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The Collector

Is it immoral to block online ads?

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Would it be immoral to use ad-blocking software to block ad content on any given website? I've concluded that it would be, based on the principle of seeking the unearned, as many times ads are the main revenue generator for website owners. But I'm bringing it up because there are many here more well versed than I on the principles of Objectivism, and I would love to hear other thoughts – even if they are counter to my conclusion.

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Blocking ad's on the net is akin to muting the television whilst commercials are playing, it is not immoral seeing that it is largely a matter of what you perceive to be in your self interest. You may value the ad, you may not, regardless of whether site owners largely depend on ad income to sustain themselves it was their prerogative to put themselves at the risk of ad blockers by establishing the site, with full knowledge that they depended on ad income in the first place.

Edited by Patriot of Reason

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Blocking ad's on the net is akin to muting the television whilst commercials are playing, it is not immoral seeing that it is largely a matter of what you perceive to be in your self interest. You may value the ad, you may not, regardless of whether site owners largely depend on ad income to sustain themselves it was their prerogative to put themselves at the risk of ad blockers by establishing the site, with full knowledge that they depended on ad income in the first place.

After thinking about it a little more, I agree to an extent with what you say. In certain cases, ad-blocking is acceptable (though probably not sustainable if enough people do it, and said sites lose money as a result). I've done some research and found that some sites, in their terms of service, prohibit the use of ad-blocking software, so one would have to constantly be on the lookout for sites that present their content on such terms. In those cases, I would definitely consider it to be an immoral action – violating a contractual agreement.

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After thinking about it a little more, I agree to an extent with what you say. In certain cases, ad-blocking is acceptable (though probably not sustainable if enough people do it, and said sites lose money as a result). I've done some research and found that some sites, in their terms of service, prohibit the use of ad-blocking software, so one would have to constantly be on the lookout for sites that present their content on such terms. In those cases, I would definitely consider it to be an immoral action – violating a contractual agreement.

Agreed.

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I've done some research and found that some sites, in their terms of service, prohibit the use of ad-blocking software, so one would have to constantly be on the lookout for sites that present their content on such terms. In those cases, I would definitely consider it to be an immoral action – violating a contractual agreement.
This presupposes that there is an agreement, which then means that the parties are both aware of the terms (and one person willfully breaches the contract). There is no immorality in pursuing perfectly rational conduct that contravenes an unknown desire of the other party. The act would be immoral only if it is unavoidably known that this condition attaches to reading a web page on the site and that viewing any content on the page is prohibited except by agreement of certain terms. This is not the case in any of the instances that the CNET article links to, and in my experience is nonexistent.

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I just think of it as a matter of respect. It's disrespectful to enjoy someone's intellectual property in a manner that contravenes the way they intended it to be distributed/accessed. Sure they could put a notice on top of every page saying adblocking is prohibited under TOS but it would make the site ugly and only a tiny percentage of users would adblock anyway. It's kind if common sense that if they're giving away content for free then the idea is visitors see the advertisements which companies pay for.

Same goes for piracy and copyright violations - just show respect to the owner/creator. Would you pirate your best-friends music?

Although I've got to admit, browsing on the iPad with its inability to display Flash ads is a godsend ;-)

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I just think of it as a matter of respect. It's disrespectful to enjoy someone's intellectual property in a manner that contravenes the way they intended it to be distributed/accessed.
Perhaps, but the reality of online content is that users of pop-ups fire the first volley by attacking my computer in a way that contravenes my intention (to view their content without the attacks on my computer). The web-site manager shows a total lack of respect towards me and does not give me fair notice in advance that my computer will be subjected to attacks. The one context where I think the idea of "lack of respect" by the web-surfer is valid is a context that I have never actually observed: an entry page that requests viewers to allow popups on site, before viewing content. If I ever were presented with that option, I am almost certain that I would decline to enter the website.
Sure they could put a notice on top of every page saying adblocking is prohibited under TOS but it would make the site ugly and only a tiny percentage of users would adblock anyway. It's kind if common sense that if they're giving away content for free then the idea is visitors see the advertisements which companies pay for.
Well, perhaps we could do some market research, but I suspect that most people enable pop-up blocking. It's also common sense that if there's a way to block the obnoxious ads, then people do so, and advertisers know that and just don't care enough.

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Perhaps, but the reality of online content is that users of pop-ups fire the first volley by attacking my computer in a way that contravenes my intention (to view their content without the attacks on my computer). The web-site manager shows a total lack of respect towards me and does not give me fair notice in advance that my computer will be subjected to attacks. The one context where I think the idea of "lack of respect" by the web-surfer is valid is a context that I have never actually observed: an entry page that requests viewers to allow popups on site, before viewing content. If I ever were presented with that option, I am almost certain that I would decline to enter the website.Well, perhaps we could do some market research, but I suspect that most people enable pop-up blocking. It's also common sense that if there's a way to block the obnoxious ads, then people do so, and advertisers know that and just don't care enough.

Ah, pop-ups, I think they're a different matter because there's valid security/usability reasons to disable them, and yes I imagine most people/browsers do (by default even).

What I had in mind was browser plug-ins that strip all adverts from the page itself, ie. ones that appear alongside the text you're reading. I think the percentage of users with the savvy/motivation to install those adblocking plugins must be quite low, and those are the ones I consider disrespectful. Plus with the pop-up blockers, at least the website businesses have a chance to channel that advertising into a different place. With all out ad-blockers, they have no chance at all.

