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Piracy and ad-blockers are both theft

Posted on Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 at 2:43 pm. #

63p of North Korean money

Back in 2009, I posted here that I was losing 14% of my revenue (from Media UK) thanks to people running ad-blockers. I said:

I do find it difficult to understand why running AdBlock or the like is not frowned upon by otherwise honest people. It’s somehow acceptable to write and use Web2.0 services, yet block the very ads that pay for them. If you run an ad-blocker (on your standard, unmetered, broadband connection) it would seem to me that you’re no different to a petty thief.

Howls of protest followed from normally intelligent people; yet the point can’t be argued against.

Today, in an illuminating blog post, Jeff Jarvis says:

There is a furor over piracy as theft but, quite to the contrary, there is a rush to enable the blocking of ad tracking as a virtue.

Jeff’s not even talking about ad-blocking: merely the “do not track” cookie. As he says, an ad-supported service says: You will get my content for free because I will serve you ads and I will increase their efficiency, performance, and value by targeting them to your interests and behavior; if you block the cookies that make that possible, you are robbing me of value.

The EFF is even neatly conflating the two, by recommending that “users who wish to defend themselves against online tracking should use AdBlock Plus” – which neatly illustrates the seemingly acceptable face of ad-blockers. It’s one reason that I can’t now support the EFF: irresponsible advice like this is hardly ensuring ‘freedom’; and will damage the very economy it’s there to apparently protect.

The facts: online companies wants to make content (yes, including ads) more targeted and more relevant to what you want to see. If you inhibit this, ads on sites will be less relevant to you. Less relevant ads are simply irrelevant interruptions, and you will find the ads more annoying and more intrusive. Is that what you want?

The online ad business should be educating consumers about the benefits of relevancy; while also educating consumers that running an ad-blocker is theft. I don’t understand why it isn’t doing so.

83 comments

Ian Nock
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Running an ad-blocker is not theft, it is not paying the entrance fee when you are on advertising funded sites. I think the best tack against ad-blockers is to code to identify their use and then to inform the viewer that they are cannot see your content unless they turn it off. Anything else is just not workable IMHO.

k
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 2:59 pm

is skipping the adverts on a sky-plussed tv show theft?

Andrew Bowden
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I used to use an adblocker but gave it up for exactly those reasons.

But I’d argue that some ad companies can be appalling at targeting their ads – so much so that I have disabled their tracking (using their own systems when they are offered) when I can. Why? I got fed up with being blasted by crap targeting.

Case in point. Saturday – ordered computer from Dell. Now I see Dell adverts everywhere I go for the laptop I’ve just ordered. This has happened to me plenty of times, and lets not forget the times I’ve looked at a webpage and thought “well I could buy that but on reflection, I won’t” only to find that product is filling my screen at every turn (I have had that from Lakeland, Debenhams, M&S and more.)

If some so-called targeted advertising campaign isn’t targeted then that too is just noise to me and I’d rather have non-targeted noise than targeted myself.

This doesn’t effect all ad companies of course but some seriously really need to get their act together before they can even claim to offer relevant ads to the customer.

And if even targeted ads are noise to me, that’s not going to help the content owner bring in revenue.

Paul Fairburn
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I agree with your thrust and I don’t block ads. BUT …

I am personally getting annoyed by re-marketing ads.

I make a decision to visit a webpage, look at a product and then often NOT buy it. But I then see ads for exactly that product on 90% of the sites I visit for weeks afterwards.

To me that’s not personalised, it’s nagging.

Target in the US realised that knowing too much about a customer actually put them off (http://onforb.es/ApfBBj) and I’m getting to that point with re-marketing ads!

Dan Thornton
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 3:18 pm

There’s a reason why people feel it’s OK to use ad blockers – because most digital advertising is monumentally rubbish.

You can equate it to theft, but that idea didn’t work for video piracy, even when legal users were forced into watching those terrible anti-piracy adverts.

Or you can accept that it’s human nature and therefore:

1. Attempt to improve advertising standards.
or
2. Attempt to monetise is less irritating ways.

Subconsciously I’m doubtless still affected by the amount of advertising I see on a daily basis, even if much of it is being based on purchases I’ve already made as in the example above, but most of my last entertainment purchases were made as a result of seeing the creator talk about them or a friend recommend them.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen many adverts for Onitsuka Tigers, but I always buy them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an advert for a William Gibson book, but it’s one of the few things I’ll buy in print as soon as it’s available, and my decision to buy my next jeans from Uniqlo is based on recommendations, the fact that I got great customer service and free alterations for my short legs – not the 1000 Adsense ads which have followed me around ever since I mentioned I liked Uniqlo online…

If I read print magazines, I can avoid looking at ads via my eyes.
If I listen to the radio, I can turn the volume down during the ad breaks.
If I surf online, I can look away, or use ad blocking mainly because so many stupidly large ad formats and file sizes mean that the ads slow everything down for no good reason..

Like you, I lose revenue if someone uses an adblocker when they visit my sites. But rather than attempt to convince them advertising is good, I’d rather find a different way to give them a reason to spend cash with me…

Jake Dubber
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 3:27 pm

By definition, stealing is taking someone else’s property. People who run ad-blockers haven’t gained any of your revenue, rather your revenue has decreased. People who run ad-blockers steal from you in the same way that vegans steal from the dairy industry.

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 3:35 pm

“Is skipping the adverts on a sky-plussed tv show theft?” – this old chestnut doesn’t quite help your argument, but in order to understand why this is different, you need to look at the way advertising is sold.

On a computer, it’s sold by cost-per-click and cost-per-impression. If you block ads, regardless of how relevant the ad is, you deny me the opportunity to ever earn from a click: even if I put an ad in front of you which is to discover more about something you’ve always wanted. And, if you block ads, you deny me revenue from the very act of displaying the ad on your screen. None of this costs you money (or saves you money).

On a television, it’s sold by the amount of estimated audience who watch that particular ad-break. The act of fast-forwarding doesn’t result in a loss of income for television companies; and nor does it result in a potential loss of “clicks”, since television – by and large – isn’t sold on a cost-per-action model.

As you can see, the two are entirely different; and I hope you understand why it’s immediately damaging to online publishers if people run ad-blockers, in a way that simply doesn’t happen in terms of television.

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 3:57 pm

“People who run ad-blockers steal from you in the same way that vegans steal from the dairy industry.” – Jake: you’re attempting, too, to use an analogy that doesn’t work in this instance. Analogies rarely do.

We’re not talking goods here: we’re talking ideas, thoughts, useful information or even a useful service – the things you use the internet for.

By visiting a website with an ad-blocker on, you’re still gaining those ideas or thoughts, or have access to the useful service. You’re just witholding any chance for a website operator to earn money, indirectly, from your visit.

Specifically, you are not out of pocket either way; since advertising is funding the tools you’re requesting to use, rather than a specific payment from you to the site owner (with the exception of those behind paywalls).

Does that clarify things?

Ian Deeley
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I did try one though a while back just to try and help sites that are very heavy on ads (Hello CNET!) load within a few minutes on the out of date PC’s in work.

I do though use FlashBlock on Chrome and I’ve seen battery life benefits when ads fall back to static images. They don’t always though which surprises me given the growth in non-Flash mobile sites.

So for me any decision to block advertising content is down to performance rather than any disdain of advertising. Unless of course the adverts are irritating or poor in which case I’ll do anything to avoid them whether on Capital, ITV1 or Facebook.

Jake Dubber
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:12 pm

James: Ok, fair enough. Shit analogy.

Sure, we’re not out of pocket either way, but we also don’t gain anything of yours by using ad-blockers. Like I said, stealing is taking someone else’s property. Object X moves from person A to person B. Ad-blockers mean that Object X doesn’t (and didn’t) exist.

IanVisits
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I have to agree that there is a strange level of double standards going on where ad-blocking is concerned.

People applaud free to access websites, but then deny those same websites the necessary revenue to remain free to access.

I think most websites today run high quality advertising, and block those adverts just feels morally wrong. If people are seeing floods of dodgy adverts, then ahem, what sort of websites are you visiting?

For clarity, I earn my income from advertising, and guestimate I lose about 10% to ad blocking. That’s thousands of people refusing to “pay” for content that I spend all day producing.

I am tempted to block them – but in a competitive market, we collectively as an industry put up with the leaches for fear of being on the receiving end of a “twitter storm of outrage”.

Outrage from people denied access to content they were refusing to pay for in the first place.

The big worry, and I am genuinely worries about this is that so many people will block ads that free to access websites will have to switch to a subscription model in order to survive. The bulk of the mass market internet behind a paywall is a future that I hope never comes to pass.

