Update: Article XVI mentioned below is referring to “advertising activities on the internet” and supposed to ban all sorts of “ad injectors”. Although the wording is vague, we hope it will not cover ad blockers as well.
Sad news from China. A total control over Advertising which was announced to be introduced in September actually means total ban of ad blockers.
It seems a rather sudden decision for us all. But apparently it has some serious background. Debates started after the death of college student Wei Zexi who had a cancer. This is where you amusingly ask “Poor boy, but what does it have to do with ad blockers?”. Well, Mr Wei had taken therapy found through an online ad on Baidu. Subsequently government started investigation into Baidu’s medical advertising practices and came to a radical decision.
Mr Wei’s death had indeed started polemic about the online environment full of obscurities when it comes to finding health information. The situation is compounded by the fact that there is only one search company that dominates in China. This led to the status quo, when most of Chinese prefer to ask fellow patients for advice on online forums, which made Baidu the main destination for medical information.
It was decided to take advertising under control. And a draft of Internet Advertising Interim Rules was created.
They were intended to pursue one higher goal to lay out guidelines to protect users against false or misleading ads. They will as well “prohibit online ads for prescription medication and tobacco, while requiring prior government approval for ads for medical supplies, pesticides, veterinary medicine and other health products”. Regulations also required that search engines limit ad results to 30% for each search-results page.
BUT! Article 16 actually prohibits ad blockers. Here is a rough translation of the Regulation.
Article XVI prohibits the following activity:
(A) provide or utilize the software or hardware to ban/filter/cover/fast forward (or any other resistance method) the legitimate Advertisements.
(B) the use of network access, network devices, applications, and the disruption of normal advertising data, tampering with or blocking data used for advertising by others;
(C) the use of false statistics, dissemination of false results or values to seek illegitimate interests or harm the interests of others.
Blocking ads is legal worldwide. This is not just our speculation – it was proved during several lawsuits in Germany. Today China citizens were robbed of an important right: a right to decide for themselves what ads to see and what personal data to share with ad networks and trackers.
And, actually, there is some irony in this situation, though. Some of the largest companies actively pushing ad blocking (UC Browser, Opera), are originated from China.