Data usage from ads

 One of the better sites out there for data usage, The Guardian.

One of the better sites out there for data usage, The Guardian.

The amount of data each website uses can vary. To get these figures, we loaded each home page on an iPhone 6 at least five times over two days and repeated the test with an ad blocker enabled.
The difference was easy to spot: many websites loaded faster and felt easier to use. Data is also expensive. We estimated that on an average American cell data plan, each megabyte downloaded over a cell network costs about a penny. Visiting the home page of Boston.com every day for a month would cost the equivalent of about $9.50 in data usage just for the ads.

Fantastic research on the New York Times.

I've already linked to Apple's in-roads here recently also - although as the handset maker, they're looking from their usual perspective on 'user experience'. Slow-loading websites, battery usage, all lead to a poor experience on their devices and that's something they spend most of their time not tolerating.

Is this the equivalent of car makers in recent years being forced to put more effort into efficiency (a topic that is definitely in the news right now with the Volkswagen scandal) and having to make efforts of more efficient engines, lighter weight materials, etc. Ads have been allowed to run wildlife across the internet - and rightly so in many ways, as almost a significant proportion of websites generate their only revenue through ads.

I've mixed opinions on this, yes - the amount of adverts is absurd (and websites taking 10+ seconds to load due to adverts is crazy*). However, the argument that all these companies are making tons of profit without investment into infrastructure is not right either - Google (with 50%+ market share in advertising profits) alone spent $7.3 billion in 2014 alone on Data Centres, Apple spent $1.7 billion in Europe in 2015. These are not small numbers.

 

But I also agree, that forgetting about the engineering perspective, the end/user experience should be critical.  A bad experience** just shouldn't be accepted and thus some oversight/mitigation measures should be considered. Apple's solution won't go completely mainstream (even if in the first week of their release, Ad blocking apps went to number one in the App Store) as they will only get picked up by those in the know and are tech-savvy. However, it does give an inkling that Apple may also consider building the ad blocker directly into the operating system going forward if it's popular enough - a thought being that if so, they wouldn't be taking the cheeky approach of allowing ads back onto their devices if the advertisers were to pay them as they would use it as a privacy selling point. The one annoyance of the latest report coming out of Digicel and their use of a network level ad-blocker is the possibility that they would allow ads back onto the network if they're paid for it. Granted Adblock Plus, the world's most popular adblocker on desktop computers, is paid an annual fee from Google and Microsoft to allow their ads by-pass the blocker but is it just me or does this just feel like a gangster-style 'protection racket' move? I'm not sold.

 

A related piece to all this is Netflix who introduced manual controls for data usage when on a cellular connection. Interestingly, up to now they had been purposefully sending a more compressed video to all users, regardless of the screen quality. It's arguable it was the right decision - when looking at a 4-6 inch screen there's no real need for full HD quality footage! However, the backlash when this was realised has meant them backtrack to include manual controls for those who care**. However, looking at the amount of bandwidth used - 1GB is around 3hours of footage at the default rate - in a year or two, will that amount of data be even relevant anymore as data caps progressively rise?

 

Thoughts?

 

* I tend to ignore the worst case offender as much of the data they're transferring is video, although that's probably not the right thing to do anyway as the trend in adverts was progressively towards more and more video anyway.

**I'm currently playing with (while I wait for the release of the new iPhone) a basic-of-basic smartphone and the experience is absolutely terrible, not enough memory to update the built-in apps, not enough memory to go from the home screen to an app and back again without freezing. These sort of phones just shouldn't be on sale - this would give a worse experience than using a feature phone.

 

** I.e. those who will complain publicly....

Neal McQuaid