Steve
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Where to begin…

Accusing your audience (or potential audience) of being criminals when they have committed NO criminal act shows massive contempt towards them. Not only is piracy NOT theft (it is copyright infringement), ad blocking isn’t even close to being in the same ballpark.

Your business model is clearly failing. Your solution, it seems, is to basically have a cry about it.

Instead, why not try an alternative business model? As you said yourself on Twitter, this site makes less than £6 a month. Voluntary donation, or a Flattr button, could quite conceivably cover the money you clearly feel you’re entitled to. And lets not forget the remaining 86% of your income.

My final point, is that you GIVE your content away for free anyway. It’s all licensed under a Creative Commons license that would theoretically allow me to copy virtually your entire website, host it on my own domain, and offer it to people for free, as long as I didn’t place ads on it. This would be much closer to theft, but is perfectly legitimate under the license that you have chosen for your content. I would not be a thief for doing this, but I would be a massive dickhead for sure.

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Jake – You’re wrong, and this is why a nuanced discussion here makes much more sense than random 140-character shouting on Twitter, which gets nowhere fast other than a lot of frustration. Tell your dad.

You *do* gain something if you visit a (ad-supported) website: you gain a news story, a point of view, some amazing images or video, a service like a social media site, a word processor or something else. They aren’t physical goods, but you do gain something of value. Why visit otherwise?

Deliberately with-holding any possible way of me earning income from your visit – a visit which costs me, no matter how little the bandwidth and serving costs – is of dubious morality, however you look at it.

If you’re under the impression that you can’t steal an idea, then we’re into a debate about word semantics, which isn’t really the point of this post.

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Steve – thanks for the comments.

This website (james.cridland.net) earned £6 a month from Google AdSense. I put the ads there to see whether it earned any revenue. It didn’t; and when people on Twitter started to moan that I was only posting this to get some ad revenue, I removed the ads and also publicly mentioned how much I earned from the ads here. I have published under CC-BY-NC for years. (I tried flattr here last year, by the way – not one donation in three months.)

My other website, mediauk.com, earns enough to pay my salary. That is many times a multiple of £6. My business model isn’t “broken”.

The main point is that, in spite of you trying to make it so, the above blog post is not about my own business; it’s a commentary on the ‘do not block’ stuff that’s in the news at the moment, and is relevant to all website owners.

ArsTechnica do a good job explaining this without using the ‘t’ word:
http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2010/03/why-ad-blocking-is-devastating-to-the-sites-you-love.ars

Nick
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Fascinating discussion… Can’t resist the temptation to weigh in. James, if I chuck out the crappy brochures stuffed inside my free weekly paper instead of reading them (and no before you ask, I don’t bother even looking at who they’re from), am I still stealing?

Dubber
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:41 pm

It’s quite nice here without the ads. Good font too.

Hypothetical: Let’s suppose it turned out that you could double your money by showing sexist ads, and let’s suppose that your desire to make a living overcame your scruples in that instance. Would it still be theft for me to block that content on the grounds that I find pictorial ads for “large-breasted Russian women who want to meet NOW” offensive?

Supplementary question: What if my standards differ from yours and I find other types of advertising offensive as well?

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Nick – no, once more, that’s not a valid analogy – it’s identical to the TV one that I debunk earlier in this thread.

Or, as Ars Technica puts it:

Invariably someone always pops into a discussion like this and brings up some analogy with television advertising, radio, or somesuch. It is not in any way the same; advertisers in those mediums are paying for potential to reach audiences, and not for results. They have complex models which tell them if X number are watching, Y will likely see the ad (and it even varies by ad position, show type, etc!). But they really have no true idea who sees what ad, and that’s why it’s a medium based on potential and not provable results. On the Internet everything is 100% trackable and is billed and sold as such. Comparing a website to TiVo is comparing apples to asparagus.

Andrew Kay
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:50 pm

ALL ads are unwanted interruptions. Your users don’t want to see them, and annoying your users is not a valid business model.

“Hamburgers $2, hamburgers without strawberry jam $5″ is a hilarious business model, but yelling at the customers who scrape the jam off is even more laughable.

Adam Bowie
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I tend to think that ad-blocking only really exists because of some dreadful and thoroughly instrusive ad-formats were over-used by sites. Users fought to be able to look at the actual editorial on the site that they came for.

I’m talking about pop-ups, things that crawled or exploded all over the screen, audio and video that started without permission and so-on.

Eventually, getting fed up of these “intrusions” the user searches around, discovers that ad-blockers exist and installs them. The only way around them is to simply not serve anything else until the ad has loaded, or display a message explaining why you’re not serving the rest of the page.

If my memory serves me, the first time I really came across ad-blockers was back in dial-up days. Anything to speed the experience along. I wonder if that’s not still the case today with some broadband users in more rural communities. They perhaps find browsing less painful with blockers turned on (irrespective of the ethics).

Interestingly, most browsers have a very effective “ad-blocker” built in already. It’s called turning off images. Sure, it doesn’t work for text ads, and it makes browsing a very “different” experience. But it kills most display ads very effectively!

Tracking, however, is another issue entirely. I think users have an absolute right to turn off any tracking cookies unless you’ve made it a condition of use of your website that they’re enabled. Just because something is technically possible, it doesn’t mean that we should do it.

“Private browsing” is a feature offered by all the major browsers, and aside from security concerns, I’m sure that tracking cookies is the reason it exists and is used by users.

Ethics and the internet is an interesting area. What if I use a proxy server to view videos that aren’t available in my region? Or turn the volume down on my free Spotify subscription when an ad comes on? Or watch a video that someone else had placed on YouTube and that I know is a violation of someone else’s copyright? Or stream an international radio station that hadn’t intended it to be made available to international listeners? Or sign up for Google Music using a well-known workaround that allows me to access a service they’ve not made available in my location where no copyright deal has been put in place?

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Andrew (Dubber): The quick answer is that if you don’t like the ads, then don’t use that website – I believe there are many hundreds of other websites around that you could go and visit. One reason some people like Google+ is the absence of advertising in comparison to Facebook, as a real-world example.

From my point of view, it’s morally difficult, I think, to arbitrarily decide that you don’t like the cost of something, decide not to pay it, but help yourself to the goods or services.

Loose analogies might be to decide you don’t like the cinema’s ticket pricing policy, but nip in through the toilet window and watch the film without paying; to decide that the new Dan Brown book is too expensive, but sit in the bookshop all day and read it; or to decide that really the London Underground don’t need my fare, so jump over the ticket barriers and get a free ride.

These analogies don’t work very well, since in each of these cases, you’ve avoided paying money yourself – so your act has resulted in you having saved £5 or so. This is different in the ad-funded website case, since whether you block ads or not, you’re still getting a service for free – just that when you block the ads, you ensure that the people giving you the service can’t be paid by someone else, which seems doubly selfish.

Incidentally, every website owner can block unpleasant ads, if you tell them. Running Media UK, I’ve had three complaints about ads in the last ten years. I’ve blocked every offending ad as a result.

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Andrew Kay: “ALL ads are unwanted interruptions. Your users don’t want to see them, and annoying your users is not a valid business model.” – I’d disagree. If nobody wanted to see ads, nobody would click on them either. It’s clear that people do.

The only other valid business model for a content website is to sell its content by putting a paywall up (as The Times and the Sunday Times have done here). I’m not sure that’s the right idea either.

But, regardless of whether you believe ad-funded websites are a “valid” business model, it doesn’t make it ethically right to help yourself to their content without allowing them the opportunity of earning money. I call that theft, and while you might not share that view, it’s difficult to understand quite how anyone could defend that action, or see how it is encouraging site owners to continue making great content.

Dubber
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Applauds @ Andrew Kay. Thanks for making me laugh.

@James We still disagree. We’re just using more words to do it now. The offer of beer was genuine, however.

Peter Knight
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Does that make listening to the radio but deliberately taking breaks during the commercials a form of theft too? The advertiser certainly doesn’t benefit, yet they pay.

Is it theft of attention when the majority of content on the web is of low quality or insignificant quality and a visitor doesn’t always know what they are buying into when they visit a page?

Is it theft of freedom to say no to being tracked around the web, with the only alternative being either to not browse the web, limit browsing to a select few sites that you understand to be safe, or use adblockers.

Is it dishonest to assume that a visitor knows, practices and accepts the terms of every website before arriving on a page?

Is there something broken with advertising as a whole that when a user turns on adblocking they are having a far safer, faster and better user experience?

