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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.

Ad Blocking is Immoral by No tags for this post.

148 Comments

  1. Fred Allison
    Aug 2, 2007

    Actually the post you link to is far from ridiculous. I as a user do not have any contract with you. You put the content up and make it available to the public. If you want a private site and you want to make rules about what we have to do to use it, do so. I’m sure you can find software that will allow users dial in and log in and follow your rules.

    BTW. Your blog looks great with no ads.

    Editor Response: That is why I mentioned that the contract is implicit. It is certainly not legally binding – that is not the question at hand. The question is if it is morally binding. I personally believe that it is. One would be hard-pressed to create an argument that Ad Blocking is moral or even amoral without resorting to these types “loophole” arguments of “i signed nothing”.

    Really, the question pivots on the corner of ethical / legal / moral. Certainly if I place that removing the Ads is against my TOS, doing so would be all through (unethical, immoral, and illegal). It surprises me that so many people think that without that explicit expression, nothing implicit exists, and immediately the same actions become ethical, moral, and legal. At minimum, it shows a patent disrespect for the authors who spend time and money developing, creating, and distributing their craft.

  2. Jon Henshaw
    Aug 2, 2007

    I’ve found myself on both sides of the argument. Before I was a publisher, I never thought there was anything wrong with blocking ads. However, now that I am an online publisher, and many of my clients are publishers, I realize how important it is to not subvert the adverts! It truly is the main, and often only source of income for content/article based websites. To block them — especially in masse — is to basically say, we love your content, but screw you. Blocking content, even if you don’t click on anything, basically states that you want the website to fail financially.

  3. Eric Tully
    Aug 15, 2007

    The reasons that Ad Blocking is ethical.

    First, the difference between ethics and morals.

    Morals are universal truths that can’t be debated. Some things are just inherently good. Ethics (from the Greek “ethos” meaning “the people”), however, are morals as they are subject to public opinion. Stealing is morally wrong – there’s no confusion there – it’s not up for discussion. However, if you rush into a store and take a fire extinguisher without paying for it (and indeed, don’t have any money to pay for it) so that you can put out a fire in the old age home across the street, society would say that your action was ethical. Your action was for the people and no judge (nor any god) would consider you bad or evil for taking the fire extinguisher.

    Stealing is immoral because, the very nature of stealing is that you are depriving someone of something that they own. The ethics of stealing, however, can vary slightly based on the circumstances.

    Sticking up your middle finger or calling someone a foo foo head are mean and hurtful but there is nothing inherently wrong with either. It’s entirely possible that sticking up your middle finger at someone in a different country or in a different century could mean “good job”, or “I really like you”, or even, “nice hair-do”. Putting up a middle finger doesn’t have the clearly wrong nature that stabbing someone with a knife has so it could be considered unethical in modern America but it’s not at all immoral.

    So are we asking whether or not Ad Blocking is immoral or unethical?

    Blocking an ad is covering up part of your message. You put a newspaper in front of me and I place my hand (or a sheet of paper) across one half the page so that I can see some of what you told me but not all of what you told me. In modern America, that is considered stealing because if we all did that, the advertiser would stop paying and you wouldn’t be able to deliver your newspaper and feed your family. But is it immoral? Covering up part of a message is like sticking up a middle finger – while it has a certain effect in our society, it probably has no real effect in other times or places. There can’t really be anything wrong with covering up a part of a message that is intended only for me.

    If I were to walk down the street and cover up a billboard, I am making a decision for the rest of the people in my town. It’s very possible that some people in my town want to read the billboard so that they can learn about where the nice restaurants are. I don’t have the authority to decide what other people can and can’t read so it’s actually immoral to cover up a stret billboard as this is a form of censorship. (Indeed, many conservative groups would like to block ads for establishments like Planned Parenthood but they are not permitted to block those street billboards).

    If I block a message that is destined for me – I am only affecting myself. If you yell, “Hey, your house is on fire” and I plug my ears because I don’t want to hear you yelling, I have only hurt myself. It is my right as a human being to block what goes into my ears and eyes. If you can force me to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre or listen to a racist talk about white supremacy, then our country has failed. If I don’t want to be exposed to cussing, nudity, violence – or maybe I don’t want to be exposed to cute baby bunnies – that’s my right as a human being.

    Movie trailers used to “trail” the movie – people would watch to see what would be playing next week – but theater owners noticed that some people were leaving before the trailers played. Instead of trying to reason with the customers and explain why that was stealing, the theater owners moved the trailers to play before the movie. It’s harder to miss the trailers at the beginning because if you intentionally arrive late for the movie, you don’t get good seats and you spill your popcorn as you try to find your seat in the dark. The essential message here is that the theater owners rely on the inconvenient nature of missing the trailers by playing them before the movie.

    All ads rely on inconvenience. It’s easier to let them rest where they are than to try to block them. There is no enforceable law that we must watch them – on that we agree – but further, there is no moral obligation to prop my eyes open and listen carefully while the ad plays. People should not feel guilty for going to the kitchen during a commercial break or pressing the mute button to enable human interaction. If the publisher can make it so that the effort required to view the ad exceeds the value of avoiding the ad, then people will watch it – and the advertiser will continue to pay for it. That’s the economics of the situation. Can you imagine if you said to an advertiser, “We’re having a baseball game, it costs $75 per ticket, and we’ll run your ad for 20 mins on home plate after the game is over. People should feel obligated to stay after the game to watch the ad so that we don’t have to raise ticket prices to $85.” No advertiser would pay for that ad. The economics of advertising can’t be based on people’s desire to do the right thing and watch the ad that supports the business. It has to be based on the inconvenience of avoiding the ad.

    Some ads appear even though we paid for the content already. There are ads before (and with product placement, even during) movies. Even though we pay for cable TV, we are still subjected to ads. When we buy a magazine, we are subjected to ads. The economics here is that the advertiser is gambling on the fact that it’s not worth our time to remove or avoid the ads. The business model is that the publisher is hoping to sell additional copies by lowering the price of the media. If he can lower the price to free, so much the better. But it still has to be based on the inconvenience of avoiding the ad, not people’s desire to do the right thing.

    Advertising was a model based on the fact that ads were hard to avoid. With technology, those days are gone. It’s not that people are theives for avoiding the ads, it’s that businesses are lazy for not trying to find ways to make money in a world where advertising doesn’t make sense. There are many businesses and business models that made sense at one time – and were effective – but no longer make sense. Advertising made sense in the old world. People today should not be expected to unnecessarily subject themselves to ads when they can be easily avoided.

    I am no more obligated to listen to anyone’s complete message (including the ads) than I am to watch an offensive movie or listen to an offensive speech.

    Author Comments: Thank you for your comments Eric, they are well thought and expressed. I will try to respond to as many points as time permits…
    Morality vs. Ethics: I agree with you that there is a difference between Morality and Ethics, however I fail to see how Ad-Blocking avoids being both immoral and unethical. First, your behavior need not impact other actors to be immoral and/or unethical. While I would agree that it is a greater crime to prevent others from seeing the billboard than you simply covering up the ad yourself, they both involve you circumventing the means of monetizing a good or service.

    I agree with you that movie trailers, advertisements, etc. are convenience hinderances to customers. That is why we consider them non-monetary “costs”. However, what if the movie theater gave away free tickets as long as you showed up on time and watched the trailers. Would it be immoral/unethical to show up, get great seats, and then put on headphones and start playing a portable game? We are simply more comfortable with the idea of shirking our responsibilities when we are trading things other than money for goods and services. However, there is no actual difference, ethically or morally speaking, when trading either your time or your money for a good or a service.

    I disagree with you in stating that sticking up your middle finger or calling a person a name is not inherently immoral or unethical. The actual action does not matter – rather it is the meaning of said action. It is immoral and unethical to behave rudely towards a person who has done you no harm. It violates a simple fairness doctrine (yes, an implicit contract to behave fairly towards one another).

    The Economics of Advertising: It is important to note that whether or not a behavior to use advertising as a revenue model does not impact the morality / ethics of the situation. It may be a terrible business idea for me to create a store where customers get free clothes if they watch advertisements upon entering, but that does not make it alright for the customer to storm in, take clothes, and not watch the advertising. I agree with you that no advertiser would buy the advertisement that runs after the baseball game – however, if they did, and it was understood by game attendees that the advertiser is paying for their attendance by running adverts they are intended to watch after the game ends, then it would be unethical or immoral. I think your metaphor is quite a stretch, though, because the advertising used on websites tends to be made a part of the content itself and, furthermore, you have to go out of your way to install software to counteract it. There is a level of premeditation and deliberate action that must be considered as well.

    If I don’t want to be exposed to cussing, nudity, violence – or maybe I don’t want to be exposed to cute baby bunnies – that’s my right as a human being.

    Not if your method paying for a service is by watching cute baby bunnies. Otherwise, I can just say, “I am offended by the idea of paying for things with money!” – You have 1 decision to make, whether the cost of a service or good is worth it. If you dont want to see cussing, nudity, violence, bunnies, etc. then don’t – but don’t also take the good or service as well. What is even worse about Ad-Blocking is that you are choosing not to judge the value at all. You are categorically assuming that all advertising is more expensive than the content for which it provides. It is even worse than going into a store and saying, that is a ripoff, im going to steal it. It is like going into every store, even during a “going out of business” 90% clearance sale and stealing it, because you have blinded yourself to the price the provider requests.

    It’s not that people are theives for avoiding the ads, it’s that businesses are lazy for not trying to find ways to make money in a world where advertising doesn’t make sense.

    On a side note, I would argue that advertising makes more sense than ever. Behavioral and contextual advertising makes those advertisements you see more relevant than ever. More importantly, I must call you out for this statement. It is made over and over and over again by Ad-Blocking advocates, and it just doesn’t make sense. Frankly, Eric, I am frustrated by you writing this considering much of your previous argumentation was intelligent. If I created a store in the middle of a parking lot with no security, with price tags on all the items, no one at the cash register, and just left it for hours on end, it would still be immoral and unethical for you to come and take the clothing. No matter how poor the business model, you are not justified in taking something that is not free.

    There is only 1 calculation to make when you visit a web site. Yes, the content is worth the advertisements or No, the content is not worth the advertisements. If it is the former, you read the content. If it is the latter, you leave. This is how people have been doing it for over a decade. But now you have a shiny new toy that allows you to not even concern yourself with whether or not the cost is worth it, because you can’t even tell if the content creator is asking for anything in return. It is as if you have removed the doors, walls, security systems and price tags from every store. And you call this ethical? You believe this is moral?

