No End in Sight as Telcos Press on With Intrusive Advertising

Intrusive mobile advertising remains an issue almost two years on as Telkomsel and XL Axiata both insist that the practice does not violate any laws while Indonesia eCommerce Association and the Indonesian Digital Association demand the telcos cease the practice of inserting advertising into websites without consent. Head of the oversight committee at the Association of Indonesian Advertising Companies, Ridwan Handojo implored the telcos to reconsider their practice.

Handojo told Kompas daily that the telcos should think logically and avoid creating a negative impression on the public. Intrusive advertising are generally ads served indiscriminately without consideration to the relevancy of the audience. In this context, the telcos are serving advertising in two ways, one, by placing an interstitial page before a web page is loaded when accessed through their networks, and two, by placing an advertising frame above a website once it loads. This applies to applications including Instagram and YouTube, although it is our understanding that the team at Instagram has placed a block on the scripts that insert such ads.

A year ago software developer Batista Harahap provided details into how such an ad gets injected on top of websites without authorization from website owners and how it may pose a security breach. The basis of the objections by the e-commerce and digital publishers associations is the fact that these unwanted, unexpected, unauthorized ads are often misconstrued as coming from their websites as opposed to being served by the telcos, on top of the fact that these ads can affect how websites are displayed, as owner of travel resources website Travelfish Stuart McDonald demonstrated recently.

Because the ads are not coming from the websites, they cannot control what is being served. Often the ads contain sensual depictions or promoting gambling sites which are illegal in the country. To further complicate matters, BRTI, the Indonesian telecommunications regulatory body, doesn’t seem to have a unified position on the matter as there have been two distinct responses given by senior committee members.

M. Ridwan Effendi for example, has come out and said that website owners should not air their grievances as their websites would not be accessible without data channels from the telcos. He told mobile business news site IndoTelko that there had been no violation of the law by the telcos as accused by the e-commerce and digital publishers associations.

“Interstitial ads only fill in the loading time and there’s nothing that is altered deliberately on the website, so the regulations are not being violated”, Effendi said. If apps and services or the so called over the top players are running ads over the data networks, there’s not reason why the telcos can’t do it as well, according to Effendi.

Another BRTI committee member Nonot Harsono on the other hand is calling for a reasoned discussion between the parties and spoke out directly against his colleague. In his view, telcos have no right to act as they please just because they own the network that delivers the traffic.

Telcos in Indonesia have been scrambling for alternative sources of revenue as the use of communication applications such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, BBM, and Line have eroded the revenues from traditional voice and text services but income from 3G data services have yet to make up for the difference.

While telcos have explored avenues such as content, media, and even launching their own e-commerce websites such as XL’s s Elevania, they are adamant in considering every possible alternative, including intrusive advertising. Telkomsel’s corporate communications executives Denny Abidin and Adita Irawati reject the notion that what the company is doing is against the law.

A petition started by the Indonesian E-commerce Association and the Indonesian Digital Association on to reject intrusive mobile advertising have reached more than 15.500 signatures.

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