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Ask Slashdot: To AdBlock Or Not To AdBlock? 716

Posted by Soulskill
from the ethics-of-free dept.
conner_bw writes "Is there an acceptable compromise to behavioral targeting? On the one hand, I don't want to be profiled by unscrupulous advertisers. On the other hand, I feel that the advertiser is the middleman between the things I care about (content) and the dollars that support those things. My compromise is to take a page out of BF Skinner's book, Walden Two, and view the situation as a sort of absurd behaviorist experiment. Basically, I Adblock everything, but whitelist the sites I support. Is this too much? Not enough? What should individuals do protect themselves, if anything at all?"
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Ask Slashdot: To AdBlock Or Not To AdBlock?

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  • sometimes ... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:08PM (#41075819)

    Text ads, fine
    images, fine for now (the increasing use of caps on "unlimited" plans may change this in the future)
    Punch the monkey, flash, talking, or auto start ads, block the shit of them

  • by shmlco (594907) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:21PM (#41075959) Homepage

    "Sites with less obtrusive or blatant ads will be more likely to get my business. If sites don't want me to visit with Adblock turned on, I won't visit. "

    So less obtrusive or blatant ads don't matter at all. You seem to block everything, regardless.

  • by Andy_R (114137) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:23PM (#41075969) Homepage Journal

    I react very negatively to adverts. The more a company puts it's message in front of me, the less likely I am to buy from them. I instinctively avoid products with heavy TV marketing campaigns, because they can't represent good value for money, given that the cost of the campaign comes out of the price I'm paying.

    So I adblock everything... and by doing so, I save advertisers from getting filed under 'I hate those irritating people and won't buy anything from them'. I'm more likely to buy from a company if I don't see their ads than If I do.

  • Don't block (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan541 (1032000) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:30PM (#41076029) Homepage

    I've never blocks ads. However I do block scripts and trackers, which as a consequence blocks a lot of ads anyway.

    I don't see why I should open a security vulnerability (client side scripting) just to read a webpage. However I don't have a problem with ads that aren't malicious but those seem to be getting fewer and fewer.

  • by russotto (537200) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:31PM (#41076051) Journal

    Imagine you are a bee, or a hummingbird. There are all these delicious flower full of yummy nectar... but around them is this icky, nasty, yellow pollen. The flower needs the pollen to be carried around to propagate the species... but you still don't want to get plant jism all over yourself. So you develop strategies to get the nectar without getting pollen on you. The plant, in turn develops strategies to get more pollen on you while not wasting as much precious nectar. No morality about it, it's just nature.

    (For the slow: the user is the bird or bee, the flower is the content provider, the nectar is the content, and the pollen is the advertisement.)

  • Re:My two cents... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Larryish (1215510) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {hsiyrral}> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:34PM (#41076075)

    Adblock is good for blocking annoying site headers or site images and to block the remote advertisers that it comes with by default in the subscription.

    I rarely block ads that adblock doesn't catch (such as those hosted on the same server as the website) unless it is a cycle-stealing piece of shi^H^H^Hflash.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:40PM (#41076123) Journal

    I'm not sure advertising is "evil,"

    It doesn't have to be evil to be bad.
    Instead of binary good or evil questions, we should be asking if it's in the public interest
    and whether or not the benefits outweight the negatives.

    Don't forget that advertising is commercial speech, which can be limited.

  • by garett_spencley (193892) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:47PM (#41076177) Journal

    ... is advertising that doesn't come across as advertising.

    People who say they loathe advertising in any form actually just loathe the bad advertising; the advertising that detracts from what you're trying to do and immediately screams "this is an advertisement, I'm here to interrupt you in some way in the hope that somehow it will get you to buy something even though I've pissed you off."

