There is nothing like free lunch. Someone gets to pay for it somehow. That is what gets into my mind anytime I see or hear talk about ads blocking softwares or plugins aka adblockers.
Ads blocking softwares do a very necessary and important job for the end users of the Interne: that is, those that read content. They block ads from showing up in their browsers whether on smartphones or on their computers.
A random survey of people who use these ads blocking softwares or plugins to block ads would certainly reveal that people use them:
- As a form of security against malewares and viruses masking as ads
- To eliminate the intrusion caused by having too many ads appearing on browsers. Some of these ads can be annoying especially the flash ads
- To reduce the interruption caused by the ads while surfing the net
- To increase the browsing speed as some of the ads are implicated in slowing down pages when loading
- To prevent them from being tracked through ads by third parties
Ads blocking softwares by the numbers
All these are good reasons to use ads blocking softwares. As a matter of fact, more and more people are embracing the use of adblockers
According to a report released by Pagefair, a company that helps websites recoup revenue lost to these softwares, 30% of the people who use the Internet use one form of adsblocker. Given that there are over 3 billion people using the Internet, that makes it roughly a billion people using ads blocking softwares to block ads.
Of that number, almost 60% use it on their mobile devices. This is not surprising as most people in the world now prefer to use their smartphones to access the net.
The Morality and Ethics of using ads blocking softwares
Both sides of the argument on the use of adblockers have compelling things to say. This piece started off reminding us there is no free lunch anywhere. Another thought closely related to that is, ‘We can’t eat our cake and have it.’
Most of the content we get on the Internet is free for anybody to access. In fact, for every paid service, there are dozens of unpaid alternatives. That is why only free content providers get the most visitors.
However, and here is the rub, to get quality content that is also free, content providers or website owners actually spend money. And lots of it sometimes. To create a website costs money on so many levels. For instance,
- Money is spent to create content, for example, writers and graphic designers have to be paid.
- To upload the content cost money in data charges
- And recurrent costs can come from things like website maintenance
The argument here is simple: where do content providers get the money to keep going on? ‘Online advertisements‘ is the equally simple answer.
Only a tiny minuscule of websites survive from grants and donations. The rest survive through one form of ads or the other.
The hypocrisy of adblockers
The very public spat between Facebook and Adblock Plus last year would serve to illustrate the point about the hypocrisy of Ads blocking softwares.
Everybody knows Facebook. They are the world’s biggest social forum who depend on the revenue from ads to make money. Their business model of providing a free platform in exchange for displaying ads has made them very very rich indeed.
Adblock Plus is the best known Adblocking software in the market. It is free. But somehow, they still make enough money to block ads from appearing on browsers.
Last year, Facebook decided to block all adblockers from working on their website. This was to make sure they increase revenue from ads. Facebook did not say so though. According to them, the move was to improve the user-experience while using Facebook.
Adblock Plus retaliated by updating their software to bypass the Facebook code that blocked adblockers from working on the site. Adblock Plus claimed it was doing a service to the world.
Many people hailed Adblock Plus. And lampooned Facebook from trying to force ads on our browsers.
But it later turned out to that Adblock Plus was making a lot of money from ads it claimed to be blocking. For instance, big companies like Google (who also depend on ads to make money) pay Adblock Plus huge sums of money to allow Google ads to appear on our browsers.
The rumors that Adblock Plus was making money from companies started surfacing about 4 years ago. Facebook tried to justify their action by bringing up the issue too. Nobody paid much attention to Facebook though.
However, just a few months after the Facebook vs. Adblock Plus war, the rumors stopped being rumors. They became real. Adblock Plus finally admitted to collecting money from companies like Google to whitelist their ads on their software.
Whitelisting a particular firm’s ads means, even if you have Adblock Plus installed, these ads would still show up while browsing. That is how Adblock Plus had been making money through ads.
Now, with this practice, Adblock Plus and others like them have lost the moral or ethical platform to preach against online ads.
Killing the Internet slowly
Looking at the numbers above, one could argue that only a small proportion of users install or use adblocking softwares. That is true. But the other fact is that the number of users continues to grow.
That growth is fuelled by education. The more people get educated about adblockers, the more the numbers increase as more people install them.
Imagine a world where it is only firms who have money to pay ads blocking softwares to whitelist their ads are able to make money providing free content?
It is not hard to imagine really. The implication is this; the plurality of the Internet would be no more. Only the rich firms would be able to provide content. Smaller websites who survive on ads but can’t pay adblockers would go extinct. The Internet as a place of free unfettered information would become a place where we get to see or read what the rich want us to see or read.
It is discrimination based on wealth.
Paywalls as an option
There is this argument that paywalls, making people pay to access Internet content, is an option. That could be true up to an extent.
Apparently, there are many people who pay content providers to access their sites. Yet again, adopting this measure would disenfranchise most of the world.
The masses simply cannot pay. Look at it this way, the average Internet user has several websites they visit every day. Getting them to pay, if they have the money, would mean having to prioritize some sites as they simply cannot pay for all the websites.
Again, the implication is this: only websites with the best content would attract buyers. And these are only websites that have very deep pockets in the first place. Effectively hounding smaller websites, some of them with brilliant ideas, off the Internet.
Just say no to ads blocking softwares.