On the Morality of Ad-Blocking

In ancient times (the print newspaper era, about the 16th-17th century) the idea of advertising as a way of financially supporting media was invented*. People looked at whatever the print newspapers contained, and advertisers paid the newspapers for their inclusion of advertisements in their newspapers, thus keeping the cost to the consumer low. You couldn’t really automatically block the ads, but you could cover them up with spare paper and glue. Cutting them out would usually just cut out another story in the paper, so most people didn’t do that. Likewise, the radio era (about the 1920s) led to the rise of sound advertising. Again, people could skip the ads, but if they did, they might miss some of the actual programming, so most people didn’t. The same continued with the rise of television. The rise of the Internet, however, led to three things:

  1. The ability of users to automatically block ads without any effort.
  2. The rise of unskippable video ads (rarely used, but existent).
  3. The fusion of multiple pop-up, text and video ads on webpage sidebars, thus causing a maximum amount of intrusion to the viewer of content.

Today, on the most visited news sites on the Internet, the typical user using a typical web browser without any add-ons or tracking protection lists installed (e.g., Microsoft Edge today) would experience a morass of unwanted ads, slow loading times, and numerous tracking scripts having nothing to do with displaying content. Unless one is contractually obligated to do so, there is no reason to allow all those requests for information and advertising display to be fulfilled by your browser. It’s worse than useless -it takes up your bandwith, tracks your behavior without your desire, and displays you advertisements you won’t click on. The idea that all this gunk is necessary to fund the online content you need is nonsense -the most advertising-laden websites are precisely those which have the basest, most worthless, most sensationalist content on the Internet. On the other hand, those sites least dependent on advertising are also those least prone to descend into content whoredom (yes, even the occasionally awesome Slate Star Codex has sometimes descended to this, quite possibly due to its mild ad displays).

In fact, I strongly encourage you to use the Adblock Plus and NoScript add-ons for Firefox, Chrome, and (to be released) Edge and various cookie managers for all these browsers. For Internet Explorer, I strongly recommend you use the Tracking Protection Lists (excepting the Truste list, which is made by advertisers) in the IE gallery, as these are some of the only add-ons which work in both the Metro and Desktop modes and successfully block most trackers and ads on the web.

If you are not obligated to, why slow your browser down while using excess bandwith? I know ads exist on this site; I don’t get any money from them. Block them. If WordPress shuts down, I’ll move elsewhere. If I wanted money, I would have set up a donate button on this website for you to give me some. Though I might conceivably do this later, I simply don’t have the necessity for it now. There’s nothing wrong with a fundraising drive, just as long as the money is going to someone you know is worthy of it.

Ad-blocking is only immoral when it is explicitly prohibited as part of a contract.

*Yes, advertising also existed in the Helleno-Roman era, but printing didn’t exist at the time.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

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