Is it even more naive to criminalize people who use adblockers while urging them to accept all the unknown downsides to commercial tracking, data hoarding of which the average web user knows little about.

Is it theft that when visiting on a costly mobile connection a user must download 90% of data that is unrelated to the reason they are visiting the web.

Should the rights, freedoms, protections and basic ease of use come after the business model needs of the content creator?

Is it presumptuous to assume that individuals that block ads are outright lowering potential revenues in the first place?

Is it possible that adblocking may be a good thing for advertisers, in so far that a) they don’t pay for users that aren’t interested in buying, b) they are tasked to find different ways to market their products, c) they investigate ways to market to their audience that doesn’t inconvenience their audience, d) they find ways of marketing to an audience in ways that benefit the audience, e) they are forced to find ways to actually serve the needs of the actual target market?

Is it even a valid point to look at the problem of revenue for content creators by stating that individuals who use an adblocker are stealing content when stealing implies the deliberate intent to take a scarce resource away from someone?

Is, if the line of thinking that ‘adblocking is theft’ is held as valid, it just as fair to say that by not operating a platform in such a way that the exchange of value is agreed upon before content consumption takes place a form of aiding and abetting crime? After all if this is a business transaction between consumers and creators, they both want to know in advance what the terms are. The web however, does not work that way. You visit a site, and unless their is a wall, a user agreement / contract to accept prior, no way of preventing data from being consumed.

Aren’t content creators free to choose business models that better suit their preferred way of generating revenue?

Isn’t economic progress reliant on the basic premise: serve the needs of the market, or is it now the other way around?

Isn’t it just as fair to point the finger of blame for your slump in revenues for the general appalling manner in which the web advertising industry as a whole has treated web users?

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Peter: the radio analogy is as flawed as the TV one, since ads are sold in a different way, so I’ll not bother responding to that one a third time!

“Is it presumptuous to assume that individuals that block ads are outright lowering potential revenues in the first place?” – no, it’s deadly accurate. Many adverts are sold on a cost-per-impression basis, and an adblocker simply stops that impression from occurring, thus lowering *actual* revenues.

“Aren’t content creators free to choose business models that better suit their preferred way of generating revenue?” – yes, and many content creators choose ad-funding as a business model. Aren’t they free to do that?

“Isn’t it just as fair to point the finger of blame for your slump in revenues” – I’m not: indeed, I have no slump in revenues, since as far as I can tell, the 14% has always been 14%. This post isn’t about me, in any case, as is pretty clear.

It irks me that there are people – just witness this comment stream – who feel morally justified in using a service that takes time, effort and money to produce, while deliberately removing from the owner of that service any way of earning revenue.

There’s a valid debate about whether that act is “theft” or simply ethically wrong; this blog post isn’t intended to be an exercise in semantics.

However, this blog post is intended to ask why we don’t educate the public that, in Ars Technica’s language, “using ad-blockers hurts your favourite websites”. And it seems the self-righteous indignation that is evident in this comment stream is the reason why we don’t: because it appears to be taboo to mention the negative effects of ad blockers on the online content industry.

Steve
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 5:41 pm

“It irks me that there are people – just witness this comment stream – who feel morally justified in using a service that takes time, effort and money to produce, while deliberately removing from the owner of that service any way of earning revenue.”

We are NOT deliberately removing ANY way of you earning revenue. We have removed ONE way, which happens to be the single revenue source you have chosen. As users of an open internet, we can not, and will not tailor our browsing behaviour based on whatever (if any) method of revenue the author of that site has happened to implement. That is not sustainable or realistic.

It is completely within our rights to not be tracked.

If you had chosen audio-based advertising, would your users be obligated to turn their volume up or their music down? Of course not. Because there’s an industry that works with certain rules (the internet advertising industry), that doesn’t make it good, or sensible. If you require payment for every view of your content, put it behind a paywall.

Note: I am sponsored by a third party, and I require every reader of my comments to feed their monkey pancakes. If you are unable to do this, you have stolen my content, and it is my duty to complain that it’s your fault, despite my dubious choice of business model.

Dubber
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 5:53 pm

“It irks me that there are people – just witness this comment stream – who feel morally justified in using a service that takes time, effort and money to produce, while deliberately removing from the owner of that service any way of earning revenue.”

I’m sorry that you’re irked – but that’s simply not true. It does remove the owner of that service from a way of earning revenue from the specific instance of their visit in a way that they do not wish to be party to.

However, that’s far from the only way of earning revenue available to the site’s creator – it’s just the least imaginative one.

It’s also the only one that demands that website visitors behave and use their computers in a particular way that suits the blogger, and the only one that turns the audience into the product that the blogger then sells to his/her customer (the advertiser). In that context, the ‘content’ is essentially just bait – which seems a shame, since so much of it is often so good.

By way of comparison, I don’t make money from my blog. There is no advertising on it. However, I do make money *because of* my blog. That feels like a nicer way to go about it. I talk at things, do a bit of consultancy and get paid to write stuff.

Of course, I also have a job, which is reassuring – but not the point. What we’re talking about here is the idea that ad-blockers rob web content creators from their only chance of making a living. Which is plainly false.

Also, I’m writing a book at the moment. It’s one of the things I’ve been blogging about recently. It’s being published as an e-book that’s available as a work in progress as I write it. People can choose to pay for it or not pay for it. The people who choose not to pay for it do not cost me any money, even though they are (theoretically) enjoying my work just as much as someone who did pay for it.

This is not analogous to advertising, but is another way it’s possible to make money. I might have made £5 in January if I’d just put ads on my site. Instead, I made £450 in January doing the book thing. There are no ads involved in the process, and so ad blockers are not a problem for me.

And it means that I don’t have to be cross about thieves, which is lovely. Being angry seems counter-productive anyway, since it’s unlikely to change the world or anyone else’s behaviour very much.

Ultimately, you don’t have the right to make money from your creative work – only the opportunity. The best thing you can do is look for that opportunity where it lies and figure out ways in which people will happily give you money, rather than have them have to put up with (or not) having to view ads as well as read your stuff.

Sorry – but you’re not a helpless victim here, you’ve just chosen not to innovate.

Ben
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 6:09 pm

When I visit a website, I haven’t agreed to watch adverts in the first place, the owner hasn’t asked me to pay money and log in, and the website is provided to me in the same way regardless of whether I have Adblock on or off. I’ve not agreed to hand over any funds, details, or personal information in the first place, so I’m only depriving them of what the site owner decided they wanted from me (I’ve never agreed to). It’s a very one-sided sort of arrangement.
Really, the site owner is taking advantage of the fact that they CAN show me adverts. But if I’m using a really old incompatible browser, or if I decide to browse the web with Flash disabled, and the website owners decide to run adverts in Flash formats, am I depriving anyone, or just choosing not to see some parts, and happening to inconvenience certain sites?

Some of the adverts you get on TV I find offensive or distasteful. In this case, you can skip through them on Sky Plus or switch channels. But when you have a hideous Wonga puppet gurning at you and waving their arms about when you’re trying to read an online article (one of the reasons I first installed Adblock – at least TV adverts aren’t shown at the same time as the programme content), you can’t get rid of it. Whether the site makes money through pay-per-impression or not, I haven’t agreed to be hassled repeatedly by advertising for a company whose practices I disagree with.
You can’t even switch websites because through the tracking systems and referral arrangements, you’ll potentially get the same advert on the next website you visit.

Oh and several people have mentioned Spotify here. You can’t hide the adverts on there. If you mute the audio, the whole thing stops, until you turn it back up. You can turn it down, but not mute it altogether.

Rusty Hodge
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 6:26 pm

There is a technical solution for this: only serve the content after you’ve confirmed the ad has been served. Sure there are even more ways for people to cheat with this (e.g. download the ads but not show them in the browser). Of course a lot of viewers will bail on the content in that case.

Perhaps if ads were less intrusive, did not include such detailed “spying” or “tracking” code, or were just more interesting- people wouldn’t run as many ad blockers.

But when bloggers CSS-style their google adsense and put it inline with their content so it seems like it is part of the editorial and not an advert, I would say that is as (or more) dishonest than people running ad blockers.

Peter Knight
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I understand the mechanics of advertising as I used to do a lot of nitty gritty internet marketing. I’m also a content creator and a web developer who wants to know how to create better experiences. I’m also a regular webuser. I have some degree of understanding to the pros and benefits to tracking, analytics and the implications on all sides, content creator, marketer, advertiser and webuser.

And yes, I understand that impression based advertising models are numerically effected by adblockers. But this is to the benefit of the advertiser who is paying hard cash to get meaningful opportunities to market a product/service.

