Ad Blockers – Stealing or User Right?

ad_blocker_speedtestLast week Steven Goetz and I were doing some network performance testing and we happened to send each other screenshots of our results on the Ookla Speed Test Site. I was immediately floored by something. While my screenshot had 13 separate ads on the page, his was showing only 3. He was running the Ad Blocker extension in his browser, and I was not.

Of course I’d heard about ad blockers in the past but I had purposely avoided them because I do understand that ads are how virtually all of the awesome content we have available to us is paid for. I’ve always felt that we shouldn’t use them because otherwise we’ll start seeing more paywalls and gone will be “free” content.

I remember a long time ago Lynn York wrote to me and told me that she couldn’t see the Amazon Affiliate link I kept yapping about. I told her it was in the upper left on podfeet.com but she couldn’t see it. That’s when she realized her ad blocker might be blocking my Amazon Affiliate link. She whitelisted my site and sure enough there was the link.

This got me thinking about ads and ad blocking and I wanted to sort of talk out loud to you guys about it. I am completely split in half on the issue. I can easily argue both sides of this issue without any outside help.

I heard Steve Kovach of Tech Insider on Leo Laporte’s TWiT show say that turning on ad blocking is “almost like stealing”. I think that’s a load of what comes out of the back of a cow. Is it stealing if you DVR a TV show and fast forward through the commercials? Jason Hiner of CBS Interactive who was also on TWiT talked about the social contract we have with content creators, but I think the content creators violated the contract first. Yes, like a petulant child I’m saying “THEY started it!”

In the old days of a link here, a graphic there for a product on a page, we didn’t bother with ad blockers. The ads weren’t that bothersome. Of course we’d rather have gotten a clean look with just the content we’d asked for but we could at least stand the ads.

Nowadays the ads have gotten so horrific that it’s actually stressful to surf some sites. In the same episode of TWiT where Kovach called us thieves, Georgia Dow said that the ads of today are actually “emotionally damaging” to us. Kovach scoffed at this but I think Georgia makes some sense.

Let me give you my favorite example. I’m a fan of Wired, and they often post great links early in the morning when I first get up. I read Twitter on my iPad, and if I click a link to Wired, I’ll be able to read about 2 lines of the article, and then suddenly the entire screen is taken over by an ad. That’s bad, but what’s worse is that I can’t close the ad. The iPad is natural in a landscape orientation and the X in the corner is ONLY visible in portrait mode. Every day I would get angry and grumble about it. I don’t know if I was emotionally damaged but I don’t thing getting angry at things is healthy. Instead of letting this continue to damage me, I chose to stop following links that go to Wired articles.

As the ads get more and more intrusive, as Dow says, chasing you around on the screen and blinking and auto-playing, the only way we can continue to get content without harm to ourselves is to resort to ad blockers.

Now let me talk out of the other side of my mouth. One of the main ways the NosillaCast stays afloat is the Amazon Affiliate link on my site. It’s sort of an ad, but in reality it’s there so you can do what you were going to do anyway, which is shop at Amazon, but by going through my link a small percentage goes towards the production of the show. Do I continue to use this link and just hope the NosillaCastaways are tech savvy enough AND generous enough with their time to whitelist my site in order to send some revenue my way to pay for web hosting? Good question.

I really appreciate Dick Nelson who wrote to me recently about this. Being a fellow geek he did some investigation on why he couldn’t see my Amazon Affiliate link. He runs both Ghostery and Ad Blocker and so he eventually sorted which one was blocking it. Through his investigation though I came to appreciate the second reason people block ads, and that’s for privacy reasons. I’m sure you’ve noticed that you can search for a camera lens and for weeks everywhere you go you’ll see that lens EVERYWHERE, even if you already bought it. That’s the joy of tracking cookies.

Dick explained:

You seem to have about four trackers such as Google Analytics and Amazon Affiliates and that is understandable. My problem is that there are many sites that have 20, 30, and as many as 50 trackers on every page. I do have a problem with this. I don’t want all my personal browsing information sprayed all over the Internet to everyone that has a dollar to spend. Not only does this unknowingly share information about me with many companies, but it also wastes my time and bandwidth loading all the tracker information. Rant over.

I think Dick has a right to stop this from happening. Is he stealing like Steve Kovach says? I would suggest not. Dick pointed out that one of the trackers on my site is Google Analytics. This is pretty darn crucial to me because it’s how I prove that I AM somebody. For example this week I applied for a media badge for CES 2016, and I was required to prove my download stats with a link to Google Analytics. If everyone used an ad blocker and that stopped the trackers, then where would I be?

And then I put on my user hat again and I see that inane dancing belly fat ad and I want to scream! I’m reading a web page and I see those double underlines and I get stressed out because I’ll have to be VERY careful or giant popup ads will fly in my face if I accidentally hover over any of them.

I can sit here and have this argument all by myself since I definitely see both sides of the problem. As a user I think something has to change because the web is getting much less fun because of the annoying ads, and as a content producer I can see the side of making money for the content we produce.

