The Ethics of Ad Blocking

adblocking1Why did I feel a pang of guilt when I beefed up my ad blocking software?

I make a living in the published content business, and ads are vital to what we do here. I’ve read the predictions of pending doom for digital publishers; I know that billions of dollars in ad revenue are at stake.

Still, I recently upgraded my ad blocking software, tired of the incredible bloat and obtrusive tracking. And I felt not a little guilty doing it.

With Apple about to escalate the ad blocking frenzy with the release of iOS 9, I wondered if I had some moral obligation to accept advertising as part of the content I was consuming. Am I being unethical using ad blocking software? More to the point, do I have an implied contract to view ads in exchange for free content?

No, says Marco Arment on

“Ads have always been a hopeful gamble, not required consumption. Before the web, people changed channels or got up during TV commercials, or skipped right over ads in newspapers and magazines” Arment writes.

“Pragmatic advertisers and publishers know that their job is to try to show you an ad and hope you see and care about it. They know that the vast majority of people won’t, and the ads are priced accordingly. The burden is on the advertisers and publishers to create ads that you’ll care about and present them in a way that you’ll tolerate.”

In the print magazine business, we understand and accept this approach as a matter of fact. Like Arment, I was happy to tolerate a certain amount of advertising to help pay for the content I read, within reason. But now reason has gone out the window.

“Publishers don’t have an easy job trying to stay in business today, but that simply doesn’t justify the rampant abuse, privacy invasion, sleaziness, and creepiness that many of them are forcing upon their readers, regardless of whether the publishers feel they had much choice in the matter,” writes Arment.

He says that web publishers and advertisers “cannot be trusted” with the amount of access they now have, and readers have no obligation – contractual, moral or otherwise – to allow the invasion.

Advertisers will figure out how to create digital advertising and marketing that doesn’t repel readers, or they will die trying. Consumers simply won’t stand for anything less.