This makes it very self-serving to paint web visitors as selfish or even equate the act of blocking ads to a criminal act (theft), when in fact it is only the content creator who is unable to capture cash from an otherwise low value transaction where the majority of users and advertisers have little to gain and more to lose. While the content creator is screaming that users are taking value and giving nothing in return, you don´t care whether the other parties involved are experiencing equal value. You are practically calling a visitor a thief for denying an impression in an advertising scheme, created by people who only really care about is conversion rates based on large numbers of visits.

The value that is created through impressions based advertising is typically created from an incredibly small amount of people and those same people who click through to advertisers or who are otherwise positively impacted by impression based advertising are very unlikely to fit the same profile of a more vigilant web conscious user who blocks ads. It’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that users that may be blocking ads are not exchanging any value. Value that could be generated by contributing to the engagement on the site, word of mouth, social sharing.

You are stating in black and white that blocking ads is theft. It is a statement that to me seems to reflect the notion that you don’t really value the resources, value, rights and attention of a web visitor or the advertiser. There is nothing wrong with taking care of your own interests but criminalizing users to blocking ads goes (way) too far.

If I am consulting a site who relies on advertising as a business model and they are looking to find ways to improve revenues I would become intensely curious about the users who are blocking the ads. This is such a case by case thing, but if your site is providing real value and has a loyal userbase there are going to be ways to facilitate a portion of the adblocking users to reciprocate.

It could be a switch in the revenue model, it could be a paywall, it could be by creating awareness among your userbase, it could be by offering advertising experiences that users don’t reject, it could be by giving repeating visitors (which are the ones you seem to be irked at the most) alternative ways to reciprocate (from donate buttons to loyalty programs). It may even be a radical switch from spewing low quality content in exchange for superficial attention for a higher quality type of content. You may even find that those loyal users who are blocking ads are indirectly creating more value than the regular ones.

The worst possible advice I can think of is the notion that visitors should be counted as thieves. That does nothing to help, nor is it a fair or accurate depiction of the adblocking phenomenon.

Why aren´t we talking about evolving better ways to market and advertise instead while serving user needs, or other creative ways that content creators can capture more revenue for their hard earned work?

ps. It’s really quite easy to disable adblocking on a per-site basis to support your favorite websites.

Brian
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 6:32 pm

If you would like to force people to pay for your content than you should be making it a paid access site. It is an individuals right not to be bombarded with ads at every turn. The degree that advertisements have proliferated in our society is just disgraceful. The less effective they are the more they push in our face, I do not use ad-block but after this article honestly I might.

You as a content creator are not a victim for us not looking at or clicking your advertising, you are an individual who has not paid attention to the times and still expects to make the same revenue. The internet is changing and it always will be, if you want to continue to make money off your site you will need to keep up and come up with innovative strategies that don’t annoy your readers to a degree that they feel that they must block your ads.

You are effectively saying that we are your product and the advertisers are your customers, I’m sorry but you cannot peg your product for stealing, treat us like your customers and maybe we’ll respect you enough to give you the money you deserve, if there’s better content out there than I highly doubt that we will.

Steve
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 6:33 pm

These replies are more valuable to me than the article itself. How do I give money to the contributors who deserve it?

Steve Bentley
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 6:40 pm

“And, if you block ads, you deny me revenue from the very act of displaying the ad on your screen. None of this costs you money (or saves you money).”

Anybody using a 3G dongle with a small data allowance might disagree with that assertion.

I think the wider problem is that a lot of advertising on websites is obnoxious, doing things like unexpectedly playing music or other audio, spawning windows or randomly popping up over content with non-obvious ways to close it.

There have also been documented cases of drive-by-downloads of malware courtesy of compromised advertising services (see https://threatpost.com/en_us/blogs/major-ad-networks-found-serving-malicious-ads-121210).

People may use an ad blocker to get rid of usability failures and security risks like these and consider that the removal of other better behaved ads to be acceptable collateral damage.

For the record, I don’t use an ad blocker.

Andrew Kay
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 7:11 pm

You said that advising people to use ad-blockers is “hardly ensuring ‘freedom’”, but there is no freedom to force someone else to look at your ad; there is only the freedom to choose not to look at ads, a freedom the EFF supports and you don’t.

We also have the freedom not to click on your ads, a choice which costs you more revenue than an ad-blocker does (cost-per-click is WAY higher than cost-per-impression). But almost all of your users don’t click on ads; are they thieves too?

Choosing to act in a way which doesn’t increase your revenue is not theft.

Jamburgers Ltd. found a way to profit from serving strawberry jam hamburgers for cheaper than regular hamburgers. They successfully lobbied to criminalise the act of removing jam from a hamburger, so as to protect their business model. From that day forth, as we all know, nobody scraped the jam off a single burger ever again, and we all lived happily ever after.

MyPrefs
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 7:22 pm

A few reasons why I block.

I live in the sticks, poor download speed, ad blocking makes life faster.

Too many cases of ads being served that were virus vectors(still happening in 2011) – I like to browse safely.

If site A serves no content if I block ads then I find a different site that provides what I had wanted from site A…or I could get the same data ad & impression free from a search engine cached copy.

I would never click an ad anyway – you are losing an impression but you are gaining a view of your content.

If I like your content I may tell others which would be a gain for you if at least 1 of them allows ads .. and even if not maybe some of them spread the word etc.

.. On trusted sites I *regularly* visit I do whitelist some relatively safe ads (e.g. google text ads)

James Cridland
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Ben says: “Some of the adverts you get on TV I find offensive or distasteful. In this case, you can skip through them on Sky Plus or switch channels. But when you have a hideous Wonga puppet gurning at you and waving their arms about when you’re trying to read an online article (one of the reasons I first installed Adblock – at least TV adverts aren’t shown at the same time as the programme content), you can’t get rid of it.” – yes you can. You should go to another website, much as you can skip to another channel. If people don’t use a website because of the crappy ads, then the site owner will remove the crappy ads. I find it difficult to understand how you feel you can ethically remove the very things that are paying for the online article.

Peter, Brian and Dubber say that website owners should change revenue model, missing the point that it isn’t an issue with the revenue model – it’s an issue with a belief that to run an ad-blocker is an ethical way to treat a content provider who chooses to earn revenue from ads. Just as it’s a choice to take adverts on a website, it’s a choice to consume websites with adverts on them; I still find it hard to understand why you both think it’s acceptable to circumvent a content owner’s revenue-earning potential on a whim.

Andrew says: “there is no freedom to force someone else to look at your ad; there is only the freedom to choose not to look at ads, a freedom the EFF supports and you don’t” – on the contrary, I’m not forcing you to look at an ad-funded website. I’m all for freedom of the content you choose to look at. If you don’t like ads, please don’t come to an ad-funded website – there are plenty out there. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to circumvent a site owner’s potential revenue stream while still using their content. Why is that so hard to understand?

MyPrefs says: “I would never click an ad anyway – you are losing an impression but you are gaining a view of your content.” … and, once more, I’ve no care whether you click on an ad. I do care whether you could if you found something interesting enough. (And tracking allows site owners to give you something interesting enough)… “On trusted sites I *regularly* visit I do whitelist some relatively safe ads (e.g. google text ads)” So, you too understand that the ads support your favourite sites: but you don’t appear to want to support sites other than those you regularly visit, even if you get useful information from them? That sounds rather selfish.

Finally, Andrew Dubber is confused about what my blog post refers to. This website is not a high-traffic one, and nor does it make much sense to have ads on it. (I did, and you refused to make a comment until I removed the ads, which I duly did – that’s three pints I can’t drink next month). The point isn’t for tiny websites like this one, that act as a great marketing tool for me and my work. The point is for large websites run by corporations who choose to monetise their website by ads – which means they are free for you to consume.

Once more, I still have real issues understanding why it’s okay to consume content while deliberately and knowingly refusing to allow that same website to earn revenue – revenue that comes not from your pocket, but from the pocket of advertisers. While there is plenty of bluster in this comment thread, I have yet to see a cogent argument in favour of this ethical behaviour. Whether you call it ‘theft’ or not is, it seems, a question of semantics; it does, however, hurt the websites you use.

Steve
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 8:13 pm

It’s not at all a question of semantics. I honestly believe that it is absolutely not an issue of ethics to block ads to improve my browsing experience.

Say you clicked on a link to a website (without knowing the specific content of that website, which is how links work generally.) and you discover it’s ad-impression-driven and spreading, say, racial hate speech. You have now just helped to fund this, and have absolutely no option of opting out or reversing that action.