  4. Jason
    Aug 28, 2007

    Here’s my middle finger, screw you find another website to steal from. There are simple php scripts that block users from viewing websites if they’re using ad blockers. Popup blockers, or programs that prevent forced downloads is one thing, but actually altering the source code of a website you are viewing is completely different. A webmaster that wants to have ads all over the place is immoral, and visitors probably won’t come back to that, so that’s their decision. But altering my website is also immoral, I mean come on, blocking google ads?

    Authors Response: I hope this is a response to one of the comments. I argue in my post that Ad Blocking IS immoral, which agrees with your statement.

  5. will
    Sep 17, 2007

    Modern advertising techniques must change with modern technology. Most people do not like advertisements, and for as long as I can remember, people have tried to figure out ways to not have to look at them (VCR’s, Tivo, etc). Advertisers have had to adapt, and they will continue to have to do so. Trying to bring users back down to a certain technology level will inevitably end up a futile effort.

  6. Wireman
    Nov 20, 2007

    Editors Note: This is the kind of ad-block insanity that exists out there. People really believe that if you want to make money off your content, you shouldn’t be on the web. These people are apparently not familiar with books, magazines, television, radio, and essentially every other source of for-profit content.

    Internet was good back at 96-99.After that every stupid scum
    just realized that he could earn money through Internet.
    And started the commercial thing.

    I adblocked, i`m adblocking and i WILL adblock.
    The right of what i see in MY screen is MINE and none else.
    If a site has serious content then it wont put ads.
    If is putting ads, it is just another site whose developer is trying to make money over the users and in most times it has no usual information. Those sites deserve to be shut down.

    Well if i want to know about your company`s products i`ll visit your site or even better your local office and i shall request a full briefing about your products.

    Blowing a million ads over billion of sites especially when the sites content is way off the ads content is just anonying
    (looking for info about a router configuration and see ads about cars) it`s just gross!!!!

    About the law thing and the right to adblock etc..

    I choose what i`ll see and none else. It`s my right to decide
    what to see or not. I don`t like something ? I`ll block it.
    The other way is like saying because a guy is throwing some printed material i have to pick it up and read the entire content, not just the header. To put it in another way
    Imagine a radio or TV specially designed when the program show commercials to be impossible to tune in another station, or shut it down.

    To close down the reply i`ll say again the same thing.
    It`s the users right what,where and when he or she will see something and not someone stupid ad designer, publisher etc.

    If a site can afford to not have ads and i`ll close down, then so be it. Internet has been filled up with billions of sites for money making an with useless information and when you come by in search of some info you end up in millions of site where only a hundred of them have something useful.

  7. Greg S
    Feb 9, 2008

    I appreciate the points made in the original entry.

    However for me advertising practices are often morally suspect. They frequently seek to create demand by manipulating the emotions of the viewer in a way that is not healthy.

    As far as I am concerned this intent to do harm by the advertisers invalidates any implied contract between me and the publishers that use them. It also removes the moral high ground from those that say I should obey such a contract.

    In order to keep a moral advantage I really should boycott the Internet rather than adblock…. but I’m not going to do that. Instead I will put up a fight, adblock as much as I can and pay for services that I need if necessary.

    Interestingly I don’t have any problems with the ads as displayed in my googlemail, perhaps because they don’t seek to intrude into either my browser or subconscious.

  8. Anonymous
    Feb 10, 2008

    Whoever invented the pop-up advert, like the inventor of telemarketing should be executed by a painful method. I got fed up with those shaking pop-ups you can’t ever get to click on the X button because it’s shaking. Then, there’s the pop-unders. The intrusive advertising using MY CPU cycles for YOUR ends is a form of theft of service. Didn’t the cretins at DoubleClick figure out why spam is so universally despised? I know, “just hit delete”. Well, I did – by using Adblock Plus. What is immoral is advertisers forcing people to use ad blocking software and causing an arms race.

  9. v.dog
    Feb 27, 2008

    You say that blocking ads is immoral, but what about the ads themselves? I put ABP on my parent’s and friend’s computers as they can’t tell the difference between an actual Windows alert and and ad that purports to be one, not to mention the ads that claim that they’ve won a prize (for being the 1000000th visitor or whatever), or worse, the ones that ask for your credit card details in the pretense of checking whether their card has already been stolen.

    It’s far less ethical (or moral, if you prefer) to allow them to become the victims of such scams that it is to allow sites to profit from them.

    Even though I’m savvy enough to not fall for such deception, I block ads because they annoy me. Pop-ups, pop-unders, flashing primary colours, loud noises (really annoying at 3am when everyone else is a sleep), things crawling around the screen in front of the content, ‘naked’ windows (missing the windows [X] button), spontaneously opening more instances of the browser window (or tabs), I could go on for hours.

    The only impression these ads make on me is a negative one. In the clamber for my eyeballs, advertisers have done the very opposite of what they hoped to achieve. Instead of drawing me in, they have pushed me away with vile revulsion.

    You people want me back? You want my money, or at least make an impression on me? Here’s what you do:
    Stop lying. No more deceptive ads. Period.
    Don’t hurt my eyes or my ears. You want my attention? Make me smile, make me laugh. Get me curious. Get clever. Just don’t ever, EVER make me mad.

    I’d be naive to think that ever going to happen tho’, so I’ll be blocking ads for the foreseeable future. However, that does leave us with a dilemma; I want to keep my retinas, you want to keep your site going. There are, however, alternatives to advertising. Wired has a good write up here: http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free?currentPage=all
    This needn’t be a zero sum game.

    Editor Note: Do you think that Best Buy is a rip-off? I do. I think that what they do to uninformed customers is terrible – fleecing them for millions a year. However, I do not use this as a justification to steal from them. I go and shop somewhere else. Similarly, if you have a problem with the advertisements on a site, you should go get your content elsewhere. How else will the webmaster know that the ads are affecting readership?

  10. v.dog
    Feb 27, 2008

    There’s a difference with being a a rip-off and committing out-right fraud. While it’s morally wrong (there’s that word again) to rip-people off (price gouge or whatever), it’s illegal to bait-and-switch.

    You are right, however, in that I can get my content elsewhere, which is why being outright hostile to Fx and/or ABP users is a bad idea.

    You might say that you’re scaring off shoplifters, I’d say you’re kicking out customers who would gladly support you by other means (e.g. the freemium model).

    You may also be interested to note, that after talking to Alex over at Neatorama ( http://www.neatorama.com/2008/02/26/vote-for-john-mcclane/ ) , I’ve decided to disable ABP on that site. I’m not against all ads per se, just the bad ones (see definition above). If I can get your assurance that you’ll veto them, I’ll let my shields down here too.

    That’s it in a nutshell. I’m not malicious, I’m not a thief (labeling me as one certainly won’t convert me to your cause), I’m just simply a man who is trying to shield himself and his family from the scourge of the internet.
    You guarantee safe haven, my shields will come down.

    Editors Note: I understand your wish to protect you, your family, and others from misleading and, frankly, sometimes dangerous advertisements. However, Ad-Blocking is not the way to do this. You could easily write a script that, upon discovery of a page laden with advertisements, offers a pop-up that says — this page contains advertisements, are you sure you want to continue —. Im sure there are many other solutions as well, that was one just off the top of my head. Not to be harsh or condescending, but taking something while deliberately circumventing the method of payment is about as close to stealing as you can get.

  11. v.dog
    Feb 28, 2008

    Clicking an yes|no confirmation is just as annoying as those ads themselves. It’s not a viable solution.

    You seem to have missed my other point; If you abide by a code of conduct saying you’ll veto any ad that breaches certain standards (see my first post), I’ll whitelist your site.
    (You also seem to have missed my previous point on alternative revenue models.)

    You want money/impressions from me, I’m willing to give them, just as long as it’s on terms we’re both happy with.

  12. Luke
    Feb 29, 2008

    It is hard to use conventional media analogies to assist, as there is none that really apply. However one thing I think that may apply is an analogy with the behavour of the public broadcaster in Australia (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC). It is publicly funded by the taxpayer, and does not advertise. It will not allow people to plug their products on programs, and if they try they will be told not to. Most significantly, where something is given a propriatary name by a sponsor (for example the ‘Ford Australian Open’ or ‘TelstraDome’ they will not use that trademark even where that is the official name of an event, or a venue, and will substitute it with a former name or the like. I think if the WWW is likened to a public broadcaster (which I think it can be) then ad blocking is somewhat simillar to the resistance of the ABC in refusing to give free plugs even where they have been ingeniously embedded (like some internet ads such as pop-ups). I sympathise with sites that can provide free access only on the basis of ads, but I think it goes back to the original philosophy of the WWW, which is that it is a commercially-resistant space which has evolved and continues to evolve that resistance. And if you want ads, don’t use an ad-blocker.

  13. SSSSSS
    Mar 27, 2008

    Fucking communists shut your mouth you killed pc gaming and now your kill the internet’s

  14. Ad Blocker
    Apr 5, 2008

    I block advertisements, spoof my user agent, and use anonymous proxies, all because no store owner, either online or off, has the right to 1. demand my ID and other personal information about me when I’m simply “browsing the aisles” and 2. the majority of advertisements today are intrusive, annoying, and many of them are hawking scams. I am doing all that (blocking advertisements, spoofing my user agent, and using a proxy) right now. I can even control it to the point of ridiculous HEAD combinations using multiple platforms and pretending I am in Kentucky.

    Lets examine an example: http://www.somenewssite.com, a public media venue with annoying flash advertisements that dance around in the middle of a news story. Why should I allow myself to be distracted from the story by an annoying advertisement? The story is offered to the public for free, and face it, news venues are competing to insert their idea of morality into the heads of it’s readers, that is enough pay, allowing myself to be exposed to toxic journalism.

    Another example: http://www.somesalessite.com, they sell all sorts of goodies. I go there, knowing what I want to purchase, and purchase THAT item without being innundated by sponsored advertisements because I don’t need some sponsor telling me what I need, I already knew before visiting the website.

    Face it, there is nothing any website operator can do to prevent someone from accessing select data and blocking other data. Nothing.

    Block my browser, I spoof another.
    Block my IP addy, I change proxy.

