Israel-based mobile ad blocking company Shine has been generating a lot of publicity in recent months — from signing up Jamaica-based Digicel to become the first carrier to block ads for all customers across its entire network, to launching a provocative ad campaign in the Financial Times to denounce the internet ad industry.
Shine, which claims to be the only technology company that can partner with carriers to block ads a network level (before the ads are even served,) generated headlines again late last week when it announced that outgoing Vodafone Europe CEO Philipp Humm is joining its board. Humm is a prominent telecoms industry executive, having also served as chief executive of T-Mobile USA
We spoke to Humm over the phone to find out why he decided to join the board of an ad blocker.
Business Insider: How did you stumble across Shine?
Philipp Humm: I had read about ad blockers in the press for a while. Secondly, it was through another board member of Shine whose company [introduced me] to Shine and asked me if I wanted to get to know management Then after that I decided to join.
BI: Was that during your time at Vodafone?
PH: I am officially finishing my job at Vodafone by year-end but I basically stopped somewhere at the end of September.
BI: What impressed you about Shine?
PH: The first thing which I found very interesting is that now ad blocking covers browser-based ad blocking. The issue in mobile is that the majority of ads go through the app. Shine technology does app and browser-based, so from that point of view, it’s the only effective way to block advertising. That’s from the technology point of view.
From the consumer point of view, the research has shown that there is a need out in the market for an advertising-free environment — or for a selective advertising free environment — meaning I don’t want to get certain ads … so there is a need which today has not yet been met by anybody in the mobile estate.
The third point is that with 4G unleashing data consumption by customers, and advertisers going more and more into video and other heavy stuff, mobile advertising today accounts — based on the research Shine has done with a few operators — for 20% of the mobile operator traffic. So it’s a very significant number and, as such, something worth considering.
So I think if I add these three things together, it’s really finding a new model which allows any customer to block or not block. If they don’t block they should get something back from the advertisers … So I think it’s going for the new, re-balanced model, between on one hand the operator and the advertiser, but in particular the customer.
BI: How would an operator implement ad blocking? In Europe, there are surely issues around net neutrality and the idea of treating some bits of data different to others. Where do you stand? Do you believe it would have to be an opt-in service operators can provide? And how do you view the idea of operators being the judge of what gets a free pass and what doesn’t?
PH: I think it is very important that customers are offered this service opt-in. In particular, in a European or US context, offering it as an opt-out or whatever you call it will not work. It needs to be an opt-in service. As it is an opt-in service and the customer’s choice it doesn’t contradict the net neutrality issue — a customer saying I don’t or don’t want certain services or, in this case, advertising. So I think from that point of view, legally, it is fine.
And from an operator point of view it is simply then a way of starting a discussion with the advertisers to find a joint model which, at the end of the day, will work for everybody.
BI: One of the most controversial areas within ad blocking is this idea of [ad blockers or, in this case, operators] taking a percentage of revenue, or companies paying to be whitelisted. O2 said [earlier this month when speaking to Business Insider] it wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable with that approach. What’s your view with regards that sort business model?
PH: I think in my eyes it will be for every operator and every country to develop their own strategy on how they want to find equilibrium. It might be that some people say we will just offer this as a free service to customers. Others might say I can offer customer two options: One, to get a free environment, or the need to get ads blocked. And if they get ads blocked they get a benefit — for example: additional data, or €X.
And now the question is who, at the end of the day, would pay for that? Probably the advertiser with an interest to make sure customers [aren’t ad blocking.] So I think there is a possibility there for operators to start that negotiation once it has achieved certain scale — before that it won’t make any sense — but once it has achieved certain scale, then it makes sense to start talking and looking at finding an interesting proposition for customers. And looking around and looking at finances.
So it depends how you do it. If you just say to Google, like ransom money: “We will block and we will only de-block if you pay us €100 million,” then that is definitely a bit borderline.
BI: What do you bring to the role?
PH: There are two areas where I can add value. Number one: my telco experience over the last 10 years. I’m pretty-well connected globally in the telco space, to bring in understanding of what an operator really needs and the propositions operators need.
Then, simply, my management experience over the course of the years, managing large companies to managing start-ups, I have done all of it — all different flavours. Those are the two areas I think there will be value added.
BI: And what kind of involvement will you have? Will it be hands on?
PH: We are quite an informal group and so we are not like an old Plc. that has meetings once a quarter and long board meetings — it’s a start-up. I think, from that point of view, I’d like to keep it from my side, as informal as we can.
So we will have discussions, meetings, emails, phone calls, video calls, and so on.
BI: How have your telco peers reacted to you joining the Shine board?
PH: I think, overall, everybody is kind of interested in the topic — from being more involved in a sense of already preparing something, to having just heard of it. So I think they see it as something they are engaging with. So far I’ve had very good reactions.
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