    A few years ago I received an unepxected phone call on my wife's cellphone from a company offering a CDN service. At first I was really pissed off that this company had reached me in such an inappropriate manner ... but the guy on the other end didn't try to sell me anything and the conversation was unlike any telemarketing call that I had ever received. It was personal and appealed to my geeky curiosity (CDNs were very new at the time, the only companies that were using them were heavy traffic movers like Yahoo, so I wanted to know how it worked), it was offering me a solution to a problem I had at the time and the conversation was very informal. Within a minute or two I was actually asking him questions, and that's how it works. And to top it off when I told the guy I wasn't going to buy from him he chuckled and said "I'm not trying to sign you up today, don't worry." It kept me on the phone. I didn't buy but I was impressed enough that if I had chosen to purchase a CDN service within the next little while I probably would have given them a second look.

    I still don't like people phoning me, and I think there are far better ways to reach out to people, but everything that transpired within that phone call was an example of marketing done in the right direction.

    I'm self-employed, running a high-traffic web-site that generates money via ad revenue for 11 years now, and the people who visit my web-site have no idea that the entire site is one giant advertisement; in fact, people have complimented and praised me for not having any ads on the site. And yet when fellow webmasters in the same industry as myself share their sales and conversion stats I always get a big smile on my face. Their sites are crawling with blatant advertisements and they need 2 to 5 times the traffic to generate the same revenue. I've never understood how pissing off your customers can be regarded as any form of business model.

    I think the best well-known type of advertisement that's going in the right direction is product placement. It can be done poorly, yes and I know I am about to get a bunch of replies from people telling me that they always notice it and it ruins the program etc. But it *CAN* be done in a subtle way that blends with the program and does not detract, to the point where the viewer does not notice or care.

    But I think the real way to do "advertising" is provide a value to the viewer as the advertisement itself. Imagine an hour long infomercial on television that was entertaining and/or informative enough to get you to watch it for it's own sake, with no intention of buying anything. Remember that "punch the monkey" ad that was on every single web-site a decade ago ? Imagine if that had actually been a real game that you could play. No pushy-ness what-ever. Not shoved in your face and not done as a banner / flash ad. Instead, something people genuinely wanted to play, with an entertaining sales pitch as part of it. Good advertising can be done, and occasionally is. We just don't notice because we're too distracted and pissed off at the "BOO!!! HAHAH! THIS IS ADVERTISEMENT! YOU WILL BUY NOW LOLZ!"

    I've practiced "magic"/illusion-performance as a hobby for a few years and in reading/studying I've learned that corporations will often hire magicians at trade-shows to pitch new products to retailers. Some of the better magicians have crafted entire 20-minute magic routines around the product they're hired to pitch. It's entertainment and people want to watch it for that purpose alone, but it's also an advertisement.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:50PM (#41076195)

    In my opinion, I think advertisers (and other personal data-gathering companies) need to be more transparent and open about what info they collect.
    What I want:
    - Let me know EXACTLY what you collect about me.
    - Let me choose what you collect.
    - Let me know how you process that data (e.g. if you use my data for personality tests and such that tells you more about me than I've told you myself, and what you learn about me this way).
    - Let me have you delete my personal data at anytime after you have collected it.
    - Let me know who you share all that data with.
    - Let me make you not share my data with specific groups, people and companies.

    Advertisers could set up a website where we volunteer personal data and retain full control over it. Targeted advertising can be good for customers, hey I'd love to know about products that might interest me. The issue is the control I retain over my data.

    But somehow, advertisers collect data about us behind our backs and work hard to keep us from knowing about it - this is suspicious. They can claim targeted advertising is good for us, and done properly I'm sure it is, but as long as they refuse to be open and co-operate with the customers then I will doubt that they really have our best interests in mind.

    Now what does this have to do with Ad Block?
    I realize websites rely on ads to keep running and I want to help. However, the way advertising is done right now, it does not satisfy me at all.
    I could suck it up and unblock ads anyway, for the sake of the websites I like, but that will never solve the problem. On the other hand, if enough people block ads, advertisers will be forced to change their methods. And the innocent websites who suffer while we block ads? Well they should be pushing for advertisers to be more transparent.

