Saturday, March 27, 2010

Does using an ad blocker make someone a bad internet citizen?


My mom has been having trouble with internet pop-ups ads so just this morning, I recommended installing ad-block plus for her browser. I used it for years, stopped for some reason, and then just reinstalled it. But my best friend is skeptical of ad blocking. She claims that if advertisements bring websites the necessary money to exist, then users should allow them. (This is a version of the free rider problem, or the problem of the commons.) Furthermore, now that I run the institute and pay for online ads  -- the Art & Democracy film series, for example, incurs a lot of costs every month -- I know personally how blocking ads can impact an endeavor.

So, I am, once again, faced with a dilemma. At first I asked myself whether the question for this post should be whether blocking ads is immoral, but immoral is too strong a word. I do not think preventing ads from coming on one's screen is akin to stealing. (If you do, let us know why... I think it would be an interesting conversation.)  But it may very well be something like not voting, or not filling-out the census, or strolling on grass one is forbidden to walk on. It is part of the citizenship of the internet, and so I ask: does using ad-block make me a bad internet citizen?

Bonus question: 

Does the concept of "citizenship" even make sense in an internet context? I don't know that being an internet user is like being the member of a nation (or city, or state). Sure there are rights and responsibilities, but these come from the land that houses the server (or your terminal) and not from the internet itself. Also, there is no common governance of all the sites I visit. Each one is its own region with its own expectations. So, should I find a different word, or does citizenship apply in this case?

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2 comments:

  1. Pop-up ads are immoral, or at least bad net citizenship. So you and your mom are not dubious for blocking them.

    Blocking moving advertisements on sites might be more ambiguous. They are like those physical, irritating animated billboards at roadsides like the one UND has on Columbia. Not only irritating but also a minor traffic hazard (as they take your attention away from dialing on your cell (joke)).

    So what about i'net 'dancing bear' ads? That may be more ambiguous, but Mad Ave types do them simply because it distracts attention. Is it not fair for you to direct your attention where you wish and not have it forcefully re-directed?

    Is not the principle of web surfing that you want to read/see/hear the content of the site? Are not the people who put ads in intentiionally to deter your doing that at least as culpable as the person who blocks them?

    As background, with news, the really successful sites like the BBC do not have ads. The next level in web popularity, the Guardian does not seem to allow moving ads. Below the Guardian in popularity (according to Netcraft.com) is the NY Times which allows one in a fixed spot and seems to have some requirements as it is usually not very distracting.

    So I'd say that using something like ad-blocker is a moral imperative similar to avoiding your favorite bar when you discover that the owner is peddling meow-meow to make ends meet. (S)He is not quite illegal, but is such a scuzzbag that it is better to take your business elsewhere.

    Sites that use pop-up advertising and people who put up active billboards with ads designed to distract drivers deserve to have their efforts ignored, criticized, despised, and in the propertyless case of i'net, trashed.

    But, what do I know? I like Henry David Thoreau.

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  2. No website makes money on internet advertising. Well, except for the advertising companies obviously. But really, the money generated from internet advertising is pennies. You're not a bad citizen for blocking ads. There is no "problem of the commons" when it comes to advertising on the internet.

    Furthermore, security and privacy are the two biggest issues that most people don't realize when thinking about the internet. I think a better question might be: Is it really moral to use statistics and data in such a way as to manipulate people to buy products? That's how amazon makes so much money under the "More items to consider" section of their website. Data is gathered about your shopping habits. They then compare you to people who are statisically similiar to you and hold that against you. It's a remarkably effective sales tool and sadly there is no right to privacy. Add Block Plus just helps to make internet more user friendly.

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