    Is this unethical? Better yet, how is “racist” browser blockers and “anti-ethnic” IP profiling ethical. This kind of bigotry can be defeated, but the damage it does to your reputation cannot be.

    The fact of the matter is that anyone operating a website does so with the implicit understanding that they are not going to make a sale. You may as well argue against competing websites who steal your customers with better, less annoying, text based ads like one finds on google (which I don’t filter).

    The customer is alway right, guys, regardless of whether or not the customer pays attention to unsolicited advertisements or makes a purchase.

    Editor Response:

    1. “the customer is always right”: If you are blocking ads, you are not a customer. You are a thief.
    2. “the fact of the matter is… they are not going to make a sale”: Patently False. Websites with Pay-Per-Impression Ads are guaranteed to make a “sale” (albeit a fraction of a cent) for every visitor to their site, unless you ad block. You have now deprived that webmaster of income.
    3. “face it… nothing a webmaster can do”. The webmaster can make it a hassle, or run his/her own local ad system with non-standard image sizes to avoid blocking.
    4. “why should I allow myself to be distracted”
    5. : Because those are the terms under which the article was offered to you. You should allow yourself to be distracted or find the content elsewhere. If you can find a site that will offer you the same content for free, then good for you. However, I think you will be hard pressed to find alternate suitable content that is not commercially derived.

    6. “demanding ID when I browse the aisles”: Unfortunately, this is a completely different argument. Feel free to block cookies if you like, that is not ad blocking and I have no problem with it.
  15. Paul
    Apr 10, 2008

    The web page I’m viewing now, which you presumably created, is on my computer. It is not on your server. It came from your server yes, but in order to view it I had to download it first, and then view it in my browser.

    Essentially, it is a file on my hard drive, this very minute. I have every right in the world to do whatever I want to this file on my computer. I can change the images, the text, the links, remove the ads, everything. So long as I do not redistribute it, or claim that it is my own, I have broken no law.

    And frankly if some ambitious businessman who comes along, who probably thinks he’s really clever because he’s figured out a way to make money using the internet, and doesn’t even have the common decency to make sure his ads don’t suck up my computers CPU and memory resources, (because he’s done them in flash – which makes him doubly clever of course) or doesn’t bother trying to place them in discrete locations on a page, then I’m going to get rid of them. And there’s nothing you can do to stop me.

    And Google deserves some credit for recognizing some of these things. People have resented indiscriminate advertising for decades, this is not particular to the internet.

    So what you are advocating is completely ignorant all of the philosophical foundations that have made the internet what it is today. You want to turn the internet into a locked-down, proprietary, pay-per view service, like cable television, where people have little or no control over the content or the length of tacky advertising breaks.

    Think about all the social engineering, the manipulation, all the trickery advertisers use to draw people in, all the morally questionable techniques used just to make people buy things, to make of all things, money.

    You have clearly identified yourself as un-altruistic and ignorant of the medium you operate in.

    “Advertising is the poetry of capitalism.”

    Author Response: Wow. You are crazy. First off, I do not want to turn the internet into a “locked-down, proprietary, pay-per-view service”. Ad-blocking encourages that kind of internet, because content-creators and webmasters are running out of viable, non-intrusive methods of monetizing the content they created for you to view. You are right in that you have probably broken no law. In the same way, it is not against the law to never tip a waiter. You know the waiter is paid below minimum wage, you know that the only way he/she gets a decent salary is if you and others tip. But you are a freeloader, and choose to punish the waiter so you can save a buck or two. You don’t even have the decency to ignore the ads on a page, you have to go the extra step and remove them altogether.
  16. JohnK
    Apr 13, 2008

    If you extend the argument against ad blocking into everyday life, the case becomes utterly ridiculous.

    One gets a delivery of the local free newspapers, which are supoported, ast least in part, by flyers and fold-ins.

    My habit is to simply pull out the flyers and ad-ins and summarily bin them, still folded, without a glance.

    I also deal in the same summary fashion with much junk mail, which is binned without opening but for which the post office gets paid to deliver.

    Am I doing wrong?

    The only real difference I can see is that I do not pay directly for delivery of the advertising material received by post or in the news, whereas I do pay my ISP for my bandwidth, of which advertising occupies a measureable fraction.

    Question: has the advertiser any right to expect me to pay for receiving his (unwanted) content, which could contain a significant amount of data if it’s an animated graphic?

    Perhaps we are being expected to pay for the mistakes the content generators have made. They have developed content designed to be as eye-catching as possible. This has reached the point where much advertising content is considered so instrusive that all that it chieves is to alientate a large proportion of people viewing the material, to the extent that ever more people wish to bloock it.

    There is a reason peopple have gone to the length of developing ad blockers and others to the efort of finding out about them, downloading them and installing them.

    The reason is that adverts have become so intrusive that people are reacting.

    If advertising material could be produced with sufficient skill that it was uniformly socially acceptable, perhaps this situation would not have arisen.

    For the meantime, my bandwith is my own. I and only I choose who uses it.

    Editors Note: The fallacy of your analogy is that you did not solicit the free newspaper that now litters your lawn, nor did you ask for the junk mail that now stuffs your mailbox.

    Apparently people are having difficulty understanding the role that the intrusiveness of an advertisement plays in an equation. The intrusiveness of an advertisement is a Cost of Viewing the content. The more intrusive, the more costly. At this point, an ethical person decides whether the value of the content is worth the cost of intrusive advertisements (much like those Get a Free Ipod deals, that actually DO work if you can put up with the ads a deals and so can your friends). An unethical person finds a way to circumvent the costs so they can get the content free from any hassle – even if it means depriving the content creator.

  17. JosephW
    Apr 14, 2008

    Wow. Editor, you seem to be the crazy one. You are calling people immoral and unethical for making a choice as to what they look at and what they choose to allow to let into their minds.

    You keep making the point, that if a person does not want to view the ads of the site, then they should get their content elsewhere. Nice point, however, if a website publisher did not want everyone on the planet with a connection to the Internet to be able to freely access all (or any fraction of) the information they post to this very public medium, then they should password protect and charge for it, much like the NY Times does.

    Editor Response: Really? You think that only 2 models should exist – free or subscription? I happen to think that a business owner should be allowed to create whatever model he or she wants, and as a potential consumer of that businesses goods, we have an ethical and moral responsibility to either agree to his/her terms or not receive the service. The internet would be a sad sort of affairs right now if we did not have ad-supported content. For example, Google would not exist. Could you imagine paying a subscription to get access to the “whole internet” via Google, or you can get the limited internet for free?

    Most importantly, though, who cares if the webmaster is stupid. It may be stupid for a blind person to sell pencils on the street, but you don’t see people stealing them out of the cup left and right. If he did not want everyone on the planet walking by to be able to freely access all his pencils, he should have locked them behind a counter, opened a store, and sold them at retail! Right!?! Ad-supported sites may not be the best revenue model (in your opinion), but that has no bearing on the ethics of the behavior of ad-blocking.

    Your argument that there is an ‘implicit’ contract because I went to a web page doesn’t hold water, either. Just because I step outside the door to my home into the public doesn’t mean that I ‘implicitly’ agree to be shot and mugged by the nearest criminal. I have a ‘right’ to protect myself, with deadly force if necessary, from any and all intruders into my personal space. Once the data is on MY computer, I will format it as I see fit and display it in any way I choose, regardless of the original posters’ intention.

    Editor Response: You are assuming that a website is a public place. If it were a public place, it would be illegal for a webmaster to password protect his site and charge subscriptions – that would be the equivalent of me setting up a fence in central park and calling it my own. Websites are not public property, they are private property. You have chosen to visit his/her private property in order to receive a service that he/she provides. Now, if we want to disregard private and public property altogether – the very foundation of this debate and most ethical/legal/moral decisions – they yeah, good point.

    Here’s an ‘implicit’ contract for ya – The Internet is a public medium, so as a content poster, your contract for posting things on the Internet assumes that some people will not look at every thing that you want them to, that everyone in the world will have easy access to it, and that YOU GET NO SAY as to what people do with your leaflets after you put them into the public domain. You can’t have it both ways, yet that’s what you are screaming for.

    Editor Response: On this point, you are simply wrong. I can password protect sites right? If it was a public medium, it would be illegal to restrict it. The truth is, you can have it both ways. The internet is a public-and-private medium, just like the world as a whole. We do have it both ways, some sites are free, some sites use ads, some sites use subscriptions. I really cannot believe I am having to explain this to you. Websites are neither implicitly public nor implicitly private.

    If you want a PPV service, charge people to log in and view your material. If you want a public-access service, put it out there and maybe someone will be kind enough to look at some ads for you, but not me.

    Editor Response: You were the kid who took the whole bowl of candy when the old lady down the street went to bed on halloween and left it outside with the “please take one”. Was it illegal to take more? no. Was it a smart decision on her part to do it? no. Are you still unethical? YES.

    I think you are missing the whole model of the Internet. It is not a subscription service where I get some sort of feed to my computer every time I turn it on (to the disdain of many of your ilk), like the television is. I get to choose where I go and what public pages I read (or portions thereof.) The Internet was not created for advertisers to make money. It was not created for content-publishers to make money. It was created for the free exchange of information. If you only want people that are willing ‘not’ to block your ads to view your site, make them log in or use a special program to see the content. Pretending that the masses are in some sort of contract with you or the vile advertisers that you seek to protect is lunacy.

    Editor Response: No, you are missing the “model” of the internet. There is far more to it that just public pages and subscription pages. Once again, if we held it to that model, Google itself would no longer exist. It was not created for content-publishers to make money – of course not, but it was also not created to prevent them from doing so. Thank you for pointing out that believing you should behave ethically towards the person providing you “free” content is lunacy.

    As long as you leave your content leaflets stacked up next to your advertising leaflets in a public place, you should expect people only to pick up the ones they actually want to view. Do not be mad when you come back to the public place and the people did not pick up any of the ad leaflets.

    Editor Response: But the ads aren’t separate, they are together, on the same sheet of paper. So I know that I am getting the advertising dollars per leaflet handed out. Once again, poor analogy on your part.

    Here is a better question – why not boycott ad-revenue sites altogether? Is it quite possible that the information you WANT actually costs money to CREATE and SERVE? Or, better yet, why not keep a log of every site you visit that has ads that are blogged, come up with a calculation on the impressions you have taken from them with ad-block, and send the webmasters a check on a monthly basis (roughly the payment terms they get). That way, you can be ethical and get the content you want.

