provenance: unknown

Is Ad Blocking Wrong?

A few observations about using software or other techniques to block ads from loading on web pages:

  • It's self-serving. (Users do it purely for their own convenience.)
  • It's not necessary in order to avoid ads. (Users could choose not visit advertising-supported websites, instead.)
  • It's harmful to others. (It forces web publishers to pay for the bandwidth to serve their content, while preventing them from earning advertising revenue from users who employ it.)

In other words, it's wrong.

Is it really as simple as that? Yes.

Blocking the ads on a web page is different from ignoring commercials on TV, for instance. It's different because the cost of broadcasting a TV program is fixed with respect to the number of viewers a show gets — increasing the number of viewers of a show doesn't raise the cost of broadcasting it. Each added user of a website, on the other hand, adds to the cost of publishing the site.

Moreover, web publishers are only paid for each ad their users request from their web servers. Since ad-blocking software works precisely by preventing a reader's computer from requesting the advertisement in the first place, it also prevents the web publisher from earning revenue from advertising, and visitors who use it add to the cost of publishing the site without contributing anything to the publisher in return.

An analogy may help:

Suppose a coffee vendor makes an arrangement with a number of other companies that are willing to pay him to use paper cups with their logos emblazoned on them, paying on a per-cup basis. Suppose furthermore that the vendor earns enough per cup that he can maximize his profits by not charging anything at all for the coffee (thereby increasing his total number of customers), and simply serving it in those paper cups, collecting all his revenue from their use.

Ignoring television commercials is analogous to accepting the vendor's cup of coffee and then ignoring or covering the ads on it. In this case, the vendor still earns revenue from his advertisers, as he intended by offering the coffee, and no harm is done.

Blocking ads on web pages, on the other hand, is the equivalent of bringing your own coffee cup and simply drinking vendor's coffee as if it were your own. It forces him to bear the cost of providing the coffee, and doesn't compensate him in any way.

In other words, blocking web advertising is roughly analogous to stealing. And that's why it's wrong.


Copyright ©2002 Matt Pfeffer


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