  • Re:Everything (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:54PM (#41076231)

    Way back in the day, some legitimate companies tried to use newsgroups to advertise. It did not go so well. They underestimated the concept of unmoderated uncontrollable feedback.

    About the OP question, should he unblock ads from companies he likes, my answer is no, cut out the middle man and just buy their products. Seeing their ads means nothing to them if you are not actually buying their products.

  • Re:Everything (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tftp (111690) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:07PM (#41076329) Homepage

    So what's the business model you'd prefer then?

    1. Personal Web sites with projects, ramblings, writings and stuff
    2. Noncommercial Web sites existing as a free service in a paid membership (
    3. Commercial Web sites that directly sell products ( for example)
    4. Commercial Web sites that advertise products made by the company in question (
    5. Commercial Web sites that are useful enough so that users subscribe to them (some newspapers; Toyota's service manuals)
    6. Commercial Web sites that allow public access to information on a lesser level than the paid access (Reuters can publish week-old news for free, and charge newspapers an arm and a leg for instant news)
    7. I'm sure there are other viable scenarios.

    I personally have a Web site where I sell a commercial product and where I offer free products (GPL designs.) There are no ads on my Web site, and no trackers (except Google Analytics ... I guess I should remove that.)

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:25PM (#41076489)

    Advertising is evil

    That's a significant overreach, you can't know to buy a product without some advertising to tell you it exists.

    But if an ad is worth hosting, you can host it yourself, not have some 3rd party ad company do it for you, that's rife for abuse. If you want to have advertising on you can host the images text etc. on servers, and that means I hold you responsible for those ads. If they're sketchy, have pop ups or whatever, you approved it, you host it, it's on you. If some company wants to have the ads available for auction and you take the ad from their site and paste it into your server, then you approved it, you host it, it's on you.

    That still means I want to control what code of any sort runs on my machine, so no ads that use flash or javascript, ever, and things like that, but for anyone making any money in this business you can afford to host your own ads.

    Fundamentally this isn't an 'advertising is evil' problem, it's a 'advertisers are evil' and we need to limit their business models to minimize the damage they do while at the same time still allowing the legitimate need for a company to tell the world what it's products are and what they do.

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:29PM (#41076529)

    1 cent per page? I would owe $10 a day with that model. $300/month and close to $4000 a year. No. I much prefer the advertising that gives me free internet (also TV and radio). The alternative would be something like the BBC, where I'd have to pay $230 a year to watch NBC. $230 a year to watch ABC. $230 a year to watch CBS. And on and on and on. Pretty soon I'd have a $2000 bill just to watch television I currently get for free. (Add another $1000 to get cable.)

    No I prefer the ads. And believe it or not some of those ads are useful.... like the one that told me Dominoes has 50% off pizza. Or the one advertising the "Grimm" DVD. I discovered a new show. Or the one that informed me Volkswagen has finally released a diesel-powered Beetle. I was looking for a car and now I'll have one.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:50PM (#41076693) Homepage

    The big problem with ads is that sites keep increasing the number of ads per page or per unit time until the number of users drops off substantially. CBS actually admitted that they cranked up the number of commercials on their on-line shows until the usage started to drop.

    There are limits to this, as Myspace found out the hard way. At some point, users revolt and go elsewhere. Facebook seems to be following Myspace in that regard, as "sponsored stories" and larger ads chew up more of the screen. Google started with small blocks of ads on the right of search results, but now there are ads at the right, top, and bottom of search results.

    As a counter to that, I did Ad LImiter [], which is a reaction to Google and Bing putting too many ads and paid results on search results. You get to select how many ads you want to see per page. The default is 1. You can set it to zero, but one Google ad is often useful. Think of it as moderation, applied to advertisers.

    I'd like to see more tools like that. It would induce advertisers to produce better, more relevant ads, if they were competing against other ads for some criterion beneficial to the user. Google selects the ads to show based on an algorithm designed to optimize Google's revenue. This is not necessarily optimal for either user or advertiser.

