Marco Arment on the ethics of modern web ad-blocking →

August 11, 2015 |

Solid piece by Marco Arment on the unstoppable rise of ad-blocking software:

All of that tracking and data collection is done without your knowledge, and — critically — without your consent. Because of how the web and web browsers work, the involuntary data collection starts if you simply follow a link. There’s no opportunity for disclosure, negotiation, or reconsideration. By following any link, you unwittingly opt into whatever the target site, and any number of embedded scripts from other sites and tracking networks, wants to collect, track, analyze, and sell about you.

That’s why the implied-contract theory is invalid: people aren’t agreeing to write a blank check and give up reasonable expectations of privacy by clicking a link. They can’t even know what the cost of visiting a page will be until they’ve already visited it and paid the price.

Whenever a tool arises that gives users back the control they never should have lost in the first place, you can bet your mortgage people are going to jump on it. However, I’m not convinced this will be a serious problem for publishers until these ad-blocking tools are enabled by default across all modern web browsers, much like pop-up blockers today.

As much as we like to think that people on the Internet know what they’re doing, the vast majority of them still don’t know what an ad-blocker is, much less how to use it or even why they should use it. In fact, I’d bet most people haven’t even stopped to think about Internet ads for a second. Regular people that are not technically informed just don’t seem to care about those things, and value their privacy incredibly poorly.

The truth is, those of us who care about privacy, responsible advertising, and ethical data collection, are grossly outnumbered by those who simply don’t.

Just think of Gmail, Android, or Facebook, to name but three companies/products with a huge vested interest in collecting as much of their users’ private data as they possibly can. If people were really informed about the lengths these companies will go to in order to collect their data, there’s no way in hell those products would be nearly as popular as they continue to be.