There are apparently 159 million people who block ads on their mobile devices in China. Desktop numbers are relatively low by comparison. All of them, though, are going to have a fundamental right snatched from them come September, when their government will take away their right to block ads. That’s because just last week China issued its Internet Advertising Interim Rules, Article 16 of which will place a ban on ad blocking.
Aside from the oppressive part, the new regulations will seek to define what constitutes online advertising. Among other things the rules seek to target false or misleading online advertising for prescription medicine and tobacco; require government approval to run ads for health products, medical supplies, veterinary medicine and pesticides; necessitate that paid search results be clearly differentiable from organic results; and oblige advertisers to be responsible for the authenticity of their ad content.
These are pretty good noises, but hidden among them is language that would seem to all but ban ad blocking. The concept of ad blocking has always been about putting power back into the hands of the consumer, so this robs them of what has become a basic right.
There are many reasons users need this control. Take, for instance, online safety. Most recently, in China itself actually, almost 10 million Android smartphones were infected by malware that generates fake ad clicks. Now, I’m not saying that those users would necessarily have been completely safe if they’d been running an ad blocker, but ad blocking and other tools that would fall under the ban help to mitigate or obliterate that risk.