  • by RandomFactor (22447) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @10:12PM (#41076847)

    There are a few things it would be nice for Google to remember

    -review -expertsexchange -directory ...

  • by Dputiger (561114) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @10:19PM (#41076905)

    It mystifies me that so many intelligent people are so wrong about where content comes from. I'm an online journalist. I've been an online journalist for 11 years. Advertising revenue is what pays the bills.

    Blocking ads isn't immoral. It doesn't make you a bad person. But if everyone did it, a whole heck of a lot of websites wouldn't exist. This point stands regardless of what anyone thinks of my content or the content at websites I've written for. If you like a website because it publishes solid, well-researched articles, those articles take time and money to create. Good journalism takes time and money to create.

    If you block ads and *don't* subscribe or cut a check every so often, than yes, that's a problem. There are stories that don't get written because investigating them is too costly. It sucks to be in a situation where you've got your hands on something interesting, but you literally can't afford to follow it up. Opting out of advertising has an impact on sites you care about.

    And for the record? I hate ads, too.

  • Re:Irrelevent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JohnSearle (923936) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @10:20PM (#41076915)
    If this is the case, then adblock just needs the option to download the content for the ad, but not display it. The websites get the cash, and the advertisers aren't aware that their content never actually reached the public.
  • by BradleyUffner (103496) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @10:30PM (#41076975) Homepage

    I block Javascript across the board, but all static images are allowed through. If your site displays the ads as static images that do not require any javascript then I'm fine with your ads and don't mind if I see them. I'm actually pretty shocked at how few ads I actually see given that plain old images are allowed.

  • Re:No bad conscience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trawg (308495) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @11:07PM (#41077177) Homepage

    We run a website about video games. 100% of our revenue comes from online advertising. From our statistics when using Google AdWords, somewhere between 1-3% of users on a typical day will click on an ad.

    Just like spam, there is a tiny percentage of people that do see some value in whatever is put in front of their face. There's this overwhelming trend on Slashdot that goes "well, I've never clicked on an ad, therefore, noone else has". People click on ads. People buy products based on ad clicks. This is how Google make money. This is how Google's ad customers sell products.

    Just because you don't click on an ad - IMHO - doesn't mean you should just block all ads for ever. Small sites like us that work really hard to provide useful content and services that depend on advertising depend on these ad delivery numbers to drive ad sales and generate revenue.

    Why haven't we got a system where people can pay to opt out? Well, we're working on that. But I want to keep the website free. I think the tradeoff - a few hundred milliseconds of page load time, a few hundred KB of bandwidth, plus maybe the tiniest percentage of your attention possible (maybe even zero) means we can continue to deliver stuff to you and other users, for free.

  • by plover (150551) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @01:23AM (#41077875) Homepage Journal

    Well, there's a marketing aspect that's definitely not in my best interest, and that is google analytics and other trackers. Combined with data from, or any participating merchant site, It can tell a marketer not only what I bought and how much I paid for it, but more importantly which sites I went to before I pulled the trigger. It can tell them exactly what searches and browsing patterns led me to this decision. If I searched for "water heater 50 gallon warranty sucks forum", attempting to find out what people think when they have warranty troubles, then read they'll happily sell that data to an SEO marketer who then salts the top listed forums with shills posting useless crap like "My 50 gallon WetWillie 2000 water heater has a great warranty, and it doesn't suck." It poisons my ability to do a search I can trust to be somewhat independent of the planted lies.

    So I use NoScript, Ghostery, and AdBlock Plus to block scripts, trackers, social networking links, flash, and ads which all serve the same purpose of assisting marketers to anticipate my moves. I won't even consider IE or Chrome, as neither offers effective privacy extensions. And I've even stopped using Google as my primary search engine, instead preferring As far as I can tell they're trying to be honest, which sadly isn't saying much. But at least they're not Google.