  18. Andrew Marshall
    Apr 18, 2008

    I sympathise with your argument, but am curious about your opinion of PVR machines that allow a user to record a television programme and then view it at a later time without advertisements. Indeed, people have been able to do this crudely with VHS for years.

    Is the use of such devices unethical? Have you ever skipped through the adverts of a recorded episode of CSI or Lost ( if that is your cup of tea, so to speak ) ?.

    Editor Response: The PVR (or just changing the channel during advertisements) is a commonly raised argument. First, however, I would like clear up an issue in this debate. What I do, as a person, has no bearing on whether or not that action is ethical. Just because a murderer has murdered before does not make him wrong in asserting that murder is immoral or unethical. The ethics or morality of a behavior stands regardless of the proponents’ history. It may make me a hypocrite, but it does not make the argument false. Back to the argument at hand. I believe that there are subtle differences between the two but, overall, it is mildly unethical to skip advertisements on television. TV programs have several forms of funding – subscriptions to cable channels, product placement, syndication rights, merchandising, DVD sales, along side television advertisements. Skipping the commercials is only on part of the overall funding. In my opinion, this is akin to reusing a coupon at a store to save yourself 10%, or sharing a free-refill soda with your date. You are cheating the system to save some time or money, but you are not depriving the service provider of the complete method of his/her funding. This is not the case with the average webmaster. The idea of merchandising or offline sales is ridiculous for the average blogger. They certainly get no money for syndication when their story gets on a site like Digg or Reddit. And when they do product placement, we expect them to be completely upfront about it via disclosure. The only form of revenue they get is through advertising. It is the difference between using that 10% coupon again, or just swiping the product altogether.
  19. Joe
    Apr 27, 2008

    I have nothing against ad, but when I’m trying to browse the web with my pentium 3 and one page has so many java/flash animated ad banners, my CPU hit 100% just for one browser tab I’m not able to do anything with the computer anymore, I have 2 solutions, I can use adblock+ or another computer. Guess witch one?

  20. Matt
    May 10, 2008

    You aren’t selling anything, so it is not stealing. If you were selling something, you wouldn’t get nearly as many visitors as you may or may not get. If you want a domain name, you pay for it. You could easily move to a free hosting service. Or are those services unethical and immoral because they take away from the revenue of the pay services? You choose to place what you write on a publicly accessible site. You can’t expect people to pay for it. You aren’t obligated to voice your opinion.

  21. Anonymous
    May 15, 2008

    To the editor:Instead of bitching and whining that people aren’t playing the game according to your(made up) ethical rules, why not try to evolve with it? Can you seriously not think of any new and innovative method of making websites commercially viable?

    You remind me of the Luddite mill workers throwing their shoes into the steam-driven machinery that took their jobs, trying to turn back time.

    What has been invented cannot be un-invented. Ethics or morality has nothing to do with it. The cat is out of the bag and adblockers are here to stay.

    Either come up with a countermeasure to disable my adblocker on your website, evolve, or go broke.

    People tend to forget that this here internetland isn’t some Utopia where everybody’s buddy-buddy and do things because they are “right”. What about the spyware, malware and all manner of garbage cookies advertisers have been shoveling onto my hard drive for years without ever stopping to inform me, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

    They didn’t do it because it was ethical or moral or whatever.

    They simply did it because they could get away with it.

    Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the audience is fighting back. Because we can get away with it.

    Make us not be able to get away with it or take it like a man you know?

    But please don’t try to appeal to virtue or morality, because those things are an illusion, if not in real life then most definitely on the internet, which contrary to popular opinion is not Serious Buisness.

    Editor Note: So, you are making the point here that it is not worth complaining or “bitching” because people are going to do it anyway. I do sympathize with your point and I hope that no part of my commentary indicated that I actually believed my statements would impact any individual use of AdBlock software. I do, however, want those people to get it out of their minds that what they are doing is ethical. Yes, as lame as it may be, I actually care about being right for right’s-sake.

    As for not making it possible, folks are working on that as we speak. There are several alternatives available that help you prevent ad-blockers from using your site.

  22. TheNewRevolution
    May 18, 2008

    I am new to this concept, but honestly, I love ad blocking. It is not illegal. End of story. Even if it were we wouldn’t stop. LimeWire, Morpheus, Napster… We are winning.

    Talk about morality all you want. Centuries ago Christians killed non-believers. It was legal. In WWII the Japanese used kamikaze pilots to kill. It brought them honor. Today extreme Muslims strap bombs to their back and kill. God himself is ok with killing hundreds of thousands in Myanmar, China and Africa I doubt ad blocking makes much difference.

    The old slogan “Its business not personal” has reversed and is now on the side of the consumer. Business owners have been and continue to put it to the consumer. And now we are fighting back. Ad blocking is a consumer’s friend. Deal with it.

    Editor Note That is the funny thing about it all, business owners are trying to deal with it. We are trying to come up with ways to make ads less intrusive (like straight text links instead of full-color or motion ads); we are coming up with ways to circumvent ad-blocking, etc. However, the humor comes with the fact that it is the ad-blocker, like yourself, who seems to be uncomfortable with the label “unethical”. Sure, it is not illegal, but what you are doing is unethical. Deal with that.

  23. cp702
    May 25, 2008

    1: Stop making points INSIDE other people’s comments. Editor: You are the first to complain about this – most people like to see that I take the time personally to read and respond to comments.

    2: Ad serving is immoral. You are claiming the right to take up my bandwidth and steal my time and money (to buy more bandwidth to cope with ads). Go to hell. Editor: If I was pushing ads to you in your sleep, yes. However, you have come to my site, to read my content, which I offer in exchange for you to at least view the ads. On the contrary, you are stealing MY bandwidth AND MY content by viewing the site while blocking my only form of revenue.

    3: I am not required to download scripts from, say, pagead2.googlesyndication.com. You may not force me to. Editor: Unless I set my Terms of Service to say that you must download from that site in order to Read my for-profit content. I absolutely can do that. No, I can’t force you to download from that site, but I can make it a requirement for using my site.

    4: If you want ads, think about them, pick them yourself, and put them on YOUR server. They WILL NOT be blocked. You are claiming the right to subscribe to an ad company, have them pick the ads, and have no responsibility. Editor: So your problem is with 3rd party advertising providers? You have no problem with local advertisers? Something tells me that is complete bullshit. You just don’t want to see ads.

    5: When I view a page, I OWN the source code that I see. It is cached, and on my computer. You have NO SAY besides copyright what I do with it.Editor: Wow, your sentence is filled with factual inaccuracies. First, you don’t own the source code at that point. In fact, there are implicit copyrights that have been protected by the courts time-and-time-again, especially on the content therein. Moreover, a binding Terms of Service often exists as well. But this isnt an issue of legality, and never has been. It is about morals and ethics. It is about a person coming to you with an apple and flyer and says, you may have the apple if you read the flyer. You take the apple, and crumble the flyer right in front of his face. That is what you are doing.

    Conclusion: You are being immoral and forcing us to give you money and deal with all resulting problems. GO TO HELL.
    Editor: Wow, that was out of no-where and also false. I force none of my clients to give me money. In fact, that is why I use ads on certain sites. So I do not have to charge users a subscription fee. I am giving you veritably free content for the shocking low price of leaving the ads up. I do not ask you to watch, click, or buy from any of them. Just leave them up. I am quite comfortable with my position on this, and I really doubt that I will go to hell for asking customers to participate in a completely consensual relationship of ads-for-content.

  24. Jay Kresge
    May 27, 2008

    I have two issues with your article.

    First, is that any ad I’ve used was more of a pyramid scheme. You didn’t get revenue based on views, only click throughs and purchases. By a non-clicker blocking these ads, they are reducing the ad server’s bandwith, and thus, overhead. This way, the ad actually hits their target audience.

    However, even though I never click on ads, I never used and adblocker, until ad servers gave me a reason to. A lot of ads these days carry malwar and spyware, implants onto our computers without our consent, and some of that shit wreaks havoc. I did not consent to this, and this is why I’ve switched to adblockers.

    Nowadays you need to have an adblocker, a subscription, and 2 good spyware/malware removers just to protect yourself from these ad servers.

    Editor Response: Hi, thanks for your comments. First off, the CPM model (cost per impression) is still alive and well on the internet. I would venture to say that it is at least the 2nd largest if not still the largest source of advertising revenue on the web. You are probably more familiar with Google AdSense or Affiliate programs, however even Google themselves offer the CPM model. If you ad-block, you are preventing the creator of the content you are now reading from getting paid for it, because you have chosen not to create an impression via downloading the advertisement. Secondly, while I sympathize with your problems with rogue advertisers, using Ad Blockers is a poor method of preventing yourself from getting exploited. First, the vast majority of exploits require you to choose to download the malware. They may be sneaky about it, but you do have to accept and install the download. The few who have found 0-day exploits, such as the recent Flash one, do not need to do so. However, their primary vector of attack are not through the major ad networks, which you are blocking with Ad Blocker. They use other techniques like SQL injection, XSS, etc. to redirect you to a rogue site. I promise you those ads on the side of the New York Times online are not going to give you a virus. If you want real protection, stick NoScript, Anti-Virus and Spy-Ware Removal with monitoring.

  25. Vincent
    May 28, 2008

    Dear editor, I hope you will realize your full potential as a business man – may you develop a successful online enterprise.

    It was wise to gather all these different views on this page. However, do consider being prudent where investing mental energy in dogma is concerned, since you can only effectively apply ethics in an environment that you directly influence.

    You said: “Or, better yet, why not keep a log of every site you visit that has ads that are blogged, come up with a calculation on the impressions you have taken from them with ad-block, and send the webmasters a check on a monthly basis (roughly the payment terms they get). That way, you can be ethical and get the content you want.”

    I think this is what is missing from the Internet in 2008. We could use a similar technique for freely downloaded music and video files.

    Instead of restrictive measures such as “blocking ads” and “counter blocking addblockers”, we would continue developing the Internet in a constructive manner. As we should. See you there in a few years time!

  26. Rezl
    May 31, 2008

    Thank you editor, this is an interesting discussion you’ve been fueling. I admire your patience and consistency with some of these points.

    I agree with Vincent, I think the pressure is and will continue to be placed on the advertisers, not the content managers, for the evolution of their methods and models.

