3 Reasons Against Ad Blockers

Published on May 31, 2019 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

Ad blockers are popular. Yet, they’re also a problem. They’re a problem that can be broken into three sub-problems, sub-problems that speak not only against the use of ad blockers but argue against their existence. The problems are not new, but I liked to take the time to document a personal view on them—a view that acknowledges that there are reasons to use ad blockers, but doubts that these outweigh the reasons not to use them.

1. The Mindset

Although a better user experience is often quoted as the reason to develop or use ad blockers, the argument itself could also be viewed as a magnified sense of entitlement: What exactly entitles a user to a better experience, and to no ads?

Nothing—and that’s true. (Even though for us web professionals, good user experience, including performance and privacy, is a God-given guiding light for our work, no one is factually entitled to it.)

It’s nicer to have no ads, sure, but that doesn’t actually come with a legitimation to have no ads and to remove them. If niceness was a good reason, everyone was entitled to a lot more, taking anything they want, essentially, just because that was nicer.

(There generally seems to be an increasing sense of entitlement. And if that wasn’t enough, a similarly questionable attitude may be a technically driven desire to block ads “because we can.” Yet doing things because one can makes for a justification for decisions that is as bad as the idea that one was entitled to something.)

2. The Damage to Creators

One can argue that consuming content without even wanting to give attention to ads is anti-social, or even a form of theft. If we assume that people who use ad blockers would otherwise interact with ads, and be that accidentally, ad blockers and their users hurt content creators.

While the larger content creators stand a chance of building and employing anti-ad blockers (or paywalls), then, it’s the smaller content creators, the middle-class of the Web, that get hurt the most. Ad blockers and their users make it harder to earn money for original content on the Web, and feed the divide between small and large creators.

By making the business case worse to create unique content, ad blockers and their users make the Web a less original and creative place. Ironically, this may be hurting ad blocker users without them realizing.

3. The Work Violations

If one considers the code, design, and overall composition of a website a work that is creative and worthy of protection, ad blockers and their users modify (and harm) that work. It seems that following Axel Springer’s lawsuits, there have been verdicts that this was legal—from my humble conception as a developer, it can not and should not be.

I don’t know, then, how to gather and dissect this whole matter of intellectual property, rights granted and assumed when browsing websites, and the intent and nature of changes made through ad blockers, and yet there seems to be little in the analog world that could serve as a suitable precedent. What ad blockers and their users do is not something romantic like taking a worthless ad brochure and manually, lovingly cutting out all those ads over a tea on the couch—it appears more like grabbing a newspaper and using some not-yet-existing machine to have all ads stamped out. In a lot of editions. All the time. And that does not quite look okay.

❧ Ads suck. Especially when used excessively and maliciously. And yet they form an important union with the content they come with. Breaking up that union may not the call of the consumer or user, and it seems to rather negatively influence the quantity and quality of future content and ads. Perhaps don’t build or use ad blockers; instead of using punishment for what you don’t like, look into rewards for what you do like.

… “Clods! Alan has more intelligence than all of you together. If you cannot act like gentlemen, you may leave the courtyard.”

Figure: Alan is not an ad blocker. (Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc., distr. Bulls.)

Update (September 26, 2019)

Meanwhile I’ve decided to walk my own talk and not just not block but deliberately click on more ads; and it doesn’t only feel fair towards the providers of the content, many of whose sites I frequent regularly, but even constructive, for even when the ads are not of actual interest to me, I do something to reward and support the work of those whose content I consume and learn and benefit from. It feels like not only taking something, but giving back.

Update (December 3, 2019)

I’ve worked through the different problems with ad blockers again in a thread on Twitter. In short, ad blockers target important problems—problems we should tackle—, but there seem to be alternatives to tackle these problems that work much better than ad blockers. I strongly believe we can act smarter.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!