Thursday, August 06, 2015

Of Ethics and Ad Blockers

I installed the Adblock Plus extension for ChromeOS awhile back, for one reason and one reason only: The Libertarian Republic is so overloaded with ads that it slows my Chromebox to a crawl unless I block the ads.

Shortly after that, I re-thought the situation and decided to just remove TLR from my "daily crawl" for RRND material until and unless Austin Peterson gets right with Jesus on the ad overload thing. Unfortunately, I forgot all about Adblock Plus until this morning, when an interesting blog post from Christopher Burg jogged my memory.

Christopher's point is that ad blockers serve an important purpose above and beyond merely blocking ads: They also block malware that hitches rides on ads. Apparently this is becoming a real problem. Nonetheless, I turned off Adblock Plus once the post caused me to notice that I still had it running. Malware is way down my list of worries. I'm not saying that ChromeOS or the Chrome browser are immune, of course -- I can think of several nightmare scenarios -- but I'm reasonably confident that Google can intercept most malware and quickly nuke the rest.

Why did I turn off Adblock Plus? Simple: I think there's an implicit contract involved here. You put up a web page. That costs you something -- money if it's on your own paid web hosting, time and effort in any case.

If you're running ads on the page, you are charging me for viewing the content. The charge isn't a given amount of currency. The charge is my permission for you to insert ads into my visual space. I don't have to read them. I don't have to click on them. I don't have to pay attention to them at all. But blocking them is, to my mind, a little bit like shoplifting.

Yes, ads can be inconvenient. The checkout line at my local grocery store can be inconvenient too. But I don't get to bypass it and walk out with my milk, bread and coffee just because it's inconvenient.

Of course, Burg addresses this:

Many websites rely on advertisements for revenue so they understandably get upset when users visit their pages while using ad blockers. But their revenue model requires their users put themselves at risk so I don't have any sympathies. If you run a website that relies on ads you should be looking at different revenue models, preferabl[y] ones that don't put your users in harm's way.

Well, OK. Maybe their revenue model does put their users at risk. Maybe they should be looking at different revenue models. Be that as it may, my legitimate option for dealing with the risk is to not point my web browser there. Just as, if my grocery store's way of doing things puts me at risk, my legitimate option for dealing with the risk is to not shop there, rather than to take the milk, bread and coffee home without paying for it.

I'm willing to be convinced to see this another way. In fact, not just willing, but interested. I'd love to be able to run an ad blocker without believing that I'm initiating force by doing so. Please feel free to take your best shot.

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