade.

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