Friday, June 13, 2014

Is it ethical (or even legal) to use Ad Blocking software?

   I began using a product called Adblock Plus (ABP) a while back when I had finally had enough of the obnoxious ways many websites choose to display their ads. One of the worst offenders is the local newspaper (see screen capture below). I got tired of having the page jump/scroll up and down (as ads opened and closed) or cars driving across the page while I'm in the middle of reading an article.
   Then there was the problem with Yahoo's ads delivering malware to its visitors. I decided to fight back and installed ABP. Now online life is so much more pleasant. However, as someone who receives ad revenue I find myself being somewhat hypocritical. I like the idea of not being bombarded by advertising, yet I don't want anyone blocking the ads on my Youtube videos, or on this blog page for that matter.
   So that got me to thinking... By my use of ABP am I being unethical? Am I breaking some kind of law? Since I'm blocking ads, therefore denying the website revenue, could that be considered "theft of services" or something? Or, is it a type of self-protection, or maybe even civil disobedience? I don't mind ads in general, but let's face it, some websites have gotten carried away with it. It has gotten to the point where instead of it being "content with some advertising" it has become "advertising with some content". I no longer click on any "article" that touts things like "Top Ten things to do in Austin" because I have learned that I am going to be bombarded with ads as I read "item #1" and then be forced to click a link (and wait for a whole new page to load) just so I can be bombarded with more ads as I try to read "item #2". I rarely make it to item #3.
   Although, not all advertising is obnoxious and obtrusive and ABP recognizes that and allows some forms of advertising through their "firewall". Their website even states: 
"Adblock Plus exists to save its users from annoying ads. However, we don't think that all ads are bad, and we are fully aware that website owners need them to survive. Therefore, we have established strict criteria to identify Acceptable Ads: unobtrusive ones that don't need to be blocked."
   While they make a good case for justifying their product - they convinced me - it could just as easily be said "if you don't like the ads, then don't visit the pages." And that is true - to some extent. However, there are caveats, and instead of reinventing the wheel, I will just point you in the direction of the FCC and regulations it has imposed on radio and television advertising. For example, the 2010 "CALM" Act passed by Congress combats those overly loud TV commercials which sent everyone scrambling for the remote. I'm not a big fan of government regulation, but sometimes it is a necessary evil.
   In the meantime, I think I will keep using Adblock Plus (and another little plugin called "Ghostery") to keep my web browsing a little more under my own control and to avoid crap like this: