Ad-blockers are small, self-explanatory bits of software that have been around for ages – preventing countless numbers of adverts from being displayed on the websites of those who make use of them every day.
In the past few weeks, a debate has been ignited over this practice, with the wildly successful ‘Peace’ app being pulled from download by its creator just days after its release – supposedly having undergone a change of heart.
Advertisers and publishers are understandably unhappy at the number of people who choose to block their adverts, even going as far as to call the act itself ‘immoral’ – equating the consumption of content for free with theft.
I was challenged by a colleague in a discussion about the issue when I said that I had been using ad-blocking software for years. It was something I’d never really stopped to consider in any sort of depth, and once I’d typed up my response I was encouraged to post it up here.
Before we go on, I should say that this isn’t really about the legitimacy or otherwise of ads themselves, but the use of ad-blockers specifically. You’ll probably note that there ads on this site, for example. As far as I’m concerned, ads have their place, and you can completely consistently choose to monetise content with them whilst also simultaneously respecting the decision of others to block them. With that disclaimer out of the way, here we go.
Why I use ad-blockers
- Adverts are intrusive – Online adverts dilute the experience of the website you are trying to visit, and often interfere with being able to view the content itself. When I want to read an article, I don’t want a giant flashing banner to distract me from what I’m doing – not to mention provide a massive headache.
- A dark history – Is it any wonder that people can’t stand adverts, and seek to block them where possible, when we’ve been subjected to pop-ups, pop-unders, scrolling flash adverts, and sneaky malware for the past decade plus? Adverts had their chance, and they screwed it up. The day that browsers implemented popup blocking was a wonderful day. Blocking ads completely is just the next natural step.
- Blocking online behavioural tracking – This is related to the above, but in a different way. Not only have ads interfered with the operation of our devices, but now we find out that they have been tracking our moves across the web, building up profiles that they can then sell on to third parties. Uhm, nope.
Why I don’t feel bad about it
- Ethics – Without going into some elongated discussion about moral relativism, the suggestion that somehow blocking ads is ‘unethical’ or ‘immoral’ is one that I find massively distasteful, and frankly ridiculous. It seems to me that if anybody is going to throw the first stone in an ethics discussion, then the advertising industry should remember the glass mansion that they’ve built for themselves.
- Information should be free – I am aware of the many and varied caveats, exceptions, and qualifications to this, but in principle I subscribe to the ideology that information and knowledge should be free.
- I’m not going to buy your stuff, however ‘relevant’ it is – One argument is that ‘if only ads were relevant, then this wouldn’t be an issue!’. To me, that misses the point. The issue isn’t about how relevant or otherwise the ads are; it’s about the fact that the ads exist in the first place. In order to actually get really ‘good’ ads (if there is such a thing) that people will click on, it requires a massive amount of profiling.
- I didn’t agree to pay for your content – I reject the idea that by simply visiting a website to read content that has been made publicly available, that somehow I have agreed to finance its operation. Just because advertisers and publishers have chosen to hang their existence on one specific kind of economic model, does not mean that I am obliged – either legally or morally – to support it.
- Public space – Fundamentally, I resent the increasing ingression into public, communal spaces by capitalist entities. On the web, at least I can control my exposure to the constant barrage of advertisements, and limit their effects. I will choose whether or not to block unsolicited adverts that are transmitted to my device, and I think that is my right.
- I will choose who and how I support financially – In years gone by, before publications moved online, people would refuse to support certain ones (such as the Daily Mail) by simply not purchasing their paper. Now, it can be almost impossible to tell the source of a link without clicking on it first. URL un-shortening services exist, but they are cumbersome and impractical. One of the big reasons I use ad-blockers is because I refuse to inadvertently finance publications with reprehensible editorial positions.
The relationship we have with information, and the media/publishers has been completely transformed. It’s something I have seen first hand, with good friends losing their jobs as photographers due to the democratisation of that industry. It’s something I don’t actually have an issue with. Content doesn’t stop getting created just because the professionals of olden days are no longer getting the financials they were previously – we’ve seen that in the music industry. It just means that the kind of content, the source, and people’s ability to rely on it as a full time occupation changes. Ideologically this is something that I’m comfortable with.
To finish, here’s the question that sparked all of this thought-process off, and my tl;dr response:
Do you feel like you’re supporting the publishers whose content you’re consuming?
No, but I reject the premise that there’s any sort of obligation or moral requirement to. Infact, I purposefully choose not to support many publishers on purpose. If I want to support them financially, then I’ll do so in other ways.