I figured there was one thing I could to on my end, and that’s replace the ad on my site that Amazon gives me and instead use a static image with a link that takes you to Amazon. It’s definitely functioning as a way to get to Amazon and I sure hope I still get credit if you click on it! By the way, I had to choose something to pretend you’d searched for in the link so I chose Amazon Basics, but of course you can change the search once you get there.

Since I’ve had this argument with myself, I’d be curious what you guys think about this. Leave a content on podfeet.com, write an opinion piece on our Google Plus community at podfeet.com/googleplus, tweet me, Telegram me; any way you want to give me your opinion would great.

5 thoughts on “Ad Blockers – Stealing or User Right?

  1. Listener Lynn - September 5, 2015

    After I whitelisted podfeet, I used the link to go to Amazon and then added it as a bookmark on my bookmark bar. I call it Amazon-podfeet. I use that when I want to go to shop at Amazon. I can see in the url that it includes the podfeet info, so I think it is giving credit.

  2. Ricky - September 6, 2015

    Alison, I have no problem with blocking ad’s because the websites are not taking responsibility for the ad content that they are delivering. When I know that I trust the New York Times and I go to their site but they deliver an ad that is malicious they have no excuse to say it is not their fault. Until they can take responsibility for the all of the content they are delivering they have no right or moral ground to say or think that I am stealing their content. Just my 2 cents worth.

  3. podfeet - September 6, 2015

    That makes a lot of sense to me, Ricky. by the way, in Chit Chat Across the Pond this week Bart mentions an article that explains something worse yet about the NY Post: A researcher discovers that NyPost.com seems to be downloading, but not showing, video ads, presumably to generate illegitimate ad revenue, and in the processes, wasting users bandwidth and battery – just another example of how broken our current ad model is, and why Apple are including content filtering in their OSes – https://medium.com/@robleathern/the-mobile-video-ad-lie-938a6de51367

  4. BJ Wanlund - September 6, 2015

    Allison-

    I use ad blockers now almost exclusively on the Mac because the ads are seriously SO pervasive (especially the ones that COMPLETELY IGNORE the whole “popup windows automatically open a new tab” rule I have set in my web browser), and the privacy concerns are exactly why I use ad blocking. To say I am going to be personally THRILLED once iOS 9 comes out for full public consumption and the ad blockers can be on iOS too, because those ads that take you directly to the App Store and then throw you into whatever app page they decide to direct you to are… let’s just say they are annoying at best and slimy at worst.

    BJ

  5. Uncle Bob - September 7, 2015

    Wow, you’ve opened up an area that has so many directions to take. How far you want to go with this depends on how many layers of onion do you want to peal back. Just for argument’s sake let’s begin with the nature of advertising itself. For clarification let’s define advertising as propaganda. Propaganda for this purpose is neutral. It is nothing more than conveying information with the hope it catches your attention.

    Nearly all adults in this society have grown up with television and consider propaganda a daily essential phenomena that’s associated with nearly all transmitted media. We accept its use throughout our lives and allow it to infiltrate virtually all media. Most people don’t take second thoughts about how their lives are subtly manipulated unless you couch it another way. Many adults watch six or more hours of television daily. But when it’s pointed out that over 33% of that televised time is nothing but pure advertising propaganda, it translates for every six hours of TV, two hours are spent watching propaganda!

    Again, for the purposes of this discussion propaganda is neutral. Propaganda is useful for conveying information and societies use it continually to inform and manipulate people for both good and ill. In this greater sense propaganda is all encompassing and ever present in our lives. If we can agree with the above postulation then we can discuss other layers of the issue.

    It is fundamental human nature to want to control one’s environment is much as possible. Therefore it is a natural impulse to modify the amount and nature of propaganda that continually bombards our lives from the time we wake until the next sleep. That which helps us control propaganda such as DVR’s and ad blocking software benefits us in the sense that we can pair down the amount of propaganda we are continually flooded with. That helps the consumer but not the budding entrepreneur trying to sell the latest whatnot. There’s the conundrum—where is the balance between conveying useful information through an advertisement and our right not to be bombarded with useless info.

    Notice in the last sentence I used the word, “balance”. I believe our society today has lost balance in many ways. From a philosophical standpoint I think our society’s absorption in consumption has led to undesirable outcomes. We are trained from birth to ‘want’ to consume that which we normally would not. Capitalism thrives on consumption, and consumers buying and selling is just a phenomenon that’s integral to an economy. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve been saying for some time that railing against capitalism is like railing against the weather. Both are existential and we take shelter and protect ourselves from the extremes of both.

    The greater question is, what is the value of this form of propaganda? In our country it’s a billion dollar industry with as many hands in the trough grabbing as much as possible. That’s another problem with mankind—greed. I contend that we are an imbalanced country because we have allowed greed to settle in and be absorbed throughout its infrastructure. Until we look within and figure out what actually has value in REAL life, we will continue to be used as pawns in a game of greed. Something to think about. This doesn’t answer any questions about the nuts and bolts of how to make advertising workable, but it gives pause to think about where the nuts and bolts come from.

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