    I used to care more about denying ad revenue to sites, but I got over it once crap like XSS and CSRF attacks started trickling through advertisers on otherwise respectable sites. Do I feel guilty? Well, I still tithe Slashdot a few times a year. I'll click on Amazon referrer links to buy books from authors I like. And I do not install ad blockers for anyone else, nor do I tell non-technical people how to do it. They can do all the monkey punching they want, go support the ad bandits, do whatever. I'll happily let them foot the bills I am no longer willing to pay.

  • Re:My two cents... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheCarp (96830) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @10:16AM (#41080679) Homepage

    Did people who bought refridgerators hurt the ice men?

    Just because somebody comes up with a scheme for monetizing what he does, which is based on what he expects me to do, doesn't mean I am somehow required to do what he expects me to do.

    Its up to my browser how a page is rendered, what elements get loaded, what don't, what the format is. That was the agreement from day 1 on the web. Its how the entire client-server model works. They exchange data, and either side does with it as he pleases.

    Advertising is based on commonly correct, but utterly unfounded ideas about how clients will render websites, including that they will load just anything they are pointed to. Clearly a falsehood, in this day.

    Its wrong to conflate liking someoneone or liking what they do, with having some obligation to help them do it in the way that they want. Maybe my business model is to hand out free roses to people by the side of the road, in exchange for which I expect people to freely donate to me all of their worldly wealth and posessions. Will you comply with my expectation just because I handed you a flower?

    Why is that absurd but its not absurd to think you can continually give people content they don't want, and expect them to look at it? Would we say the same about the people who skip the ads in the newspaper? Or people who use the grocery circulars that are mailed to them to line bird cages instead of reading them?

    These people have decided to fund themselves based on unwarranted assumptions.... then complain when their assumption doesn't pan out.

    Personally tho...I don't block ads execpt what noscript + requestpolicy blocks (which is alot) but, when i see ads, I take a whole different take. I figure, I should click on the ads I don't like...that way the people running them get to pay more to support the sites that i like....

    Then they target me for more ads that offend me.... more clicks...more support. Support Obama? Click! Support Romney? Click.

  • Re:My two cents... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheCarp (96830) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @01:32PM (#41083413) Homepage

    > Silly analogy.

    Care to explain why? It was intended to be silly, because it illustrates the point. If you give something away for free, you relinquish any and all control over what a person does with it, and leave them free to do what they want, which may be benficial to you, or not. I see no reason why this should suddenly be different online.

    Furthermore, its only a slight exageration. There is, in fact, a woman near us who sits by the train station offering up roses and asking for donations. My wife took a rose and dropped a $5 in the donation box, to which the woman had the gall to reply "Don't you have a twenty?"

    > As part of the tacit agreement you make as a reader

    Tacit agreement? What are the terms of this tacit agreement? So if a site has no ads today, and I seek it out tomorow, does that mean they have changed the agreement?

    Thats the probolem with implied agreements, anybody can claim they exist and claim what their terms are. Sounds entirely unreasonable to me. Just because they based their business model on unwarranted assumptions about what my client, running on my machine would do with their data.

    Certainly, implied agreement makes sense in many case. If I go to a resteraunt and order food, I am agreeing to pay the price on the menu. If I make a doctors appointment, i am agreeing to pay his fees for said appointment.

    This is no such thing... a website may or may not link elsewhere, may or may not get paid for some of those links depending on technical details of how they load etc. I have no way of knowing, before I request it, where it is linking, what data it is going to ask me to send to whom, whether the people I am sending it to are tracking me etc.

    On top of that, there are already several EXPLICIT agreements, known as RFCs. They indicate how data is sent, the format of the data, etc. Its pretty clear from the explicit agreements that the browser is responsible for the rendering, and for deciding what elements to render and how to render them.

    I say those explicit agreements trump any implict ones, especially when those implicit ones ask for nearly unlimited trust.

    > It is technically possible for me to obtain and use your credit card information for my own benefit. Is
    > it legal? Is it ethical? Absolutely not.

    And you say my analogy is silly.... what does downloading and rendering of publically available information have to do with obtaining access to privileged information that you are not authorised to have?

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