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Ah, pop-ups, I think they're a different matter because there's valid security/usability reasons to disable them, and yes I imagine most people/browsers do (by default even).

What I had in mind was browser plug-ins that strip all adverts from the page itself, ie. ones that appear alongside the text you're reading. I think the percentage of users with the savvy/motivation to install those adblocking plugins must be quite low, and those are the ones I consider disrespectful. Plus with the pop-up blockers, at least the website businesses have a chance to channel that advertising into a different place. With all out ad-blockers, they have no chance at all.

Like they have a chance with me anyway. I pay no attention to those ads, so they ate irrelevant to me. I'm not looking to buy a product or service when I seek information.

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What I had in mind was browser plug-ins that strip all adverts from the page itself, ie. ones that appear alongside the text you're reading.
Oh, okay; I gotta get me one of those. It's hard to imagine how they would work without messing up the content.

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My browser blocks popups and I use FlashBlock for security and performance reasons, but I don't use AdBlock or any of its variants. I used to, but I don't now. If there isn't a TOS requiring one to view ads, I don't think it's immoral to block them, but as someone who runs several ad-supported websites, I understand the difficulty of making much money with so many people blocking ads, and so when viewing another ad-supported website which I value, I want to pay for my access via the means they've made available—viewing advertisements.

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Like they have a chance with me anyway. I pay no attention to those ads, so they ate irrelevant to me. I'm not looking to buy a product or service when I seek information.

I'd hazard a guess that almost all Internet users feel the same way, but that's not what the advertisers are counting on. They still value the 'eyeball' of you seeing their ad, even If you think it's irrelevant. If that's all they want, why deny them? I've never used an adblocker (although sometimes I recode the page with the webkit inspector to disable any particularly obnoxious ads specifically) but I imagine they just show an empty box where the advert was supposed to be, preserving the rest of the layout.

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Most online-ads are not paid for on a visual basis.

Unless it is a popular site like Cnet where people would contend for that advertising area, ads are almost always paid for on a per-click basis.

That is to say that if I post ads on my website, I wont get paid anything unless people click on them. This would alter your premise regarding the ad-blockers.

Also, in my opinion, that is simply the risk you take. It is the same with any endeavor. If I start a railway company, there is no guarantee people will use my trains. If I offer them trains to places they wish to go and it is cheaper and more convenient than the alternative, then people will most likely use my services. If people choose to ignore the existence of my trains altogether, regardless of if it's in their own benefit, then that is their right.

Same goes for advertising in my opinion.

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Actually, most online ads pay for both impressions (views) and clicks. Clicks pay considerably more, and, at least with Google AdSense, the amount of money paid for each thousand impressions is based on your click through ratio for the day. The more people clicking, the more you get paid for those who just view.

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this is a hilarious question, I've never thought of it before.

After thinking about it a little more, I agree to an extent with what you say. In certain cases, ad-blocking is acceptable (though probably not sustainable if enough people do it, and said sites lose money as a result). I've done some research and found that some sites, in their terms of service, prohibit the use of ad-blocking software, so one would have to constantly be on the lookout for sites that present their content on such terms. In those cases, I would definitely consider it to be an immoral action – violating a contractual agreement.

this is a good point

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Ah, pop-ups, I think they're a different matter because there's valid security/usability reasons to disable them, and yes I imagine most people/browsers do (by default even).

What I had in mind was browser plug-ins that strip all adverts from the page itself, ie. ones that appear alongside the text you're reading. I think the percentage of users with the savvy/motivation to install those adblocking plugins must be quite low, and those are the ones I consider disrespectful. Plus with the pop-up blockers, at least the website businesses have a chance to channel that advertising into a different place. With all out ad-blockers, they have no chance at all.

This doesn't answer the original question, but I found it interesting. I was a member of a site that, in exchange for membership, ads were removed. Then, they changed their structure, removed that option, and I was suddenly bombarded with ads. I complained, requested my money back. They said, money will be refunded and we recommend you use an ad-blocker. I thought it was hilarious that the company rep was suggesting I use an ad-blocker, thereby reducing their earning potential.

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Most online-ads are not paid for on a visual basis.

Unless it is a popular site like Cnet where people would contend for that advertising area, ads are almost always paid for on a per-click basis.

That is to say that if I post ads on my website, I wont get paid anything unless people click on them. This would alter your premise regarding the ad-blockers.

Also, in my opinion, that is simply the risk you take. It is the same with any endeavor. If I start a railway company, there is no guarantee people will use my trains. If I offer them trains to places they wish to go and it is cheaper and more convenient than the alternative, then people will most likely use my services. If people choose to ignore the existence of my trains altogether, regardless of if it's in their own benefit, then that is their right.

Same goes for advertising in my opinion.

The risk they willingly take, IMO, is that you'll see their ad but be unaffected by it. That's different from the risk which adblockers introduce - that users might not see the ad at all. As noted elsewhere, they could make it an explicit breach of the TOS, in which case the adblocking viewer would be immoral through breach of contract, but in this age of unfettered piracy, it's futile. That doesn't mean we shouldn't play ball and show content providers some respect.

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