Ad Blocking is Immoral

After a terrible write up claiming that Ad Blocking is Moral made the front page of Reddit, I felt obliged to respond.

First, a brief response. For lack of a better word, (actually, this is pretty much the perfect word), the piece is drivel. It cases the ethics of Ad Blocking (visitor) and Ad Serving (publisher) in terms of effectiveness, relevancy, and business modeling. While these may all be useful arguments of whether a publisher ought to use advertising to generate revenue, it does not create a meaningful ethical statement on whether subverting advertising efforts is moral.

Examples:

  • Sarcastic Response: “In other words, people should support bad business models because it’s more convenient for the businessmen.”
    Not supporting a bad business model means boycotting the store, not going in and taking all the free stuff.. If you think the advertisements on a site are terrible, email the webmaster or leave it in the comments, and don’t return to the site to read the content until they have been replaced with a better business model. [ I do take issue with the comment that ad-supported content is a bad business model. On the contrary, contextual-ads have single-handedly funded millions of pages of content creation ]
  • Webmaster Responsibility: “Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, if a webmaster runs a site that’s popular enough that the costs become at all significant, the onus is on him (or her) to find ways to cash in on that popularity to keep the site going.”
    Yep, and the webmaster did find a way. Advertisements. And you, are subverting that.
  • Magazines vs. The Web: “Firstly, magazines have almost universally relevant adverts in them.”
    What bearing does this have, to the ethics of Ad Blocking? Are you people not seeing this?

The Case Against Ad Blocking:

  1. The Implicit Contract:
    When a content publisher places ads on his/her website, it is under the assumption that he/she is bartering with you. That barter is, in exchange for glancing over the advertisements (even if for only a fraction of a second), you can read all the content he/she has created. It is that simple.

    Some webmasters make you barter more – flashy advertisements with pop ups and pop unders. If you think this is a raw deal, don’t trade. No, don’t steal the content without receiving the ads. That wasn’t the deal. That wasn’t the contract he/she has put forward. The deal was ads for content. You can accept or decline that single proposition.

  2. The Stupid Response:
    “But I never click on anything anyway.” You’re right, you don’t. You also don’t have a dog, but you have no problem going to PetCo and taking all of their free dog treats at the check out. This is unethical. This is immoral. Even if you have never clicked on an ad in your life, and it causes you great pain and anguish to do so, you are allergic to clicking on ads, you should still leave the ads up and let the publisher get that impression.

There you go. Unless a Publisher Says It’s Ok: Ad Blocking is Immoral and Unethical. It is stealing. Period.

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152 Comments

  1. Gopher Coffee
    Feb 21, 2015

    If you see the ads, and don’t click on them, you are taking the free dogs treats and walking past the coupons for products in other stores. Furthermore, if you click on an ad and don’t buy the product, the site’s click to close ration is worsened. This makes advertisers less likely to want that advertising space. So, to be moral, you must click on every ad, and purchase every worthless product and contract every internet virus linked to advertising. Otherwise, you are getting the free dog treats without buying the purina one that finaces those treats.

    Author Response: This seems to be a common confusion among people who don’t work with online ads. A substantial proportion on online ads are CPM, meaning pay-for-impression, not pay-for-click. You don’t have to click on the ad for them to be paid. I presume that now that you know how Internet advertising works, you will stop using ad-block?
  2. NRML
    Mar 31, 2015

    What you are missing in your argument is the micro for the macro.

    Assume a site has content that people would want. As a result it is able to finance that content through advertising. If the advertising is non-annoying, individuals wouldn’t block the add and it would maximise its revenues. However, the site decided to deliver annoying ads instead. A proprtion of the consumers decide to block the ads and the ads become less effective. The site’s content does not make the revenues that the site promoters would hope for. Arguing that if one person blocks the ad they are being immoral is like arguing that someone who fast-forwards through a TV ad, or turns the page on a newspaper ad, or doen’t look at the ads on the bus is immoral. It is the nature of advertising. Create ads that people want to see and accept and they won’t get blocked. The site benefits not from the marginal decision of one user to block or not, but from its ability to serve ads to a wide audience or not.

    AdBlock etc can be set to whitelist ads or allow websites to show their ads. I do this with websites that give me the ads that are unobtrusive and appropriate. I block the sites that have ads that don’t. So insome instances I am the marginal non-user of ads. In that instance, the site has failed in delivering what was required to get me to see the ad.

    The problem is you see the delivery of the ad as necessary and therefore immoral not to accept. Moreover you state that a contract has been set to accept it. Guy, learn your contract law. Clicking to a website is only an invitation to treat, or else any website hosting legally constrained data (such as 18 or over content) would be legally liable for every under 18-year old who clicked to their site because they would have a contract for the supply of that information the moment the individual clicked. Without a contract, the content is not immoral to decline (just like walking into a department store and telling the woman spraying cologne not to spray you.)

    Finally, the site that uses overly extensive ads might also be liable for theft. It has an intention to permanently deprive me of bandwidth with the ads that annoy. sites should push for their advertisers to rein in the extensivenes of ads and then the marginal blocker might become the mnarginal non-blocker. It is the site that has the macro responsibility to provide revenue maximising ads, and not the immorality of the user blocking the sites ads because they are too lazy or too greedy to refine their advertising.

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