As a followup to his NY Times column on Adblock Plus, Noam Cohen ponders the morality of blocking ads. But many of his commenters suggest that this is not a moral or ethical issue: it is an economic one. If enough people choose to block ads, ad-supported websites will either go out of business or choose alternative business models.
This is relevant to web workers because we rely so heavily on free web content — and because many of us earn income directly or indirectly from online advertising. If the advertising model turns out to be unworkable given users’ penchant to turn off ads, we might all be the poorer for it.
On the other hand, if so many people find ads annoying rather than helpful, maybe we won’t be worse off with less advertising and different online business models. More direct payment mechanisms like subscription fees or per-article micropayments might become common. And those who make their work freely available anyway on the theory that attention is a form of currency will continue to make it freely available.
Many people using ad blockers only do so to avoid the most abusive ads: animations that assault your eyes, popups that invade your desktop, videos that play loudly without your consent, and trickery that lures you, such as an ad disguised as a dialog box. You could imagine an ad blocking browser extension that allowed only ads that met certain guidelines for nonabuse (for example, only unobtrusive text links or small, nonanimated graphics). Such an extension could be used by those who are not opposed to ads generally, only opposed to ads that don’t behave well.
What do you think: is ad blocking a market or a moral issue? And do you do it?