Cyber culture: A new twist to the internet moral maze - ad blocking with added ads
Rhodri Marsden is the Technology Columnist for The Independent; he has also written about crumpets, Captain Beefheart, rude place names and string. He's also a musician who plays in the band Scritti Politti, and won the under-10 piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival by playing a piece called "Silver Trumpets" with verve and aplomb.
Wednesday 11 September 2013
A couple of months ago I experienced a moment of moral clarity that was vaguely comparable to Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
For years I'd been browsing the web with ad-blocking software installed, purging my internet experience of extraneous sales pitches or lurid enticements, and it was great. Web pages seemed to load faster, I wasn't distracted by animations urging me to contact single women in my area, and I only saw content that I wanted to see. But pangs of guilt forced me to disable the software.
Many of the websites I visit depend on advertising revenue to stay afloat, and by refusing to look at ads I was diddling them out of the possibility of making money out of me. I was guilty of double standards; I'd harangue people for daring to complain about audio adverts while listening to Spotify for free, while simultaneously banishing ads from my sight while web browsing. I had to resolve this, and I did it in favour of the content providers. Click.
But while I now smugly uphold myself as a beacon of morality, huge numbers of people still despise online advertising and are unable or unwilling to accept that it's necessary. AdBlock Plus software boasts 50 million users. These people hate being plagued by irrelevant ads, but if advertising is targeted more specifically at them they find that creepy and hate that, too. If websites dare to use software that blocks AdBlock users, we immediately hear howls of righteous protest: "Why should our internet experience be downgraded to uphold a failing business model?"
One person who believes that it's failing is Till Faida, CEO of AdBlock Plus, who was recently quoted as saying: "Everyone agrees that advertising on the internet is broken." It's certainly true that our tolerance of increasingly invasive ad techniques is being severely tested, but you could argue that Faida is partly responsible for this by offering millions of people a way out of ad viewing, thus causing companies to pursue everyone else with increasingly gaudy splash screens. But Faida has thought of a solution, and it's so fiendish that you can imagine him cackling like a cartoon baddie as he explains it.
He's come up with an "acceptable ads" initiative, which involves AdBlock charging companies a fee to let advertisements through its previously impregnable filter. AdBlock users will retain the right to turn off ads completely, but Faida reckons that 80 per cent of users have no objection to ads that aren't too obnoxious. It adds an astonishing twist to an already complex moral argument. Ad blocking is seen by many as theft, and the software that enables it as immoral; but the company behind the software plans to sell advertising space back to the companies whose ads it's blocking – companies who've already paid for the advertising space once!
But Faida's dastardly scheme might just work: 50 million people, after all, is a lot of eyeballs, and AdBlock is only going to become more popular. So if, in the future, you're running AdBlock Plus and you see a rogue advert, you can reassure yourself that it's been deemed to be unobnoxious by AdBlock, and the company who produced it are so desperate to reach you that they've actually paid twice.
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