    I’m personally very dissuaded by all forms of advertising. I’m also using FF with ABP, and I’m not feeling any real pangs of guilt now or otherwise after reading your justifications. From my birth in the information age, I’ve come to value my time and mental resources more and more strictly. I save valuable time and memory by displacing ads. If your site or others go under because me and my friends aren’t viewing them, I can think of more than enough options for me to go elsewhere and get the same vibes of stimulating discussion and interaction.

    If you see this as ‘stealing’ I’m not sure why. I would say I haven’t taken anything from you that you do not still have. That is the difference between theft and piracy, no? Of course the ethics of piracy are also up for debate, I’m just not seeing that word mentioned anywhere here.

    My mindset perpetuating, I’m afraid of what advertisers might be forced to do to overcome all this. Even the concept of ‘viral marketing’ has long since been patented and shifted towards the norm. It’s apparent advertisers still have a lot of say and sway, but I would imagine as their impact is decreasing, so will the value of their products be forced to compensate.

    I can only think of a single instance where I haven’t actively recognized an ad and not avoided it. I’m young enough, I think, to have felt how pervasive and disturbing they are to learn how easy they are to avoid and overwhelmingly ineffective they are against me. I’m sure there’s a slew of statistics that can point to their effectiveness in an otherwise more general demographic, but I think more and more people are evolving similar desires and abilities.

    As an exception, I do enjoy Penny Arcade’s ads. Primarily because I know they chose and vouch personally for what they advertise and personally help in creating the ads themselves. I would also like to mention Burning Man, the annual arts event. There are no ads or money allowed there, and I found (although due to many other factors) that this helped to create the most amazing atmosphere and environment I have ever experienced. Neither were “illegal” there to say, but they were not welcome, and many similar tenets were used to accommodate a greater volume of radical self-expression, for the sake of expression itself, and not for revenue or corporate gain.

    I’m also curious how we could compare advertising to political lobbying, and gauge their effects. I’m sure that’s a leap, but I’d be interested in hearing what people have to say about the two.

    Editors Response

    First off, thank you for your well reasoned and calm argumentation. I truly appreciate your discourse. I will try to parse out the individual arguments you have used and give a reasoned response….

    You write: If your site or others go under because me and my friends aren’t viewing them, I can think of more than enough options for me to go elsewhere and get the same vibes of stimulating discussion and interaction..

    Then why do you still continue to choose to go to these sites? If you must employ ad-circumventing technologies of questionable ethics to access a site in a manner against the will of the site owner and content creators when there are alternatives that deliver the content ad-free, then why continue to cheat the system?

    In reality, I think we all know that the ad-supported internet is far better than the free internet in most cases. We all use Google. We all use YouTube. We all use Gmail or Yahoo Mail. Luckily for them, their networks are so large that they are largely unaffected by your actions. However, it is the up-and-comers who are most often injured by the early-adopters, like yourself, who have stripped them of potential sources of revenue.

    If I am wrong about this, I ask you to try to take an ad-free diet. Try to live a week without visiting sites that are ad-supported and give a write up on it. You will be shocked at how much of the web you have lost.

    You asked Isn’t this more piracy than stealing?

    Piracy requires that you intend to redistribute intellectually copyrighted information. That is not the case here. You have simply taken information from a site without accepting the terms of payment, which is, simply, leaving the ads up.

    At Issue: What is truly at issue here is whether information that is not valuable enough to support a subscription model, but is created by people who can’t afford to create it for free, has a place on the web. I happen to think that is the case. I happen to believe that there are plenty of articles that are worth a penny or so to read, especially when it is a penny I am not paying as the reader.

  27. Kurt
    Jun 12, 2008

    The “Stupid Response” sup-heading was supposed to refer to your own argument, I’m assuming, as unlike you, PETCO doesn’t snivel about people taking dog treats that don’t have dogs. PETCO doesn’t pretend that there is some “moral” contract between the person taking the treats and the store itself, because there isn’t.

    Your assumption that any of this has anything to do with morality is misguided and ignorant. The second you put your site on the internet, you opened it up for everyone to see, regardless of how they will actually see it.

    Is a person using Lynx as their browser immoral? Why or why not? Is it your right to tell them that they’re being immoral for not using a different browser?

    Last of all, according to your article’s logic, the fact that you are currently reading MY content means that I now have an implicit “moral” contract with you. Seeing as my content is enhancing your blog, I demand financial justification.

    Editors Note: First off, I think it is funny how many people refuse to use valid email addresses in these comments. It does show the inability of people to separate the difference between people who run ads on their sites and, in this case, spammers. Spam is actually illegal. There is a difference folks.

    Nevertheless, you do raise some interesting points that ought to be addressed…

    Petco Dog Greats: This would make sense if PetCo made its money by people just looking at the products in the store. However, the step between grabbing a dog treat and turning it into a sale is a much more complex conversion, and PetCo is willing to give up a few dog treats in the process. On the contrary, most webmasters do not create enough valuable content to justify a PetCo model – the sale of products. In fact, webmasters have created a new model, a model where you can get free dog treats by just walking into the store with your eyes open, they get paid, and you get your dog treat. But what do you do? You create a contraption that allows you to reach into the store and grab the dog treat without even looking. Do you think PetCo would get angry if you created something like that? And you gave it out freely to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people so they can go to PetCos and do the same? I think even PetCo would start to get upset over that.

    The second you put it on the internet…: What if I put it behind a password-protected scheme? Is it still open to everyone? But even not, the question here isn’t what is possible, but what is ethical. There are plent of things that I and other webmasters expose ourselves to when we place information on the internet – but that does not mean that the realm of those possibilities is wholly ethical. If I put my home address on the internet, I have opened it up for theives to learn where I live and rob me. But that does not mean it is ethical for them to do so. I do not mean to be overly harsh in my rebuttal here, but your argument is suffering from the most common logical fallacy that has plagued this debate time and time again: assuming that because something is as it is, we must accept it as ethical because it is unchangeable.

    Is it my right to tell someone they are immoral: This is a strange question to ask. I hardly believe that I am the authority on what is or is not immoral or unethical. That being said, I am certainly in my right to exclaim that I believe a persons actions are immoral or unethical.

    Lynx Browser: We have discussed this issue before. Intent matters in ethics. Conscious activity matters in ethics. Consent matters in ethics. A person using a Lynx browser because they only have access to the command line is very different from a person using Lynx browser to avoid advertisements. In the same regard, a person using a knife to stab someone in self defense is very different from a person using a knife to stab someone in cold blood. Using a knife, or using Lynx, are not intrinsically good or bad, ethical or unethical, until the intent comes into play.

    By my logic…: Actually, most websites that accept comments explicitly state that in using the commenting form, you are passing the ownership of that comment, and its content, to the website owner. Nevertheless, what I cannot ethically do is edit the content of your comment itself, and pass it off as yours. That would be unethical. I also do not nofollow links in the URL category of the comment, nor do I edit the name, email or URL itself even if they are inflammatory. I make a judgement as to whether that comment should be on my site or not in its entirety.

  28. Amit Chopra
    Jun 16, 2008

    Hi,

    Your argument that “don’t visit a site if you don’t want to see its ads” is flawed. Let me turn it around.

    HTTP is a request response protocol. When I request a page, it is up to the provider to send me the content. Let’s say I announce myself as Firefox+ABP. The provider can block me if it chooses to. If it doesn’t, I’ll assume the provider has no problems. There was this one dude who actually blocked all Firefox connections to his site, wasn’t there? He exercised his right. Why don’t others who have a problem with ABP do the same!

    Blocking ads is no different than switching channels during commercials.

    Amit.

    Editor Note: First off, hi from North Carolina (I’m in Durham). You bring up some interesting responses, each of which however shows the naivete of most. To begin, the ability to prevent an evil being done to you, and allowing it to happen, does not make the act itself no longer evil. For example, Ghandi could have, on numerous occasions, fought back to prevent the next blow. By not fighting back, are the transgressors no longer unethical in choosing to continue to hit Ghandi? Similarly, requiring that webmasters take evasive action to prevent users, like yourself, from accessing their site in a harmful fashion is unethical. Because they choose not to (either because they lack the expertise or face platform limitations) does not free you from ethical restraint. Essentially, you are causing just enough harm that it is neither enough to force your victim to change (in a way that itself is costly) but enough that it continues to be beneficial to you.

    Actually, changing channels is very different. Television shows themselves, the content, earn their money from fees paid by the networks in order to broadcast them. The actors, actresses, and people behind that show are paid royalties based on how often the show is seen. They often receive money as well from DVD and merchandising deals as well along with product-placement. The stations themselves, the networks, fund themselves via advertising deals. So, while I would argue it is still unethical, it is important to note that you are only tangentially impacting the artist when you change channels.

    Perhaps most important, though, is that television shows have no way to determine if you switched the channels or not. Their advertising revenue is not based on an exact calculation. It takes large numbers of people doing what you do to cause them any harm. On the other hand, CPM advertising on websites knows exactly when you visit the page and do not render an advertisement. Literally every time you do it, you take money away from the writer, publisher, and webmaster.

  29. Sam
    Jul 3, 2008

    This is a very interesting debate with many thoughtful comments…

    The center of the debate is the immorality of excluding advertisements from content-drive sites sustained by advertising income, not the choice of visitors to turn advertisements on or off, nor the choice of the webmaster to serve advertisements or not, or to protect their content behind a premium or privacy mechanism.

    As an Internet consumer I find that the moral cost of blocking advertisements is often dwarfed by the safety and efficiency cost of harmful and misleading advertisements. While I regret that well-meaning content providers who are sustained by advertisements will miss out on my .002c per page view of income I accept that this stops potential malware from gaining a foot hold on my computer and stops 3rd party advertising agencies from tracking my browsing habits.

    If you as a content provider are unhappy with the percentage of Internet-savvy users who will choose to turn off advertisements for whatever reason then in this world of choice you must offer an alternate choice for well-meaning visitors to support you in other ways. For example many popular content provides (especially online web comics) provide merchandise: t-shirts, mugs, hats, etc. Alternately provide a donation mechanism for well-intending users who find value in your content to contribute to your well-being and further content.

    Accept that some people’s value of morality is going to be outweighted by other factors and that the Internet is a medium of choice.

