A note on the argument about the 'morality' of adblockers

April 5, 2015

While adblockers make some people quite happy, there are others that consider them immoral; see for example this tweet. Let's set aside the security issues and other counter-arguments to note something important: much as in another case, it's extremely disingenuous to discuss morality here without mentioning the blatant amorality of advertising on the web itself. To put it simply, the ad industry and its supporters are coming to the table with extremely unclean hands.

By and large, the story of web advertising and ad companies and networks is a story of organizations aggressively and unapologetically tracking and intruding on people for years. At every turn web advertisers have done their best to obtain more information on more people, to mine this for as much creepy insight as they could, make as much money from it as possible, and never ever ask people for permission or even inform them. At every turn, the ad industry's view has been that if they could get away with something it was all good, especially if it was legal. Morality has never entered the picture.

The ad industry has spent years cultivating a 'fuck you' attitude where they would do everything that was within their technical capabilities to spy on people and shovel ads on top of them. To now suddenly be concerned about the 'morality' of what other people do is the height of hypocrisy. The ad industry has lived by the sword of 'technical capabilities are all that matters' (to the detriment of basically everyone else on the Internet), so it's only fair that they may now die on that sword, like it or not. Adblockers are possible, so by the ad industry's own conduct they're allowed.

(Since the ad industry has no morality it of course doesn't care about its own hypocrisy here; it will bleat whatever bleatings stand some chance of keeping its exploitative business model from collapsing. But bystanders should be listening to these bleatings with a full understanding.)

Comments on this page:

By Albert at 2015-04-05 04:01:44:

I'll say upfront that I'm totally and unconditionally in favour of adblocking. That being said, those who complain about adblockers are often not the advertising companies themselves, but rather those small/medium websites which supposedly need visitors to see ads to "survive" (or so they say), since running a website costs money, ads are their unique or biggest source of income, etc.

I'll say again that I'm totally pro-adblocking, just to make it clear.

heaven forbid businesses may have to develop meaningful product and content to get people to their site.

long live ad blockers.

By Mike at 2015-04-05 09:17:48:

Are you pro paid content (paywalls or per article)?

By anon-e-mouse at 2015-04-05 20:09:18:

i'm happy to pay for stuff that is worthwhile... funny thing is, i'd probably pay over $100 per year to have no-ads on youtube... wish they had the option of you can pay and then not get constantly harassed by ads or tracked (so that they can advertise).

i think there is a lot of merit in free content, and people can afford to produce effective free content, but if someone is producing it as a business and needs the revenue, then i support paywalls for them... if the content is worth it to me, i'm happy to pay for it...

By Jono at 2015-04-05 23:51:09:

If ad blockers only affected the advertisement industry, I would install four of them.

Jokes aside, however, the ad companies are not the ones that are taking the real hit, it is the websites - especially the small ones - which are affected. I would venture a guess that the number of users using an ad blocker in comparison to all internet users is quite small. Nevertheless, for some websites whose user base consists of those who often use ad blockers, it can really take away a lot of revenue.

That being said, I do use an ad blocker and I recommend their use to everyone. I do this because it dramatically reduces page-loading time, can block the occasional ad containing a virus or employing phishing, and blocks really annoying ads. I do not use an ad blocker to block ads that are implemented correct, safe, and unobtrusive. If ads could be contained and trusted, then there would be a lot less of a need for ad blockers.

I also unapologetically block ads, for security, performance, readability, and aesthetic reasons. If sites die due to lack of ad revenue because of this, then they should have chosen a better business model. I'm not 100% anti-ad, but it depends on the case. It is another reason I refuse to ever pay for cable. There are so many ads now on television that it's just a joke at this point. Very few sites use web ads in an unintrusive, user-friendly way.

Unfortunately we've built a world where ads are a big source and sometimes an only source of revenue for certain businesses. There is a big paradigm shift that needs to happen to move us away from that.

I will add filters to allow ads on certain sites that have chosen this model, but that I really believe in, or sites that use very small / well-designed / safe ads from smaller ad networks. There are sites that get it right, but not many.

When it comes to read-aloud ads on podcasts, those do not bother me because they do not take away from the experience of the podcast, and many of the podcasts I listen to have hosts and guests that actually use and believe in the products they advertise. This makes for a much better experience and has been far more effective at getting me to try a new product.

By Loren Pechtel at 2015-04-06 12:29:46:

I definitely agree. I have no problem with simple banner ads that don't take up too much of the screen. However, on most sites the ads are the majority of what you download--with substantial performance implications. If what you're advertising is worthwhile you don't need all the attention-getting gimmicks. If it's not all those gimmicks won't get me to buy.

By Twirrim at 2015-04-06 18:47:39:

Mostly what I want is an add blocker that is allow by default, block by request for websites. I'm happy to financially support websites through their adverts. I also want to be able to withdraw that support should the adverts be too invasive, be bright flashing etc. etc.

None of them seem to really support this workflow properly, they all tend to assume you want to blacklist by default, whitelist on request, and frankly my memory sucks and I'm likely to forget to whitelist sites I like.

By ubercurmudgeon at 2015-04-06 19:09:34:

There are four parties in this:

(1) Users: Getting tracked, profiled, having their time and bandwidth abused, risking malware. Some are doing the only thing they can to avoid all that, which is to use ad blocking.
(2) Web site owners: Losing some revenue from users blocking. Having their reputations ruined by annoying ads.
(3) Ad networks/agencies: Raking in the cash whatever happens.
(4) Companies whose products/brands are being advertised: Getting conned that views or accidental clicks lead to sales. Having their reputations ruined by annoying ads.

The problem seems to be even the reputable members of groups 2 and 4 being too lazy to get together and cut out the middleman (and there are only a few isolated instances of 1 and 2 getting together to lock out both 3 and 4.)

By Lewis Walsh at 2015-04-07 05:01:13:

I've no problem with ads on websites. Just don't track me, don't use Flash, and don't load so much JS the content I'm after ceases to function as expected. As long as ad companies continue to spoil the experience, I'll continue to use an ad blocker.

Lewis Walsh

By Steve at 2015-04-07 19:22:43:

There was an interesting article a few weeks (months?) ago about the fact that advertisers are paying a certain ad blocker to not block their content. Just saying. Google it.

By jrw32982 at 2015-04-10 11:35:16:

I have to mention the LWN-style paywall as a good example of non-advertisement revenue generation. Even though it's not a true paywall since content is available for free a week later, the fact that it is there made me sit up and think about how much I value and use LWN content. It's a method that could be used by other sites that are generating actually useful content.

P.S. I pay for a LWN subscription, not to get the content faster, but to keep them alive because I value their content.

By God at 2015-05-10 14:01:58:

If every website that uses ads collapsed tomorrow, I would complain a bit then move on.

Note that ads cost money, which is passed on to the customers. That means everyone who uses or fails to block ads is costing me money. More importantly, they're costing poor people (who don't have internet to view ad paid sites with) money. Along with the privacy and security issues, and the fact that not blocking ads encourages more ad use and therefore worsens these issues, I conclude that it is morally required to block ads.

'There is no such thing as “ad blocking”. The web is a pull medium, not a push medium. I merely decline to request ads.' - Anonymous

Written on 05 April 2015.
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