Regarding people who use ad blockers, they do not use them to deprive you of revenue. In all likelyhood, they have no idea whether you run ads on your site or not, as they probably block ads across the board. They do this to improve their own browsing experience.

Your museum donation analogy is inaccurate, as you know before viewing the museum’s content what the price is, and can make the decision to not view the content, which you can’t do based on a hyperlink.

Steve Bentley
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 8:16 pm

James says “If people don’t use a website because of the crappy ads, then the site owner will remove the crappy ads.”

By that argument, if people block the ads because they’re crappy ads, then the site owner will remove the crappy ads?

Nick Sergeant
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I don’t use an ad-blocker to stop you from making money, I do it because the typical online advertisement is:

- Annoying
- Distracting
- Taxing on my CPU, in the event of Flash-based ads

Find a better way to advertise, and you have my eyeballs.

Daniel Mooney
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Interesting topic. I have a bit of a web-site vetting process. I will use the website for a long time, and if I regularly return to it, I’ll add the site to my AdBlock exceptions. There is nothing that will make me decide to change this as I view advertising as an assault upon me. If, however, I decide to trust a site and its content, I also make the tentative choice to enable their ability to monetize my eyeballs. As a consequence, for sites that’ve made it through the vetting, I’m much more likely to actually view the ad.

Two points:
- First, equating ad blocking to theft is a red herring (similar to the MPAA charge of ‘theft’, which has nothing, actually, to do with ‘copyright infringement’) that distracts from the real problems: the crappy modality of on-line advertising today, and how little thought media-creators put into the process (“Ooh, I’ll just put AdSense up!”).
- Second, HTML/JS/CSS/etc is interpreted, parsed, laid out and displayed. If my browser doesn’t interpret this the way you want, that’s on me, for good or bad. Choose another medium, or write a script that forces your viewers to view the page as you have it. You won’t have to wait long to hear how people like it…

Thoughts?

Dubber
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Not confused – just responding to your points.

Like I said on Twitter – your freedom to put ads on your website does not trump my freedom to use my computer in such a way that it means I don’t have to look at them. If that’s a problem for you, then trying to change MY behaviour* is probably going to be the hard option. Which is why I suggested alternatives that might actually work better. There will be others. It’s worth at least examining…

Whether for this website, or for another one that makes you more money, asking “What’s the best way for me to make money from my website?” is probably a better question than “How can I make EVERYONE look at my ads?” The answer may still be “despite ad-blockers, advertising is still currently my best option”, but at least you would have arrived at that answer as a reflection of the world as it is, rather than the world as you’d like it to be.

This isn’t bluster. This is simply a case for looking at the world as it is and adapting, rather than insisting that it be different. And a case for not causing yourself all the stress of getting cross about all the terrible people stealing from you with their eyes.

It’s worth noting that I don’t think of the websites that I read as ‘content’ that I ‘consume’ – so the question of whether it’s okay for me to consume it without letting you get paid is not only not my problem, it’s not even something that tends to occur to me – or, I imagine, to the ordinary visitor. So it never presents a moral quandary.

Naive, perhaps – but I think of blogs as people talking – as, I imagine, do many other people. It appears to me to simply be you expressing yourself. An invitation to a conversation, perhaps. I happened to take part in this one.

So even if you think of this as a ‘service’ that you’re providing, or a ‘commodity’ that you’re making as you type, most of us experience this as something quite different. It doesn’t feel like I’m consuming anything. It feels like I’m hearing you out as you make a point. I’m not just talking about this blog – I’m talking about blogs in general.

I know this is not how you perceive the world, but from where I’m standing it doesn’t seem like my job to ensure that you get paid because I happened to follow a link you put on Twitter to a post you wanted me to read so that you could make a point you felt strongly about.

As an aside, I always find it interesting that most people who claim to want to talk about technology really want to talk about ethics, and that ethics are a subset of commerce. It’s something we talk about in the Music Industries MA I run at Birmingham City University. This is a fantastic instance of that, and one I’ll no doubt use as a case study in one of my classes in future. So thanks very much for the tremendous teaching opportunity. I don’t think you’re wrong to want to discuss ethics, incidentally, as ethics are very important. I’m just observing that it’s interesting that this is the branch of philosophy that discussions about internet use gravitate towards.

However, this seems like a good moment to bow out. As I said before, we’re not going to change each other’s minds about this. That’s not a failing of the medium of Twitter (clearly, since we’re saying many of the same things here using far more words) – it’s simply the nature of this sort of debate. It just happens that we’ve given ourselves more space and more words with which to air our entrenched positions. We can be as nuanced and as rational about this as we like – but there was never a point at which either of us was going to convince the other of our point of view.

Of course, you should feel free to carry on to make your point without me. It’s your blog, after all.

I will continue to read this blog, of course – ads or no ads. I tend to agree with you far more often than I disagree, and it’s good to get pushed into mounting a defence of one’s opinions from time to time. The internet would be very boring if it only said things that I already think.

But finally – I’m not going to take responsibility for your reduced alcohol intake. Having ads on your site (or not), as we’ve established, is entirely your call.

All the best.

Dubber

*I don’t happen to use ad-blockers myself, but assuming I did.

Adam Bowie
commenting at February 23rd, 2012 at 11:33 pm

An interesting discussion to which I can see both sides. I’ll go back to my note that I could surf the net with images turned off. Is that unethical as all sites that use graphical advertising won’t serve their ads?

In the office today I noticed a number of boxes going back to Asos with returned clothes. People routinely seem to buy more than they want from Asos and then return a proportion. Is that unethical of them? Or are they simply working within the rules of the system – in this instance making full use of a quibble free returns policy irrespective of what those extra delivery charges do to a businesses bottom line.

Or to use an example closer to home. If I take my laptop to Starbucks and nurse a coffee slowly for three hours while sitting in the warmth “abusing” Starbucks’ no hassle policy with their customers do Starbucks move me on? Or do they accept that a handful of people will always overstay their welcome and factor it into their business plan?

In the end, as many a business has discovered, you can’t “uninvent” something. Ad blockers aren’t going anywhere. You can work around them with your business model, or you can attempt to circumvent them technically. You could of course outlaw them altogether but I’m not sure that’d work.

Oh and @Ben, I most certainly can mute the volume and skip Spotify ads. It’s called the volume control on my external speakers.

Andrew Kay
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 3:02 am

Given that there is a zero probability of me clicking your ad, the correct cost for that particular impression would be zero. If I were to view your ad, I would be indirectly defrauding your ad provider, since they’d be paying you a small amount for an impression that I know is worthless. From the perspective of your ad provider, *disabling* my ad-blocker would be stealing! Quite a conundrum, wouldn’t you say?

Brian
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 4:31 am

James Says: That individuals who read his website are his consumers, therefore should be subjecting themselves to ads as his chosen method of payment in return for his services of writing.

I would argue that at this point we are no longer your consumers, your consumers are your advertisers and you are treating us as products to earn you revenue, you are writing to bring us onto the site to look at your advertisements and earn you a living.

I now choose to use ad-block because I do not like feeling as if content creators believe I am a product, when I like a webcomic I donate to it, or purchase and issue of it. When I appreciate an album I buy it. When I like a story or a book I will pay for the right to own and read it.

You are not licensing out your content to us, you are giving it freely with full understanding that you are also licensing out space on your website to advertisers. Whether we subvert that is our choice and has no bearing on your agreement with your advertisers directly, additionally you have no terms which we must agree to before entering your site so it has no bearing upon our (the reader) and your relationship.

If you have an issue with that as you seem to do, than you should try a different model, it’s not stealing on our part when we have not entered an agreement with you, therefore your argument and your business model do not work. Create a donation button and make a certain minimum amount of donations lead up to a new post, there are several webcomics that follow this model and it works for them as far as fulfilling the costs of their backend/production are concerned.

Rupert
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 9:27 am

I would like the option to pay for an ad-free version of the service or information. If it’s worth reading, it’s worth paying a modest subscription for. James Cridland’s blog justifies the license fee on its own. Oh. er…

James Cridland
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 10:47 am

Andrew says: “Given that there is a zero probability of me clicking your ad, the correct cost for that particular impression would be zero.” Andrew, that’s not how advertising works. Putting it simply, there’s advertising made to cause an action – CLICK ME – and advertising made for brand awareness. A poster ad, for example, is mostly about brand awareness – there’s rarely any calls to action on them – but they are designed to ensure that next time you go into a store and buy something, you buy their brand rather than anyone else’s brand. Brand awareness is charged as a cost-per-impression rather than a cost-per-click. So, there’s absolutely no problem with you never clicking on an ad; and the display of that ad does have a value to the advertiser, and thus a value to the content producer… just like the content of the web-page you’re looking at has a value to you as well.

