MWC09: TeliaSonera and Bytemobile Inserting Ads Into 3rd Party Content

Telia and Bytemobile LogosBytemobile is a mobile infrastructure services company. One of its products is web to mobile transcoder that it markets  to mobile network operators under the name Web Fidelity.  Competitors include Openwave, Novarra and Infogin.  At the Mobile World Congress today, Bytemobile announced an agreement with Sweden’s TeliaSonera.  It was an occasion to celebrate for Bytemobile as it represents the company’s 100th customer network deployment (press release).

While I congratulate Bytemobile on their success, I also found something potentially troubling in the announcement (bold added).

“Bytemobile’s Web Fidelity™ Suite of applications enables operators to deliver fast, rich, off-portal web browsing and multimedia play on smartphones and feature phones. Web Fidelity applications include Content Adaptation for web, Adobe® Flash® and media content; a Widget Bar for delivering useful, personally relevant information in real time to users without extensive search and navigation (; and Ad Insertion for automatically serving targeted ads in adapted web and multimedia content, so that operators can create new business models and revenue streams based on advertising and content partnerships.”

As I read it, Bytemobile’s transcoder has the ability io insert advertisements into transcoded web pages.  This isn’t unique, Novarra and Openwave offer similar capabilities.  And it’s not necessarily bad, I can see TeliaSonera or another operator offering publishers the ability to have ads inserted into their content under a revenue sharing agreement.

On the other hand, TeliaSonera is the operator who a year ago deployed the Novarra transcoder and configured it to insert ads into web pages without the content owner’s consent.  Swedish publishers complained vehemently and within a month the service was shut down.  It appears that TeliaSonera is now doing the same thing with Bytemobile’s transcoder. This time the ads, at least so far, are for TeliaSonera services rather than paying 3rd party advertisers.

I think there is an ethical and legal issue here.  Disclaimer: I’m not a  lawyer and copyright laws vary from country.  However if I create something and but it on the web with a copyright  or a Creative Commons No Derivative Works license I’d consider it wrong for another website, ISP or mobile network opperator to insert ads without my permission.  In an interview with GoMo News, Bytemobile’s Adrian Hall apparently sees it differently.

“…ads would be inserted in the operator’s headers and footers appearing on the mobile device display rather than in the site itself, which is controlled by the website publisher.”

To me that sounds an awful lot like the now largely discredited web practice of framing other site’s content in an ad-filled page. Unfortunately the legality of framing has never been decided by US courts.  The closest we’ve come to a decision was in 1997, when was sued by the Washington Post, CNN and several other publishers in 1997 over Totalnews’s practice of framing their content.  The case was settled out of court with Totalnews agreeing to stop the framing.  Today almost all web sites that republish arbitrary 3rd party content including Google News and Reader, Bloglines and NewsGator do not place ads on content pages.   I’m sure if Google started putting ads on Reader there would be a huge uproar.  Why should it be different for mobile?

What do my readers, particularly mobile web publishers and developers think?  Is the practice of monetizing copyrighted content by inserting ads with without the content creator’s permission acceptable?

5 thoughts on “MWC09: TeliaSonera and Bytemobile Inserting Ads Into 3rd Party Content

  1. The practice is a new avatar for the mentality of “the winner takes everything”, which has been visible amongst US and European operators ever since data traffic became important on wireless networks: walled gardens to keep all application-generated revenue; prohibitive “premium” tariffs for WAP connections; claiming the lion’s share of subscription fees to i-Mode services (outside Japan); and now, piggy-backing ads on top of carefully crafted mobile content from off-portal sites, depriving them from essential income.

    Historically, the consequences were clearly dismal: walled gardens, WAP or i-Mode in Europe and the USA were unpopular, did not generate the expected revenue nor developers’ support, languished, and in many cases were eventually discontinued. We can expect a similar stifling effect on mobile applications (especially browser-based ones) with the insertion of ads into foreign content. I suspect the impact will be felt in stages. First, the deprivation of ad revemue (in times of an economic crisis to boot) will simply kill off many content providers, while some others will switch from off-portal Web sites to client-based applications. In the medium term, end-users may well become weary of pages overloaded with irrelevant ads, especially as the variety of mobile sites decreases. At that point, the increase in traffic provoked by the ability to access desktop sites via transcoders will have been negated. Meanwhile, Japan and Korea will continue to sail ahead with a healthier mobile ecosystem.

    In short: the suggested practice is more than unacceptable; it is clearly stupid.

  2. There was an uproar when Google tried inserting ads in Google News at some point in past.From a creator’s point of view,I think it is very indignant and offensive to insert ads on my own copyrighted content without my permission.It is against the copyright laws of India AFAIK.

  3. As a wise colleague used to say… “you can’t milk a calf”.

    In the rush to (yes, probably unethically) monetize the efforts of small site owners and publishers, this sort of approach is bound to stifle and frustrate the medium’s growth.

    No wonder all the smart kids are creating client-side apps. They are *helped* to monetize their effort, and can be sure that the user experience they’ve lovingly crafted will survive intact.

    I think it’s rather brave to claim that the ‘headers and footers’ can be considered disjointed from ‘the site itself’. I presume he’s seen how big most mobile screens are?

    As a site author, I now fear that adding even one single insertion of my own into the site may result in the majority of the screen showing ads. (Of which only a third will generate revenue for me!). Hardly a thrilling proposition if I’ve been trying to build a beautiful service.

    And what impression do virgin users get? That the Mobile Web is just a giant billboard?

    Transcoding is, at its best, a helpful catalyst to create and stimulate interest in the Mobile Web amongst site owners and visitors alike. But that’s it. Using it as a prop for a parasitic business model at the expense of creativity on the origin server is very sad.

    One day, all this nonsense will be over. It’s a shame that some haven’t read the memo yet.

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