bounding brokenness

Why ad blocking is not a moral dilemma

(These are my own views.)

A common meme doing the rounds these days is that blocking advertisements on sites that depend on it is immoral. I don’t believe so mainly because fundamental issues like user sovereignty and control override anything else, but some take the more practical stance that it hurts site owners. I don’t think this view is valid. Here’s why.
  • Web advertising is a relationship among three entities. It’s not just the user and the site owner who are part of it, it’s the advertiser too.
  • Using ad blockers means the user’s not interested in advertising in the first place. Clearly, if she were interested in viewing and clicking on ads, she wouldn’t be using an ad blocker. Saying that she should become interested in advertising is not a morally tenable position.
  • Loading ads without being interested in them hurts the advertiser. Assuming a cost-per-impression model, what would benefit the advertiser more: a thousand impressions to people, all interested in advertising, or ten thousand impressions to people, only 10% interested in them?
  • A user not interested in advertising has to “hurt” either of the other two in the relationship. Either the site owner is hurt because the user doesn’t load advertisements, or the advertiser is hurt because the user loads advertising that she was never interested in in the first place. Deciding which one is hurt can’t be left to either the owner or the advertiser because both have vested interests – so it has to be done by the user. I don’t think there’s a way to morally distinguish between the owner and the advertiser.
  • But what about visual impressions? The argument here is the mere sight of advertising, without a click-through, builds up brand recognition and is therefore of value to the advertiser. However, using this as the basis for some sort of normative argument (“you should subject yourself to advertising so that advertisers can build brand recognition in you!”) is basically advocating mind control, hence this isn’t morally tenable either.
Update: Speak of the devil. A Blogger message just popped up asking if I’d like to add advertising to my blog.