Adam says: “Ad blockers aren’t going anywhere. You can work around them with your business model, or you can attempt to circumvent them technically.” Completely agree – and, frankly, since I’ve never seen that 14% of revenue, I don’t miss it. However – and this is the main point of my blog post – that doesn’t mean that we should make the use of ad-blockers socially acceptable. We should not be educating people that it’s fine to get great content or services from ad-funded websites while deliberately filtering out the very things that fund the website we love using. We should be vocal that if you are using ad-blockers, you are hurting the sites you love.

Brian gets all legal on me and talks about legal agreements. But this isn’t a legal argument: it’s an ethical one: about supporting the websites you love. “When I appreciate an album I buy it. When I like a story or a book I will pay for the right to own and read it.” Good for you. You feel that it’s ethically right to go out and buy an album or a book – even though you could just as easily download it for free off a backstreet website. So, why do you feel that it’s right to support that business model – which costs you money – but not to support an ad-funded business model, which doesn’t cost you anything?

Steve
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 10:57 am

“So, why do you feel that it’s right to support that business model – which costs you money – but not to support an ad-funded business model, which doesn’t cost you anything?”

Because with the first one, you’re being given a choice to support content which you feel is worth supporting. Cost is not the problem. Freedom of choice is. Luckily, we can still have choice as consumers, thanks to ad-blockers.

Steve
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 11:00 am

On ethics, I believe it’s much more ethical to actively support sites you love, than to passively support any site that has ads, regardless of quality of content (and to be sure, the *vast* majority of ad-driven websites have poor content, largely due to the fact that the vast majority of sites in general have poor content).

James Cridland
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 11:12 am

Steve, you have lots of choice as a consumer. Nobody forces you to visit any website at all. But surely you see that if you visit a website for the content on it, it’s polite to ensure that the site owner has the possibility of earning indirectly from your visit?

You’re visiting websites for the content that they contain, or the services they offer. One pageview might earn a site owner a small fraction of a penny; and when you don’t come back because the content’s poor, that’s all they’ve earned. If a website does great content and offers great services, you’ll come back again and again. The market already ensures great content wins out.

You can’t choose to pay your dues anywhere else. Just because technology makes it possible, it doesn’t make it right.

Your logic cannot help you here | Andrew Dubber
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

[...] I ended up in something of a debate about ad-blockers on the internet yesterday. Radio “futurologist” (inverted commas because that term is so problematic for me) James Cridland wrote a blog post entitled Piracy and Ad-Blockers Are Both Theft. [...]

Nicholas
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

If you want to charge for access to the site, then do so. See how many people would pay for your content. Hint: They will find a free alternative.

There is no need for me to allow spyware and the like access to my computer just so you can make an extra dollar.

James Cridland
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Nicholas: indeed, people will find a ‘free’ alternative. And I’m not asking for spyware and any access to your computer either.

But if nobody is willing to pay for content, and everyone runs ad-blockers, then there’ll be no decent content online. And how does that help anyone?

Bill Anzalone
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Don’t thoroughly read all of the ads in the subway car?

THEFT!

James Cridland
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Hi, Bill. I assume you’re just trying to be funny, but just in case you’re trying to make a serious point, once more, this isn’t a sensible analogy, because there isn’t someone from the subway company counting every single person who reads the ad, and charging the advertiser accordingly. However, as we’ve established, internet advertising *is* charged this way – every impression can trigger a fraction of a payment to a site owner.

A better analogy around subways (but not a perfect one) is that, by installing an ad-blocker, you’ve jumped the barriers at your local subway station because you don’t approve of the price of the subway. You accordingly get the benefit of the service being offered, but deliberately with-hold payment of it. It’s not perfect, since in this case you’re $5 better off, while ad-funded websites don’t charge you for visiting, since your visit triggers a micro-payment from an advertiser instead.

If you’re posting to be funny, then that’s hilarious; but this is quite a serious matter, and it’s disappointing that you don’t see it as being so.

Bill Anzalone
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 9:57 pm

The fact of the matter is you’re trying to redefine “theft” to any way a person potentially doesn’t make money and it’s hilarious.

James Cridland
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Aha. Well, if we change it, Bill, to “not a very nice thing to do”, does that make it any better? Or are you arguing about the semantic meaning of the word theft, rather than ethical behaviour?

Bill Anzalone
commenting at February 24th, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Ethically, when you decide that your business model is going to be to publish a blog and rely ad revenue, you should realize people do not like ads and some people block ads. Now, you can either change how your business model, or change the way in which the advertisement are broadcast. I am not morally wrong for wanting to protect myself and my computer, as well as filter out what I want and do not want to be subjected to. I am so sorry that you feel that because I am running an ad blocker that this constitutes lost revenue for yourself, but if i was unable to view your site with an adblocker on, I would simply not view your site.

Brian
commenting at February 25th, 2012 at 2:12 am

James says: It is not a legal issue, it is an ethical issue.

Calling something theft is creating a legal issue, theft is an act which can incur legal repercussions, I do not like that you are insinuating that all individuals who block ads are stealing. When you say that the question transcends ethics.

I believe that it is unethical of a content creator to allow me to be bombarded with ads that collect and make use of my personal information without me entering into any sort of agreement. I find it frustrating and annoying, especially when it gets to a degree that it is hindering my ability to browse a website and that is why I choose not to support that particular business model.

Dan
commenting at February 25th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I don’t *ever* click on online advertising. Anywhere on the internet. I point blank refuse on principle. My websites have never featured advertising and never will. I find alternative revenue streams, and will continue to do so.

If I spot something internet on an advert (which is incredibly rare) I google it, and avoid clicking on the internet. I think this is probably because from the very beginning of the internet the adverts have been delivered in a hideous way. Like many other users posting on the thread I’ve purchased things and then had my browsing experience taken over by said product. This happened last year when I joined giffgaff, I couldn’t go anywhere without adverts promoting giffgaff being served on practically every page I visited. My solution was to install AdBlock+, it’s probably still installed.

My policy of blocking adverts won’t change, regardless of what anybody says. If your website says I can’t visit because I have ABP enabled, then I just won’t visit.

Christoffer Viken
commenting at February 26th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Blocking ads is EXACTLY as much theft as piracy is. There is nothing to debate about it. PERIOD.
How much theft piracy is, however is up for discussion. But One can not be theft without the other also being so.

HuwOS
commenting at February 26th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

It is a bizarre notion, that a person has a right to inflict advertising on others without their agreement.
Adblockers simply act as a method of enforcing the rights of the individual web user to not have content that they do not want shoved at them.

People may well make money from ad impressions, and that’s great for them, but as dubber did point out, the fact that it is possible for you to make money from ad impressions does not give you a right to dictate to web users how they must behave.

People are utterly entitled to come up with any business model they choose, but their choice of business model does not give them the right to control and/or restrict the legitimate, fully legal, behaviour of everybody else.

@AndrewKay love the jamburger concept

HuwOS
commenting at February 26th, 2012 at 8:04 pm

“That doesn’t mean that we should make the use of ad-blockers socially acceptable”

The fact is, the use of ad-blockers is socially acceptable, the forcing of ads on people who don’t want them isn’t, which is why ad-blockers exist.

Andrew Kay
commenting at February 26th, 2012 at 10:45 pm

“But if nobody is willing to pay for content, and everyone runs ad-blockers, then there’ll be no decent content online. And how does that help anyone?”

Lots of people are willing to pay for content. You just need a better monetisation strategy than putting strawberry jam on the hamburgers. As a general rule, people will pay money for things they want, so focus on what people want and don’t do things they want you to not do.

If you sell advertising space to an ad network, your readers are not your customers, they are your product. If a reader can’t be sold to the ad network, they aren’t a thief, they’re a defective product. This mode of thinking doesn’t seem to be focused too much on giving readers what they want, so should it fail, as a reader I shall not mourn its passing.

Bowe
commenting at February 27th, 2012 at 10:39 am

If you do not buy stuff because you do not read advertising while on the internet then you should use an ad blocker.
If you use a service that is provided for free and the provider finances his web site through some form of advertising you may feel that for that website you could allow ads.

I also recommend strongly the use of Ghostery
I do not use Twitter Facebook and the myriad
‘Social Netwanking’ sites so I should not have the loading of web pages slowed down because of the buttons and bells loading on the page, I do not use these social plugins.

