The Ethics of Ad-Blocking

The commercialization of the internet has led to an explosion of myriad advertising and monetization strategies. The incessant single-minded drive to get users to click on articles and banners has led to the ugly degradation of blogs and news sites into gossip rags full of vapid sensationalism.

Several popular web browsers allow users to tailor and personalize the way they experience the web. The non-profit Mozilla Foundation continues to do excellent work maintaining the highly customizable Firefox browser. For those in the know, browser extensions like Adblock and uBlock have been a breath of fresh air in stripping away some of the excess noise from the sidebars and banners of the internet – but their use is still relatively limited.

More problematically, iOS doesn’t even allow users to choose their own web browser. The only option for iOS users is Apple’s own Safari browser – which doesn’t support extensions like AdBlock. Although recent news from Apple suggests some promising developments on this front, the lack of browser choice on the iOS is completely appalling.

On the other hand, since ads are the lifeblood of online publications, and remain the primary way for businesses to earn money online (Google’s ad revenue in 2014 was nearly USD60billion), a debate has emerged around the ethics – and even the legality – of adblocking. Online publications obviously argue that blocking ads threatens their very survival, but there’s the more subtle question of how the proliferation of ads affects us as denizens and consumers of the web.

There’s a famous quote by the inimitable graffiti artist Banksy, which questions the legitimacy of billboards and other kinds of advertising invading our public spaces. Shouldn’t the very same sentiment apply to our public cyber-spaces as well?


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