Today, the BBC has reported that not only has the UK Culture Secretary proposed to enact legislation to extend the remit of the BBC Licence Fee so that all BBC iPlayer viewers will be liable to pay the TV Licence Fee, but also is proposing to enact legislation to ban the use of ad-blocking programmes.

There are two issues with this:

Firstly, suggesting that ad-blocking is analogous to illegal file-sharing is unhelpful and misleading. Copying music, films, computer software, or other Intellectual Property without authorisation is an act of theft - the intention surely of the pirate is to avoid the legitimate payment for the use of another individual's intellectual property. Blocking adverts from appearing on website is not done to avoid payment - it is simply done as they are a nuisance to many users, and in the case of mobile users (in particular those who are using mobile devices roaming) - they actually eat up valuable data from data plans (in some cases, many MB are consumed from adverts on a single page).

Secondly, and following on from an earlier blog post I made ( - "free" content is provided on many websites, in exchange for users giving access to certain data on them or their behaviour. Of course, many websites need to find a revenue stream to support their activity - and advertising can provide such a revenue stream in many cases. The problem is that there is no transparency to the user as to how valuable the data they are providing to the website owner is, and therefore no way of assessing the value exchange of their data vs the "free" content on the site.

If users were given a choice to pay a fee for use of certain sites or services rather than accessing the "free" version that requires data collection, mining, and targeted advertising to support the site - then there would in many cases be no need for ad-blocking software, or the ban of such software could be arguably more legitimate.

An alternative would be to encourage ad-blocking software providers to adopt a 'Spotify' model, to ad-blocking; that is, to only function on payment of a subscription - a proportion of which would then be shared back to the website owners that the users visited. 

There are more practical challenges to these issues than technological ones, but in my view; users need more choice and transparency - not more legislation.