Liam
commenting at February 27th, 2012 at 11:18 pm

I don’t run an ad blocker, however having looked up the dates of a trade show for a friend, I’m now continually getting adverts for a bathroom exhibition (including while reading this blog through google reader), which is starting to get annoying. It seems that the targeting systems don’t make allowances for multiple users, ie family computers, and still haven’t worked out how to deal with ads post purchase.

James, just curious, do you have a PVR? When you watch a recorded programme from a commercial channel, do you skip past the commercials? Just as with the tube example, there’s probably no way to measure how many people are viewing the commercials, but at some point the advertisers are going to realise that a significant proportion of the audience for the content aren’t watching the ads. How is the content going to be funded then?

Tucker
commenting at February 28th, 2012 at 6:46 am

Out of curiosity, if my adblocker worked by simply making the ads invisible, so you still get credit for the impression, would you still consider that theft?

James Cridland
commenting at February 28th, 2012 at 11:20 am

Liam Whiteside: An analogy between TV and online ads is flawed, and I cover this in my first comment in this comment stream. Please read that.

I agree that the re-marketing ads (like your bathroom example) are rather annoying. I regularly get Kayak (an online price comparison site) advertising the exact flight that I’ve just bought, through their site, at me – seems a little pointless. Kayak must gain benefit from doing so; perhaps they’re trying to remind me what a great deal I got, I don’t know. (Disclosure: Media UK, my online business, currently uses Criteo, an ad marketplace that specialises in re-marketing. I’m doing this for a trial period).

Tucker: personally, I’d consider an ad blocker that at least gives credit for the impressions as slightly less rude than an ad blocker that doesn’t even request the ad; as you say, the site owner would get credit for the impressions. However, it would adversely affect the click-through ratio, which is a key metric that online ads are sold by, so I’d still lose out in the long run. If you like the content, then it’s only right to respect the chosen revenue stream of the person who’s given you that content. If you don’t like the ads, don’t leech the content: don’t visit the website. That’s your choice.

Bowe: “If you do not buy stuff because you do not read advertising while on the internet then you should use an ad blocker” – you’ve misunderstood how internet advertising works; it’s not just based on “buying stuff” (hence why impressions are important as well as clicks). If you like the content, and it’s supported by ad sales, then you can’t support the content if you block the ads. If you don’t like the ads, don’t leech the content – just don’t visit the website. That’s your choice.

“I do not use Twitter Facebook and the myriad ‘Social Netwanking’ sites so I should not have the loading of web pages slowed down because of the buttons and bells loading on the page, I do not use these social plugins.” – I agree entirely with this, which is why websites I produce try to avoid their use. There are no social plugins here, nor at Media UK (my business). http://www.mediauk.com/article/32769/its-a-matter-of-privacy covers this in detail: but using Ghostery, you’ll discover that there is very little third-party content on Media UK’s pages: indeed, the only third-party content is Google Analytics, ad-related content via Google AdSense and Criteo, and that’s normally it. This costs money to do: I’m paying hosting costs for images (like user avatars) that normally come from Facebook or Twitter directly – but I feel it’s the right thing to do. To my mind, these third-party beacons from Twitter/Facebook/G+ et al contribute to a slowdown of the internet and aren’t a good thing.

Andrew Kay: Respectfully, the choice of business model is mine to make. I have no doubt that the ad-funded model is the best model for my business; though I do also make revenue in other ways. If you don’t respect that model of revenue generation (from my own website or from others), and deliberately circumvent the revenue-generation part while enjoying the content part, then ethically I find your behaviour very difficult to justify. It might not be “theft”, but it’s certainly morally suspect. If you don’t like the ads on your favourite website, then you should a) let the site owner know, and b) stop visiting. The alternative, c) “help yourself to the content while circumventing the revenue generation” is, I believe, the wrong thing to do for the internet and for your own karma.

HuwOS: “The fact is, the use of ad-blockers is socially acceptable, the forcing of ads on people who don’t want them isn’t” – you’ve confused an opinion with a fact. I’ve repeatedly said, nobody’s forcing ads on people who don’t want them: you are free to not visit that website. I don’t understand why this isn’t an acceptable option to people who don’t like ads.

Dan: “I don’t *ever* click on online advertising. Anywhere on the internet. I point blank refuse on principle.” – far be it from me to wish to change your principle. I, too, normally click Google organic search results rather than AdSense banners on the same search result page – mainly because I don’t really like Google getting most of the revenue from a simple search for “Journey Planner”; I’d rather that revenue remained with TfL to make my service better. However, as is hopefully clear from the long discussion above, “clicking” is not the only way of earning revenue from advertising, and I hope your principles also extend to rewarding those who give you great content in the way that they’ve chosen: which, in many cases, is simply allowing the ads to display (at no extra cost to you).

Brian: “I believe that it is unethical of a content creator to allow me to be bombarded with ads that collect and make use of my personal information without me entering into any sort of agreement.” – on the other hand, I bet it would really annoy you if, on every visit to every website, you had to sign a EULA before using it. You can opt out of most behavioural tracking cookies – http://www.mediauk.com/privacy tells you how to opt out of the Google AdSense one. I find it difficult how you square your ethics with the act of running an ad-blocker that means you get the benefit of great content while deliberately circumventing the content-owner’s chosen revenue model.

I could go on.

Christoffer Viken
commenting at February 28th, 2012 at 8:24 pm

HuwOS: If you don’t like the ad’s you can just not visit the site…
As I said, blocking ads is just as much stealing as piracy is.

Brian and James Cridland:
You can opt out… stay the hell away from that website.

I run an adblocker, but i deliberately opt *in* text ads, because AdWords are useful, and the ToS for those are for them not to be in annoying places.
As it turns out, in 90% of google’s revenue are from the search ads, usually the box above the organic results.
When the ad’s are just as good as the organic results, and one of them are exactly what I’m looking for, why not?

Tucker: Isn’t most ads nowadays pay per click?

I think the damage of piracy is greatly overrated, some might actually benefit from piracy. (skyrocketing concert sales, or new fans who just happen to stumble upon you)
But I stand firm on the fact that blocking ads are just as bad as piracy, and adBlock should be banned by the DMCA. Just to make the lawmakers see how stupid that law is. (circumventing copyright/’income’ protection)

Tucker
commenting at February 28th, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Christoffer: Some ads are sold per impression. It seems to me that if you were to block only these ads, but in a way that still gave the site credit for the impression, you’re putting yourself into the same category as tivo users who skip commercials. There is an indirect impact on the value of the advertising, because advertisers are going to be willing to pay less for an ad if they’re paying for a certain number of impressions and some of those impressions are spent on people who just hit the skip button or magically don’t see the ad.

James: I guess one thing I wonder is why you’re willing to hand-wave away the skipping of ads on television shows. You say, “On a television, it’s sold by the amount of estimated audience who watch that particular ad-break. The act of fast-forwarding doesn’t result in a loss of income for television companies…” but surely you must recognize that the estimates of how many audience members watch a particular ad-break will start having to include skipping in their estimates if they don’t already. This will result in the value of the ad break being reduced, which is a loss of income for television companies.

Dan Thornton
commenting at March 1st, 2012 at 11:33 am

There is one other element to this debate which I forgot to mention.

I run AdBlocker and NoScript, but as a security measure, having had malicious adverts attempt to add malware to my PC (And you don’t have to go to ‘dodgy’ sites for this to happen – I think it was the NYT that accidentally served some malware infecting ads a while ago, and various web hosts have had problems over the years, which meant I once got a virus from visiting my own blog.)

If I regular visit a site, after a while I’ll whitelist it in NoScript, and AdBlock Plus etc do allow ‘acceptable ads’ by default: https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads

From the AdBlock Plus site:

‘Only 25% of the Adblock Plus users seem to be strictly against any advertising. They will disable this feature and that’s fine. The other users replied that they would accept some kinds of advertising to help websites. Some users are even asking for a way to enable Adblock Plus on some websites only. ‘

HuwOS
commenting at March 12th, 2012 at 11:55 pm

“HuwOS: If you don’t like the ad’s you can just not visit the site…
As I said, blocking ads is just as much stealing as piracy is.”

As the wisdom of the ancients declares, saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.
Webusers are under no obligation and have not contracted in any way to accept ads on any random website, if a site wishes to, they can exclude people who don’t want to receive ads, on the whole they don’t do so because of some more ancient wisdom that obscurity is a far bigger problem than whether people view ads or not.

To put it another way, a website may perfectly validly attempt to make money from access to my eyeballs, but they have no right to make money from them.

no one knows
commenting at April 11th, 2012 at 7:21 am

Whatever, it doesn’t matter. No one clicks on ads online. And for those who really click on it, it doesn’t matter either. Because almost none of those people end up really buying that stuff.

