Is online advertising too invasive?

A digital battle of wits began last week reigniting a much debated topic: are ad blockers ethical? On the 9th of August news broke that Facebook had begun circumventing Adblock Plus on its desktop website. For those paying attention this would come as no surprise given that advertising makes up 80% of the platform’s revenue. In fact, Facebook generated over $6bn from advertising in the last quarter alone.

When conducting research into why people use ad blocking software, Facebook found that 69% of users find ads disruptive to their browsing experience. In an attempt to make ads less irritating for users they began disguising them as organic content, which in turn makes it harder for ad-busting extensions like Adblock Plus to do their job.

The Adblock Plus community was not happy with the changes and responded within days by developing a work-around and re-blocking Facebook’s effort. But just a few days later Facebook found a way around Adblock’s update and implemented new code to block ads. This back and forth is likely to keep going until one party loses the will to fight or runs out of resources.

Amid the sound of the big guys fighting, it’s easy to forget about the little guy, the most important guy: the user. Shouldn’t we have the right to block ads if we want to, no matter what website or social network we are on?

We all love the internet, but would we still feel the same way if all of the entertaining and informative content vanished over night? Advertising revenue goes towards paying for that content, ensuring that creators such as writers, photographers and film makers can afford to pay their rent between projects. By blocking ads we are taking money out of the advertising industry resulting (in theory) in less great content to consume and the crushed dreams of jobless creative people everywhere. In fact, according to Juniper Research, publishers can expect to lose $27bn by 2020 if people continue to use ad blockers.

It was for this reason that Marco Arment decided to remove his hit ad blocking app from the App Store last year within just 36 hours of it reaching the number one spot. He goes in to more detail over on his blog in a post titled “Just doesn’t feel good”.

So what about the argument for ad blockers; why would anyone choose to block, knowing the negative impact it could have on the internet as a whole? There’s no denying that online advertisements can be downright frustrating. From the pop-ups that appear when you try to navigate away from a blog, to the 30 second commercials at the beginning of your favourite YouTuber’s new video, but intrusion isn’t the only reason that blockers block. Denying ads can speed up your mobile browsing experience, save battery life and mobile data and even prevent trackers from gathering your data, thereby adding an added element of security.

The problem with online advertisements is that they can often make us feel like we are being spied on. Being tracked and targeted with ads feels dishonest and sly, so users can be forgiven for opting for an extra layer of privacy when given the choice. As one Adblock Plus community member said; “If a product is free then you are the product. Think about what Facebook is selling”. Should it be up to us to foot the bill?

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