    I await your staunch, critical analysis of my comment. :-)

    Editor Response: First off, thank you for your well thought response. I do appreciate thoughtful discourse. To begin, I agree with you that it is possible for the “moral cost” of something to be outweighed by some other more important factor – such as safety. However, I do not think that is the case here. While I normally shy away from anecdotal evidence, I do not pretend to have the numbers here to back up my statement one way or the other. It is quite rare for a 0-day exploit to attack via an advertisement (especially on a network that can be banned by something like AdBlock). I have yet to hear of a situation where a major network, blocked by AdBlock, has been used to force-distribute malware, virii or spyware. Moreover, ad-blocking stops other forms of advertising that is wholly innocuous, such as Google AdSense. Finally, you can block tracking by simply turning off cookies and/or using a proxy. This does not prevent the webmaster from earning money and it does maintain your privacy. Thus, I am hard-pressed to believe that the cost of morality here is unsafe.

    At this point, you move away from the question of ethics into how a webmaster should behave to make up for lost revenue. While I think your statements here are accurate, they do not address the ethics/morality of adblocking.

    I guess what I am getting at is this – if you really gave a damn about the authors who provide you free information on the web, you wouldn’t block their ads. The risk is negligible compared to the myriad methods of malware delivery on the web.

  30. Scott
    Jul 16, 2008

    I think something people fail to see is that they can get themselves into a cat-and-mouse game that no one wins. It’s easy to try to block ads, but it’s equally easy to counteract those attempts and/or to block visitors who block ads. I see many reasons why ad-blocking is a good thing – many sites are way, way too overloaded with ads, but you don’t know until you go there, and then it’s too late.

    What people need to do is find a middle ground – I give ads that don’t annoy you, and you don’t block them. That sort of thing. It’s like TiVo – many people just use it to skip ads. Advertisers hate that, but they might not be in that situation if they found a way to make ads that aren’t as annoying, or at least don’t interrupt shows as often.

    If I’m bombarded with ads, I block them – I try to keep all the ad services which don’t annoy me out of my filter list though so that I still see ads that aren’t totally distracting or annoying.

    The problem is that often times, people don’t knowingly go to a site with ads. I had no idea that this site had ads until I went here. If a site has some crazy annoying ad, I don’t know until I see it, and keeping a list of all of them would be a pain. I don’t want to steal bandwidth or anything like that, but I have no choice. It’s tough to read content with distracting ads, and if I’m ever sent to the site again by a link, search, or whatever – I’m just going to get more annoyed unless the site has switched to a less annoying ad format.

    In magazines, newspapers, etc. people don’t care much not because they can ignore the ad, but because the publishers choose the ad and try to put them in a spot where people interested in the product or service would be likely to look. Car ads go near the car section, makeup ads go near the beauty section, etc. In tech publications I get, ads for security software are often found near articles related to viruses, spyware, etc., ads for data storage products are often found near articles related to file sharing, data management, etc., printer ads are often found near articles related to digital photos, high-quality imaging, digital camera reviews, etc. That sort of technique applies to website advertising too, and many people find it less annoying.

  31. royalcrown
    Jul 18, 2008

    The problem with your argument is that the “implicit” contract doesn’t exist. No contract exists between you and any given website unless it’s spelled out in a TOS, and given BEFORE I access the website in the first place. This issue is compounded heavily by the insidious nature of specific advertisements. Before actually clicking on the website link (and exposing me to potentially dangerous or simply astonishingly annoying advertisements), I don’t know what type of advertising I’m going to experience. Some websites may actually have germane and relevant advertising, but unless I have already visited the website once in the past, I don’t know what kinds of advertisement will be on that page. By the time I have assessed whether or not the info on the page is worth putting up with the advertisements or not, it’s already too late. At this point I have but two options: either never access anything on the Internet ever again, or use an adblocker. I think you know which one is the more sensible choice.

    By the way, if you’re going to base a morality argument based on consensual contracts, you should probably know that in order for contractarian ethics to work (at least per how you outlined them), the contracts need to be explicit, or if implicit then they must allow for the demarcation of those contractual obligations unless they become subversive contractarianism, which is exactly what’s happening in this situation.

    Author Response: It is not worth arguing about whether or not implicit contracts can or cannot exist. However, for something to be moral or ethical, an implicit contract is not necessary. I remark about it in several of these comments, but a general ethical tenet which most of us hold is a general perception of fairness. For example, I would not walk up to a stranger and yell at him or her, or threaten him or her, even though I certainly have no contract forbidding me from doing so. In those cases, I am not even receiving something in exchange, so why should I behave nicely towards them? It is this doctrine of fairness that prevents us from behaving just as you mentioned above. There are strangers who are jerks, who will be rude to me. So, I can feel people out but, by then, the bad ones will already be jerks to me. So I should never be around people again, or just be jerks to everyone from the start? I normally would stop writing here, but people seem a little slow so I will try to spell it out a little bit more clearly.

    You are being unethical when you prevent good webmasters with good content from earning CPM revenue because you are afraid that you might see a scary annoying advertisement (God forbid!) In fact, behaving in a manner that harms everyone so as to protect yourself from harm by a few of them is unethical behavior. But, rather than be an occasional victim of malicious advertisements (whatever the hell those are???), you have chosen to punish any and every webmaster who relies on ad revenue, regardless of whether those ads are relevant and tasteful.

  32. Steve
    Jul 22, 2008

    Most of your arguments are built around the assertion of an “implicit contract,” to which everyone on the internet is bound. Have you considered that your assertion isn’t true? How are you qualified to bind everyone in the world to the ethics that suit you best?

    The way I see it, publishers know that adblocking software is available to everyone. It is the publishers decision then whether or not his website is worth maintaining. It’s not that people are attempting to ruin you financially. If your website isn’t worth keeping up, then take it down.

    Author Response: This just isn’t the case. While I believe there to be an implicit contract, it is not a necessary part of the logical progression. For example, is there an implicit contract between you and a stranger that you will behave politely towards one another? Probably not, but I believe both of us would consider it unethical to just randomly approach a person and call them a jerk, or worse. It seems to me that you are completely comfortable with the idea that web sites may not succeed because you and others chose to use adblocking software. You appear to be comfortable with the prospect that information will exist only in two forms on the internet – completely free (like wikipedia) or subscription model. However, regardless of your comfort with this outcome, the act of choosing to circumvent a person’s attempt to exact a price for his or her service, and usurp that service without paying said price, is unethical.

  33. Aidan
    Jul 23, 2008

    Could you please respond to Eric Tully’s (third comment from the top) point please? I find his argument about advertising not being based on any ‘implicit contract’ or ‘ethical obligation’ but rather on making it inconvenient for the user not to see the adverts the most convincing argument in the discussion.

  34. Aidan
    Jul 25, 2008

    Thank you for responding to Eric’s points, but I’m afraid I still see inconvenience as a more plausible explanation of advertising than ethical obligations. For a start if you were to boil down an advertising execs explanation of the advertising model I think it would probably be more based on making the inconvenience of not viewing the advert greater than the bad done by viewing the advert then some sort of ethical obligation on the part of the viewer, reader, etc to do so (for a start basing advertising on ethics would seem to place far more in the way of ethical restraints on the advertiser themselves then they’d probably be willing to recognise).

    Let’s take a suitable comparison, free commercial TV stations paid for by advertising. You seem to suggest that the correct way to look at such stations was to see the viewer as ‘buying’ the programmes by watching the adverts. However, such an explanation seems to me highly implausible. A more believable explanation would be to say that programmes are used to attract viewers to the channel and thus to make it inconvenient for them not to watch the adverts (for example by making them risk missing the second half of the programme by doing so). If, however, the viewer tapes the programme and fast forwards through the adverts they aren’t ‘stealing’ or ‘failing to pay’. They are simply finding a way to remove the inconvenience factor and thus presenting a challenge to advertisers to restore the very thing their model was based on in the first place. The same is also true for people that browse the web using ad blocking technology.

    An obvious difference, as you have pointed out, is that whilst it can be difficult for advertisers to measure such factors when it comes to TV advertising, it is far easier for them to measure how much of a websites traffic is viewing their advert. This however, whilst it may have regrettable consequences for the webmaster, does not make the ‘ad blocker’ a thief. Rather, it signifies the (in many ways unfair) level of inconsistency in the monitoring of advertising across different mediums and the failure of advertisers to adapt to such ad blocking technology and restore the inconvenience factor.

  35. Andreas
    Jul 30, 2008

    You present very valid arguments that have forced me to think carefully over my presently held viewpoints on this subject.

    In many ways I do agree with you that if you browse a site that you know is reliant on ad revenue to be able to provide publicly accessible content, then it could be considered unethical, although certainly not illegal, as pointed out in several comments. However, I do take issue with your (implied) assumption that one must always be assumed to be aware of a site’s profit model. I am sure there are many users out there unaware that many sites depend so heavily on ad revenue. I also think the majority of web page traffic is generated through sites that do not fall into this category, such as major news network sites, on-line stores, etc, and it is unreasonable to assume that most users are able to assess this. If the advertising is only providing supplementary revenue for the website I feel that the ethical complications reduce to those of changing tv channels during ad breaks.

    Another issue that has been raised in other posts is that of security. Let me illustrate this with an example from my own country, South Africa. Vehicle high-jackings are a problem here, therefore it is popular to install window tinting on your car’s windows to make it more difficult for criminals to identify easy victims. There is also an abundance of newly constructed large, bright advertising video screens along some heavily trafficked pieces of highway. Presumably, the revenue from tthese advertising installations contribute towards road maintenance. My question: is it unethical to install the tinted glass on your car if it makes it more difficult for you to read the advertising as you drive on your toll-free highway, even if the purpose is security?

    I seek only to highlight two significant scenarios illustrating instances where I do not believe you can generalise and call all internet users utilising ad-blocking software unethical. Otherwise, I do feel that if you are informed regarding advertising revenue models, don’t need the security and know that advertising is the main source of income for the site you’re visiting, then you should not be blocking ads.

    Author’s Note: Thank you for your very thoughtful post. A couple of responses. I agree that it is unreasonable to expect the average user to identify the revenue models of every website. However, I believe it is reasonable to expect the individual who seeks out and installs ad-blocking technology to know the impact of his/her decision. I hardly believe that the average Firefox+Adblock user falls into the category of average web-user. I agree with you regarding the issue “If the advertising is only providing supplementary revenue”, however ad-blocking technology prevents you from discerning that. Unlike flipping the channels (which requires a conscious action each time you decide to avoid a commercial), ad-blocking allows you to surf as iff no ads ever existed. This is, in my opinion, quite different. With broad strokes it removes the possibility of any webmaster being compensated for the content they have created for you to read, and of which you choose to partake.

