The Ethics of Modern Web Ad-Blocking

For years, I’ve resisted – and argued against – using web ad blockers of any kind. After spending a decade working at a journalism school and watching publishers large and small struggle (and mostly fail) to find a way to be paid for their essential efforts, it felt like bearing a certain amount of advertising was the very least we-the-public could do to support quality journalism. Paywalls don’t work for almost any publications – what else is there?

But the rise of the mobile web tipped the scales – the “social contract” around advertising was no longer a fair one. The mobile experience is far less tolerant of intrusion, and network speeds are slower. But because monetization is more difficult, publishers were “forced” to insert more, and more intrusive advertising. The cumulative effect has been a steady decline in the quality of mobile browsing. Today, many news sites are close to unusable on a smart phone, having become choked out by network and screen-stealing crap.

We’re at a tipping point, and something’s got to give. In the big picture, the usability of the mobile web is more important than revenue streams for journalists.

Marco Arment’s fantastic piece The ethics of modern web ad-blocking nails it:

Modern web ads and trackers are far over the line for many people today, and they’ve finally crossed the line for me, too. Just as when pop-ups crossed the line fifteen years ago, technical countermeasures are warranted.

iOS9 will, allegedly, dramatically increase web browsing speeds by building in ad blocking at the operating system layer. And on the desktop, users running Ghostery are seeing just how scary the amount of behind-the-scenes communication in simple web transactions has become.

I don’t know what the revenue solution for publishers is – they still desperately need one – but it’s clear that choking the user experience with garbage is not the way forward.

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