Thoughts On The Ad-Blocker Fiasco: Is It Really Ok To Block Ads?

Unless you’ve been completely out of the online content loop for the past couple of weeks, you must know that ad-blocking recently took center stage after the ninth major iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, was released to the public, bringing with it the ability to install third-party web content filtering apps.

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Ad-blocking has been a serious issue for online publications for quite some time, causing a few to switch to subscription-based revenue models while others kindly asked readers to white-list their domains. However, news of ad-blocking apps selling like hot cakes on the iOS App Store, with a few taking top spots on the carts on the first day of the platform’s latest update, seemed to underline the urgency of the dilemma faced by publishers. Apple’s devices form a majority of the mobile market, after all. It was only natural that discussions regarding the ethics of the matter were rekindled.

Publications could have done a much better job using this opportunity to relay their side of the story to readers

Unfortunately, the articles seemed to die out as soon as they started, and in the humble opinion of this writer, publications could have done a much better job using this opportunity to relay their side of the story to readers, if only to help them better understand the value of online content and their need for ads. That’s not to say the other side of the story doesn’t have weight to it. Websites have been known to take undue advantage of incoming traffic with excessive or questionable placement of ads, creating an intrusive experience for content consumers.

Websites have been known to take undue advantage of incoming traffic

This naturally forces certain users to resort to ad-blocking solutions, disabling the only source of revenue for all websites they visit, that is, unless they manually enable ads for trusted websites. As it appears, it’s not that readers want to punish certain publications for excessive advertising, though. It’s just easier to block out every ad out there to speed up website load times, and more often than not, readers don’t seem to feel like they’re doing something wrong as the act is generally being categorized as a ‘right’ while ads are being seen as a threat to freedom of online content consumption.

Frankly, the only word fit to describe this notion is ‘absurd’, and just to make the following argument a little less blunt, let’s not consider reputable sites with reasonable ad placement. As someone who frequents a number of online publications several times each day, I completely agree that certain websites go overboard with their advertisements, and it might feel ‘just’ to cut off their only source of revenue.

In fact, I don’t see how it is any different from the universally loathed act of piracy

For all intents and purposes, however, it certainly is not. In fact, I don’t see how it is any different from the universally loathed act of piracy. After all, if you’re making use of something without paying the price set by its manufacturer, you are, in essence, stealing. Even if said analogy doesn’t strike home, the fact remains that any readers who are’t happy with the experience a site is providing have the option to leave the site. The result will be the same for the site owner, of course, but doing so will have given readers the right to critique the publication. See, blocking ads is one thing, justifying it is another.

Blocking ads is one thing, justifying it is another

If this view didn’t have its fair share of proponents, the developer of the top ad-blocking app on the iOS App Store wouldn’t have decided to take the app down. Desktop (and certain mobile) platforms have had ad-blocking apps and browser extensions (such as the popular Adblock Plus) for years. By now, these solutions have been downloaded and installed millions of times and caused many a website to speak out against their usage.

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Increasing search trend for ad-blockers

Publishers invest quite a bit of time, resources and talent into each piece of online content. Web-goers who understand and respect this would find the act of ad-blocking undoubtedly unethical. As far as malicious ad networks are concerned, one always has crowd-sourced services the likes of WOT (Web of Trust) to help one steer clear of danger.

Publishers Speaking Out Against Ad-Blocking

Ad-blocking has been highlighted as a potential site-killer by publishers way before the iOS 9 fiasco stood downwind. If sites generally respected for quality of content go so far as to display prompts or blockades asking for removal of ads, the problem is clearly severe. As for stats, here’s a quote from a Ghacks article published in February, 2015:

Currently, between 42% and 44% of all users use blockers when they visit the site and if the trend continues, more than 50% might before the end of the year.