Stop whining about things you can’t change. You can force no one to click on a ad.

Christoffer Viken
commenting at April 11th, 2012 at 3:06 pm

“Stop whining about things you can’t change. You can force no one to click on a ad.”
Hmm:
“Stop whining about things you can’t change. You can force no one to pay for music/movies.”
Great implication.

HuwOS:
“To put it another way, a website may perfectly validly attempt to make money from access to my eyeballs, but they have no right to make money from them.”

“Webusers are under no obligation and have not contracted in any way to accept ads on any random website,”

Actually you are by norm. If you buy a news paper you get the ads (with the paper) Sure, you are free not to look at them, sure, but remember those ads partially subsidizes the paper you bought.

Doesn’t matter really. The REAL point here is: Ad blocking is just as bad as “piracy” actually, it is “piracy”. How bad the problem is is a completely different matter. But they do have the full right to make a try and you are somewhat obligated to let them try. Just as with music, but when DRM or annoying banners are too much of a burden I perfectly understand why some may want to “get free shit”

And again, relevant advertising is actually pretty good.
And whoever said it’s a bubble needs to get their facts doublechecked, because I am sure that somewhere i saw a “revenue from AD-sources” sheet by someone with great numbers.
And I’ve heard of blogs sustaining themselves purely on affiliate-codes (that only pay for “per sale”)

By the way. Blocking clever ads (javascript embedment etc) may actually be a violation of the DMCA; considering that removing a license header from an open source file is so. (on that we actually have legal precedent in the “Jacobsen v. Katzer” case)

James Cridland
commenting at April 11th, 2012 at 5:54 pm

“No one clicks on ads online. And for those who really click on it, it doesn’t matter either. Because almost none of those people end up really buying that stuff. Stop whining about things you can’t change. You can force no one to click on a ad.” – this is a set of fundamental misunderstandings about how advertising works, used to make people feel better about pirating content by running an ad-blocker.

“No one clicks on ads online.” – actually, publishers can earn revenue from ads when they are displayed, irrespective of whether people click on them. And, by the way, MILLIONS of people click on ads online.

“For those who really click on it, it doesn’t matter either. Because almost none of those people end up really buying that stuff.” – actually, publishers can earn revenue from ads on click, irrespective of whether “people end up really buying that stuff”.

“Stop whining about things you can’t change. You can force no one to click on a ad.” – and I have absolutely no wish to force people to click on ads. You are welcome to never click on an ad on any website you see. Those that give you the free content and services that are funded by the ads would just like to be able to show you the ads, just in case you find one interesting. Is that too hard?

Christoffer Viken
commenting at April 11th, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Plus one to that!

The problem here is that blocking ads are piracy. (some ads do deserve blocking thou)
The issue is that this is a kind of piracy that people can stand up to, because it is not “stealing”. HELL YES IT IS.
Sure: music, movie and software piracy is overhyped. That is the problem.

too intrusive
commenting at April 21st, 2012 at 9:53 am

I use an AD blocker and the only reason i do is because advertisement makers are making ads too intrusive, full page pop ups, flash ads, and its getting out of hand. Ill never view an webpage advertisement and ill never surf the web again with out an AD blocker, add to that script blocking and anti tracking software. my internet is fast responsive and 10000 times better than when it was when 100 annoying ads were loading. Advertising is out of control and a way for lazy parasites to make money at the expense of others, if theres ads on your site ill block them. Ill keep my ad blocker thank you.

bill
commenting at April 21st, 2012 at 9:57 am

I use an AD blocker and the only reason i do is because advertisement makers are making ads too intrusive, full page pop ups, flash ads, and its getting out of hand. Ill never view an webpage advertisement and ill never surf the web again with out an AD blocker, add to that script blocking and anti tracking software. my internet is fast responsive and 10000 times better than when it was when 100 annoying ads were loading. Advertising is out of control and a way for lazy parasites to make money at the expense of others, if theres ads on your site ill block them.

bill
commenting at April 21st, 2012 at 10:00 am

and anyone making excuses that ad blocking is theft is ridiculous, your only crying because your greed exceeds your expectations and neither are working in your favor.

Advertising is hated thats why we use AD blockers.. get used to it, because eventually advertising online will not exist simply because every user will be blocking the trash.

Christoffer Viken
commenting at April 22nd, 2012 at 5:41 pm

bill: in what other part of your life do you so openly support piracy? The post clearly states that Ad-blocking is PIRACY. And we clarly “know” piracy is theft.
Or none of them are really theft. But if you argue that one is theft and the other is not, then you are the the ridiculous one.

Lee
commenting at June 3rd, 2012 at 1:50 am

When you watch tv you have to sit through commercials even if you don’t like it. No switching channels, no turning your head around, and you better pay some damn attention to that shampoo advert or else you are a filthy disgusting pirate scum.

And whatever you do, don’t blink. Blink and you are dead. The internet police will get you if you skip some ads.

WITH THAT BEING SAID

Your argument is invalid and self-defeating. Code responsible for creating pop-up windows is /selectively/ blocked by some browsers.

Your argumentation about blocking ads being piracy applies exactly the same to blocking pop-ups.

Conversely, if majority of users are using adblockers then by your own logic it is not piracy because the advertisers cannot expect the advertisements to be actually displayed.

Michael on Law
commenting at June 18th, 2012 at 12:34 pm

The facts are simple. Pop-ups became blocked because unscrupulous websites popping up a dozen windows with potentially hazardous consequences. That’s all. Now we are talking about one window. So who is forcing people to watch every ad? Absolutely nobody. It’s a way to rationalize that these supposedly evil people deserve the theft.

Website content is the property of the website creator. The user agrees to take the whole thing as-is or nothing at all. My terms of use are visible on every page of my website and it’s obvious that the ads are there for a legitimate reason, which isn’t because I care to simply annoy the world. Any rational person understands the exchange. Instead of paying for premium content, it’s ad-supported and no actual money is paid to the website owner.

Comments here are identical to most cases of digital theft. Once people get used to the fact that there’s a simple way to steal something, they rationalize that if it wasn’t wrong then someone would have been able to prevent them from wrongdoing. It’s the owner’s fault for not having a bulletproof way to prevent theft.

If advertisers cannot expect ads to be actually displayed, numerous people lose their jobs because advertisers then won’t pay for Internet ads. At that time we’ll hear the same people complaining vehemently that they have to pay $20 per month for what used to be available for “free.”

lee
commenting at June 26th, 2012 at 5:14 am

@michael on law

Your reasoning is fundamentally flawed. your entire argument is based on the premise that piracy is acquiring content without properly compensating the owner according to the EULA, but that is plain wrong – piracy is violation of copyright, plain and simple. Because you are not duplicating and re-distributing content when you view it with an ad blocker on you are not violating any copyright, and therefore are not pirating content.
However, even if we did ignore what piracy actually was and grant you the re-definition you would still be wrong – the vast majority of sites do not have any EULA or license agreement of any kind that includes watching ads as a requirement for seeing their content, they just inject the ads into their page. Because the user hasn’t agreed to anything there is no agreement to break, thus he can’t even claim that users are breaking a license agreement. Content creators drove adblock to be created with the sheer number, annoyance, size, and bandwidth required for their ads. Now they want people to think they are stealing content by removing them so they don’t need to update their business model to something that doesn’t piss people off? No dice.

Harald Smith
commenting at July 7th, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I block ads because i hate ads in general, i also watch any movie i want for free just by searching for it on google, same with songs i want. the other day i was searching for a movie i wanted to watch and i came across a site that said i needed to turn off my adblock plus to watch this movie, is said f**k this i’ll find this movie somewhere else and i did. i pay for my f**ken internet so i say everything on the internet should be free. and i don’t want people making money off of me either! i cite the hacker ethic “all information should be free”.

Bob Buttons
commenting at July 27th, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Since I’m seeing many comments debunking arguments that are pro-ad blocking, I felt the need to debunk one of the ones against it. I’ve looked over multiple discussions about this topic and there’s one thing mentioned in all of them that really bugs me. “If you don’t like the ads, don’t go to the site.” I understand the principle of it. It’s saying to not support a venue if you dislike their way of business. The problem is if you don’t block ads, you’re accepting whatever they have to offer before you have the ability to decline. A visitor with no blocker going to a new site is saying I’ll pay whatever outrageous prices you have (in the form of intrusive advertising) to view the content on your site. That visitor is then locked into that by opening the page. Ads of any and all kinds can show up anywhere without consent. Yes, the visitor can decide to not visit that site again, but not after their wallet (computer) takes an initial beating.

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