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Is Been Choice the ad blocker that will let brands successfully leverage the ‘Me2B’ economy?

The ability to leverage consumer insights is increasingly difficult for brands in a climate where privacy regulators are clamping down, plus consumers are empowered with the knowledge of the value of their data. Been Choice, an ad blocker that has raised some amount of publicity recently, has re-entered the market promising to broker a deal that can appease all sides of the conundrum, The Drum explores further.

The prospect of mobile ad blocking placed the entire industry into a tailspin earlier this year when it emerged that Apple’s iOS9 update would allow consumers to do just that.

In-app ad blocking privacy concerns

Among the myriad of app developers that jumped upon this opportunity, Been Choice stood out as its offering enabled consumers to block ads in some of the internet’s most popular apps, including Facebook, Google, Pinterest and Yahoo.

The earliest version of the app was initially removed from the App Store as this version of Been Choice had to route traffic through its virtual private network (VPN) to block in-app ads - thus raising privacy concerns from Apple.

Some had speculated whether or not it was the app’s ability to block ads within Apple News, but this was not the case according to Been Choice CEO, Dave Yoon.

He explained to The Drum: “Apple never stated that ad blocking was the reason for our temporary removal. Instead, they stated that the use of root certificates introduced increased risks to privacy. And that we and other Apps were being removed from the App Store because of our use of the technology, not because we were misusing it.”

Apple gives in-app ad blocking the all-clear

However, Been Choice has since re-emerged on the App Store, and as of late last week (18 December) the latest version has been available on the US version of the outlet.

Been Choice 2.0 is now able to block in-app ads by placing a VPN profile on a user’s device - instead of through Been Choice’s servers - thus assuaging Apple’s earlier privacy concerns.

Although, it must be added, that the latest version of the app cannot block ads in apps which require 'root certs', among them: Facebook, Google, Pinterest and Yahoo. This is because blocking ads within these apps requires “root certificate-based technology” - something that contravenes Apple’s privacy rules.

Yoon explained to The Drum: “Version 2 took almost two months for Apple to review and finally approve… We really think that they spent that time to thoroughly vet the app, its tech, our business model, and our business.”

A consumer empowered data exchange?

So with Apple having rubber stamped this version of the app, it now offers users with two choices between Block and Earn - the latter of the two enabling consumers the ability to monetise their own data.

The Block mode enables maximum privacy, which means that no traffic goes through its servers; only ad blocking requests so they are discarded.

By contrast, Been Choice’s Earn Mode, in which users proactively opt-in, thus satisfying Apple’s privacy conditions, allows traffic to be sent through the app developer’s VPN servers.

Been Choice’s Earn Mode lets consumers earn points or rewards in return for letting ads through the ad blocker, with Yoon claiming this consent-based value exchange lets advertisers, media owners, etc. understand the consumer more effectively, given that users actively opt-in to offerings tailored to them.

“Been Choice becomes a platform on which an explicit agreement can easily be had, between consumers and the companies that want them, about control over privacy and the economic value of some of the most useful data on consumer behavior that's ever been collected,” he explained.

Yoon added: “We think that questions about privacy and ownership of data will continue to become more acute, with ad blocking creating a blunt recourse for most users. Enabling real choice and real consent is, we think, the most effective way to leapfrog over a potential impasse.”

Is this the way forward in a Me2B economy?

Marketers have increasingly articulated a future where consumers are “agents of their own information”, choosing which brands they rent their data to, rather than advertisers knowing more about them than they care to (knowingly) share.

Some have dubbed this the Me2B economy, with some voicing concerns that an empowered public, backed by an increasingly stringent regulatory regime may lead to a throttling of any data exchange between consumer and the public.

Meanwhile, others deem a data-empowered public may level the playing field between themselves and some of the biggest ‘walled garden’ media owners on the web, i.e. Amazon, Facebook, and Google, etc.

So how does this ad blocker propose that it earns money?

However, as with most ad blockers, the business model of such an outfit is not without controversy. Many are quick to criticise AdBlock Plus’ Acceptable Advertisers’ list, while the IAB’s US CEO Randall Rothenberg compared such companies inserting themselves into the advertising value chain to terrorism earlier this year.

When asked about its revenue model, Yoon said the company - which has yet to officially sign any advertisers on board, but claims it is in negotiations - will charge advertisers or publishers participating in its scheme.

“We facilitate the exchange of rewards, data, and access between customers and the companies that want them, and our revenues come from fees charged to the companies,” he said.

“Been Choice exists: to offer users the ability to choose between ‘yes’ and ‘no’, offer companies the best data available (to drive innovation), and the best attention available when consumers actively say ‘yes’.”

The latest version of Been Choice launched in the US and Canada last week, and is expected to launch in the UK early in 2016.

The topic of ad blocking has been one of the key topics of 2015, with Eyeo’s AdBlock Plus emerging as one of the more controversial players given its whitelist policy, and the more combative Shine Technologies also emerging as another key player in the space.

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Ronan Shields

I'm the digital editor at The Drum, and cover adtech and martech. Prefer news and analysis, over opinion pieces. Current fascination(s) are blockchain and media futures trading; also curious about transhumanism on a personal basis. NYC-based, but really London Irish.

All by Ronan