    The car-jacking illustration would be quite persuasive if, instead of tinting windows to prevent yourself from being car-jacked was actually for the purpose of preventing you from seeing the advertisements. The security risk of viewing an advertisement is far less than getting car-jacked. I do not know a single person who would prefer to be car-jacked than view thousands of virus, spy-ware, viagra-promoting advertisements. Moreover, unlike car-jacking and window-tinting, there are simple, effective alternatives to remove the possible dangers of advertising. Regular browser and OS security updates, the use of simple spy-ware and anti-virus monitoring programs, and extensions like no-script can prevent the overwhelming majority of dangerous incursions. Your illustration would be far more accurate if, instead of car-jackers, the danger was sun-damage to the interior of your car – for which there are a variety of effective treatments, sprays, visors, and window-clear-coats which can be just as effective. And, more aptly, if those treatments were all free.

  36. Lu-Tze
    Aug 1, 2008

    I think it is really great that you take a stance against adblocking. To me it seems no different from file sharing…

    I admit, I DO download quite a few files, and i also have a mild adblocker (no flash, no animated gifs, no popups, but everything else is still there), but I still see the ads, I just make sure they are not annoying.
    I think P2P-downloads of files which you would not buy otherwise (or are simply unavailable), or as a demo for things which you might buy is ok. The problem with P2P is, if too many people download too much, the companies might go bankrupt. The same applies to adblocking, and this is an important parallel.

  37. Fraser
    Aug 3, 2008

    Heres my stance: before I used adblock I did not mind advertisements that were honest and in no way annoying or deceptive. Google ads are a prime example of this if used properly, they don’t get in the way and don’t waste my bandwidth or attempt to try and fool me in any way. Google ads are the only ones I’ve ever actually clicked on because I know straight away what they are offering and if it is actually relevant to what I want or am looking for.

    When advertisers turned to annoying flash ads, ads with sound, wasting my bandwidth and filling their site with them, pop ups, pop unders, ads attempting to deceive less experienced users (fake dialogue boxes, blatant lies), building “slideshow” style webpages to ensure I am exposed to a new set of ads for every tiny scrap of content… thats when I had enough.

    I don’t block google adwords but everything else is, I doubt I’m alone in this either – in fact I probably am, most people likely just block everything.

    There are ways of advertising effectively on the internet, I admit it’s not easy and probably those annoying and deceptive advertisements are probably more profitable for advertisers but for a large group of people all they have achieved is the entire industry becoming resented and ever increasing use of ad blocking software.

    I understand that some websites need to make money, that’s fine but far too many attempt this in a way that just pisses everyone off and encourages them to ensure that red ABP icon in the top corner is never off.

  38. Jim Lang
    Aug 4, 2008

    It is also immoral to throw out junk mail, or, when TV viewing, to go to the bathroom during the commercial breaks.

    s a consumer – and that’s what you are, essentially – you have an ethical obligation to cooperate in your conditioning to buy things you don’t want or need.

    Author Note: I sincerely hope you are intelligent enough to be able to differentiate between the fee-for-service which is advertising on content-based websites, and junk-mail.
  39. Jim Lang
    Aug 5, 2008

    Well, it’s simply inaccurate to describe advertising on a website as a ‘fee-for-service’.

  40. Stefan Zhelev
    Aug 8, 2008

    Everything that is not prohibited by the law is allowed this is a basic principle in all legal systems. To talk about ethics and moral is just hypocricity because the real talk is about money. When somebody blocks your ads he cuts off your monthly “salary” but nobody can make me watch ads and tell me that is because it is the ethical or moral thing to do so. If you want to provide content make it paid and then you can collect your revenue and then you can see if the content you provide is really worth something. You just miss one very important point – the ad block works the same way as the TV adds – the advertisers are counting on those who will watch them and know that a good deal of people will skip the chanel or go to the bathroom in the time for advertisment,
    Everything is based on choice and as it is not a crime you have the choice to provide your content based on what you are earning through the ads no matter how many of the users use adblock. If content is good they will provide valuable reference to other would be clients. And you have the choice to close your services if you don’t earn enough which is a risk any business takes.

  41. Connor Behan
    Aug 12, 2008

    Requiring people to look at visual annoyances when they could easily see a pristine site without them is immoral. The web is polluted with ads not because the webmasters worked out a fair deal with the website viewers, but because webmasters noticed it was an easy way to break even on hosting costs and took advantage of the situation. When the climate changes so that these schemes fail, find a new scheme!

    Actually instead of finding a new scheme maybe it’s time to seriously consider whether you want to sell your soul by putting ads all over your site. When I get my own server which will be soon, I’ll put up with hundreds of dollars of short term losses to make sure my sites show no ads. That way my site will earn *respect* in the long run. Hell even if I did use google ads I probably wouldn’t see a cent because they’d catch me on a trumped up “invalid click” technicality.

    If it were the case that all billboards on major streets were made of a material that gives reflected light a horizontal polarization, I’d gladly wear vertically polarized sunglasses while driving down main street. That’s not because I want harm to come to the advertisers, I just have every right to control what I look at. I also don’t recall ever taking free samples from a store at which I wasn’t a semi-regular customer.

    If a small business goes under because it’s ads are all being blocked, I’m sorry, I really am. But it’s ridiculous for someone to expect me to voluntarily agree to annoying google ads, ebay ads, doubleclick, “pop-ups”, “pop-unders” and party poker crap everywhere I go (I’m on the net all the time so I must be a freeloader).

    If you are masochistic enough to want to view ads to be able to say you are “giving back” to the internet, why don’t you try yuwie? The people with profiles get a bit of ad revenue. http://r.yuwie.com/dinobot/ Don’t mistake my membership there as a form of support for this business model. I just thought it was funny.

  42. Michael
    Aug 16, 2008

    I have two major problems with ad blocking software. The first is that a lot of the end users simply do not understand the implications. The second is that ad-blocking software is completely indiscriminate.

    Half the users of my website don’t realise that websites are created by other people on the end of that cable. Heck, some think its the ISPs who own and create the internet. “Why should I have to look at ads if I’m already paying my ISP for the internet?” I get regular correspondence asking how I created my site, or ‘where’ I created my site, like one day I just decided to go onto a myspace-esque website and just punched in my username and password. I go on to respond that I spent years studying and learning programming languages and markup until I was proficient enough to create what you see before you.

    Then there are other users who seem to be passionate about advertising, in general, being wrong or immoral. Once again, this (in some cases, not all I agree) is an ignorant point of view. You know that place where you work, or where your spouse works, or where your sons/daughters will work/are working? They rely on advertisement so that their clients actually know what services/products they sell. At least a chunk of your salary is thanks to advertisement. So, if you want to tell me that advertisement is wrong, please, first quit your job and make sure your family and friends quit theirs too before you decide to deny me the money I earn from advertisement. Thanks.

    Onto my second point, it really grinds my gears how I have always been respectful towards my website’s visitors, avoiding the use of annoying popups/popunders/{those annoying ads which expand when you mouse over them}/interstitials, and yet a piece of software comes along and decides for its users that _all_ ads are annoying. I use just Google Adsense, and its ads are not annoying. If you are that annoyed by them, then OK, please opt-in to not seeing them at the same time as you opt-in to viewing my site, but don’t install a piece of software that decides that for you.

    This piece of software’s filter is based on “does it earn anyone money? If so, block.” The only reason it doesn’t block the ‘buy’ buttons on every e-commerce website is because it’s impossible to do so. I urge you to also refuse your own wage if this is the kind of filtering you agree with.

    I’ve had enough of being accused of ‘polluting’ the internet with ads. Thanks for the punishment guys. I realise I was wrong to ask you to look at some ads rather than charging you a subscription fee. I don’t think I’ll be writing free content much longer.

  43. scrobbledy
    Aug 19, 2008

    I believe that the editor here misunderstands the purpose of ads. When one places a web page on the Internet for all to see, the purpose of that page is to serve information to the visitor. The ads are put up -in hopes- that a reader might view them, and if they do, might be interested in what they have to offer. The “implied contract” theory is ridiculous. If your ads are some type of affiliate program in which you only get paid when a clickthrough results in a purchase, is it “immoral” for me not to click through and buy a product? Of course not.

    In the same vein, it is not in any way immoral for me to choose to view only part of the page served, any more than it is immoral for me to throw away the classifieds and advertising sections from my morning paper unread. The page, the moment it is served to me, is mine to do as I will with, just as that paper is, the moment it is delivered to me, mine to do as I will with. And yes, I did solicit that paper, and those sections subsidize its cost. That does not mean that I personally am morally or ethically required to read them, if I do not have any interest in what they may have to offer. The ads are put out there and paid for in the hopes that -someone- who gets the paper will have such an interest.

    I do, on the other hand, find many current advertising practices (Internet and otherwise) to be highly immoral. Bait-and-switch tactics with contrary provisions contained on page 412 of the 4-point-font service agreement, “A problem has been detected with your computer, click here to fix it!” ads designed to sucker the less technically savvy, and the like, are highly immoral practices.

    I actually do set up my own filters, and like a poster above, do not filter Google Adwords. I find that Adwords gives relevant, tasteful ads, which sometimes are of use to me. If I’m reading video card reviews, I might be looking for a video card. If I’m reading articles about endangered species, I might be interested in donating to a wildlife fund. If I’m looking at articles on fuel economy, I might be looking to replace my car. In these cases, Adwords actually -adds- to the number of useful links on the website I am viewing. And even in those cases where I have no interest in putting money down (perhaps I’m just writing a research paper on fuel economy), those ads do not -subtract- from the utility of the site I am viewing by interfering with or distracting from the site’s content.

    On the other hand, when ads do subtract from the utility of the site I’m viewing, by moving, flashing, opening windows in any way, moving over or with content, making sounds, or otherwise making a nuisance of themselves, I have no trouble blocking them. Again, the advertiser is -soliciting- my time and attention to watch those ads. If they choose to make those ads in a way that is annoying and distracting, I have no problem choosing to ignore them.

    So if you want to solicit my attention, give me something that might be worth paying attention to. Adwords is such. Punch the monkey is not. If you’re going to put “what I put up to attract people here” along with “what I would like them to see”, and what -you- would like me to see does not correspond with what -I- would like to see, don’t call me immoral when I ignore the part I don’t wish to see and look at what I would.

    Editor Note: Thank you for your well reasoned comments. I will do my best to respond to as many of them as possible…

    1. “When one places a web page on the Internet for all to see, the purpose of that page is to serve information to the visitor.”
      This is a big assumption. For many webmasters, the purpose of creating a web page is to earn a living. It is the same reason why you and I get up and go to work each day. While the function of our job may be to create content, flip burgers, or sell cars, the service is a means to the end – sustenance. If that means is no longer met, we will change jobs.
    2. ‘is it “immoral” for me not to click through and buy a product? Of course not’
      You are not required to purchase a product, nor are you required to click on the advertisement (pay-per-impression or pay-per-click). However, some webmasters are able to gain exclusive or improved pay-outs based on traffic and impressions for affiliate networks, even though they only get paid based upon the sale. Your blocking their advertisement can actually prevent them from earning a higher commission on those visitors who actually do convert. Regardless, standard ad-blocking software misses most affiliate-advertisements (which tend to be hand-placed) and, instead, target cpm and cpc advertisement networks. Your ad-blocking doesn’t even give you the opportunity to help out the webmaster in the crazy occassion that something useful might show up.
    3. The page, the moment it is served to me, is mine to do as I will with
      Actually, there are several things we accept that you cannot do with that page once it is served to you. For example, you are not allowed to make a copy of it, reprint, and resell it as your own. The classified argument is very weak, in that advertisers choose to be in the classifieds so they can target people specifically soliciting classifieds – there is no expectation on behalf of the advertiser or the paper that all users will specifically read the classifieds. However, the advertiser on the front page does not expect that you have hired a service that stands between you and the paper and whites out all advertisements before being placed in your hands. We have no problem with you overlooking advertisements, catching your eye only long enough for you to realize it is an advertisement. We have a problem with you circumventing the process before even that opportunity arises.
    4. I do, on the other hand, find many current advertising practices (Internet and otherwise) to be highly immoral.
      So do I. I also find many pricing strategies at car dealers to be immoral. I choose not to shop there. And I choose not to visit websites that promote such products and, if I truly need the information they provide, contact the webmaster and complain. Many networks allow webmasters to block certain advertisemers.
    5. I… do not block Adwords
      I believe you mean AdSense. The problem is that you are hurting the webmaster by not recording the impression for those ugly advertisements. If you don’t like the advertising on a page, go find the information you need on another site. If you don’t like how much one store is charging for a product, you shop elsewhere.
  44. user
    Aug 31, 2008

    You are completely right. Freeloading websites is egoistic. I pay a whole lot of money for my broadband connection. But all that huge downstream, what would it be for if there was no content and no servers delivering me? This other side which brings life to my online experience has always been free for me. There are some ads, but where’s the problem. I think those that block ads are naive, egoistic or believe into donations as a business model – which I feel is unjust. I’ve seen several interesting ads now and then, I like this model and I support it.

  45. Connor Behan
    Sep 2, 2008

    Making a copy to sell as your own may not be allowed, but making a copy for personal use is allowed and in fact required. I’m not logging into your server to view your site, I’m looking at the copy saved in my browser’s cache. If I were to turn off ad-blocking software but still edit out ads by editing the HTML of all files in the cache, would this be immoral? If I were to browse your site using elinks (which I often use) which is incapable of rendering ads would this be immoral?

    I understand that some ads are very useful and help out the companies who make them as well as the webmasters who host them, so not all ads are immoral. But there are enough immoral ads out there to be a significant threat to my enjoyment of the Internet and so I choose to block them. Yes it is unfortunate that the well meaning ads get blocked when I would only see about 25 of the “pollution” ads on an average day but I consider that too many. And if I got fired tomorrow because my boss no longer had a need for so many employees because the company could no longer reach a large enough market this would be a small price to pay for having an unfettered experience on the web (if I had a girlfriend maybe she’d disagree).

    The ads themselves are also not adequate grounds for judging an entire website. If the webmaster made the conscious decision: “I want the Bonzai Buddy ad to appear on my site” then yes I would boycott that site entirely rather than using AdBlock-Plus but in reality, the people I’d be boycotting don’t make those kind of decisios. In a large organization even the decision of whether or not to use ads is made by someone other than the people I want to support. Even when the people I want to support are the ones opting in for ads they rarely decide what the ads are about. That’s all outsourced to other companies and right now there isn’t a whole lot of choice about which ones to use.

    If every ad-hater took your advice and turned off their ad-blocker but still avoided your site forever, the result for you would be the same. You’d still have a cut off revenue stream, the only difference would be less traffic and attention from others. So your real hope is that people use your “find the information you need on another site” creed but give up their search and end up returning to your site anyway because they can’t resist what’s on it. This is fair I suppose because the same argument is used by media pirates who say “we wouldn’t be buying it anyway so what’s the difference?” and while that is another issue entirely what they do is usually immoral.

    Earning your site a large fan base due to its free nature yet still making money from ads is having your cake and eating it too but surfing the web for free yet still not seeing ads due to blocking software is having my cake and eating it too. Scrobbledy, if you want to post the filter you use to block most ads but leave context sensetive text ads intact, I’d gladly use it. Michael, good luck with a subscription business model.

  46. Grummage
    Sep 6, 2008

    The funny thing about internet advertising is that it actually costs the viewer money. Watch an ad on TV, hear one on the radio or see one in the cinema and you can bask in the warm and fuzzy glow that comes with knowing that you’re paying less thanks to the subsidies from the advertisers (well, maybe not in the cinema – they’re ridiculously overpriced either way). On the other hand, every time your browser downloads an internet advert it uses up a portion of your monthly bandwidth allowance, for which you are paying. Call me a stingy bastard, but I prefer to actually choose where my money’s going.

    It doesn’t help that I hate advertising in any shape or form (I’ve seen/heard possibly as many as five amusing ads in the last twenty years, only one of which I can actually remember the content of, and have seen a grand total of zero ads ever that actually made me want to buy a product), and just wish that companies would spend their money on making a product that people might actually want to buy instead of trying to make people want to buy the product. But that’s personal, and has no bearing on this.

    Author Note: First, the overwhelming majority of home ISP connections do not limit bandwidth – and certainly not to the degree that even the sum of advertisement downloads would substantially impact that limit. More importantly, the webmaster him/herself pays a much higher premium for bandwidth (from his/her server) than you do. Call me a stingy bastard, but I prefer to actually choose where my money’s going – to readers who don’t circumvent my primary means of sustenance. Second, I highly doubt your personal remembrances of how advertising has impacted you really begin to describe the true extent to which they have altered your consumerism. Very few people see an advertisement and buy because they were entertained by the ad. Instead, a week later when encountering one problem or another, they remember (without even knowing that the source of that knowledge was an advertisement) that a solution exists. They then go to the store where said item is likely to be found and buy it. Regardless of whether you like the advertising or not, the simple fact remains that removing it deprives the author of content you are soliciting and using of the fee for service they request.
  47. Grummage
    Sep 8, 2008

    Wish “the overwhelming majority of ISP connections” would come and install lines around here. We get Plusnet, which limits the family to 50GB a month. Disabling images (and here we see another advantage of Google Ads, which still get through on a text-only setting) lets that limit go a lot further.

    As to altering my consumerism… heh. It’s not in that kind of shape. A week later when encountering one problem or another, I pick up a spanner and damn well solve it. If it’s something I need a product for, I either get one from a boot sale or find the Tesco Value version.

    In regard to your bottom line (viz: I’m robbing you): *shrug* So what is your next step? Clearly, simply telling me that this is unethical is not going to make me stop, as evidenced by the fact that it hasn’t. Nor am I the only one uninfluenced by your ethics. Logic, or at least some creature masquerading as Logic, would suggest that you either find some way of punishing me for this, or find an alternative source of support.

  48. Foo
    Sep 13, 2008

    I find it funny that you recommend someone to use NoScript above, since it removes quite a lot of ads just by itself. Many ads use Flash and/or Javascript, which are both blocked by NoScript.

    Having said that, you can stick your so-called ethics up your a$$. I have my own ethics, and by those, blocking ads is entirely ethical and I won’t feel the least ashamed for doing it.

    I started blocking ads several years ago, as a solution to the then-common problem of slow ad servers. Many pages would endlessly wait for overloaded ad servers before they would finish loading, and back then my browser didn’t have incremental table rendering, so I couldn’t start reading while the page was loading. This was really annoying, and it made me look for ways to circumvent this menace. Another such push came from whole-page ad overlays that you had to click through.

    To sum it up, the ads got more and more annoying, wasting my bandwidth and time, so I started using a solution. I direct all blame on the advertisers themselves, who have nobody else to blame but themselves. They thought that they could get away with it, but unfortunately for them (and fortunately for everyone else), people started developing ad blockers.

    Now the tables have turned. Previously, people were bitching and whining about intrusive and irritating ads, now it’s your turn, but this time whining and bitching about ad blockers. Well, suck it up, ad blockers are not going away.

  49. Connor Behan
    Sep 20, 2008

    Another site that finds ad-blocking unacceptable is http://antimatter15.110mb.com/wp/ home of an open source Flash authoring program called Ajax Animator. But instead of scolding and judging their users on the practice, they simply ask nicely that visitors turn off AdBlock. Sometimes when I go to that site I do turn it off for awhile.

    Granted, when you see someone “stealing” from a store what should you do? Ask them to stop or call the cops who force them to stop? Obviously the latter. But on the wonderfully anonymous internet, authoritative rule is not an option, so I support the kind discouragment that Ajax Animator uses.

    If every site were to use that tactic (“please stop”), even the ones with slow, spam, pop-up and pop-under ads, then I’d have to start ignoring the request, but that will probably not happen for a long time. The audience of sites that use these ads are probably unaware of ad-blocking for the most part. If a site who expects people to fall for a “your computer has a virus” ad, told it’s users to turn off “AdBlock” they’d be shooting themselves in the foot, because then all the users would say “there’s a way to block ads?!”

  50. frla2
    Sep 26, 2008

    If everyone who wanted to make money from the internet with ads went away, yes, there would be less content. But the content that was left would be more than enough to please most people.

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