Could Ad Blocking Become A Major Legal Battle?

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Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should...because someone might sue you over it. Lots of folks are excited about software or browser extensions that will block ads on websites, such as the add-on Adblock Plus, but it’s possible that ad blocking could incite a legal battle.

The issue here is fairly straightforward: many websites, including the biggest in the world such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and so on, rely on advertising to generate revenue. Advertisers pay money to show up as boxed ads on web pages, appear at the top of search results, and more, and if they’re getting blocked on the end user side, they’re not going to be happy about that.

But do they have a case?

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ComputerWorld posits two potential legal arguments against ad blocking, neither of which are particularly compelling but could be used persuasively in arguments. One is that ad blocking could violate the page’s copyright, because removing ads could constitute an unlawful adaptation of the page. The other angle is that ad blocking could be a violation of the contract between a website and an advertiser; the two parties entered into an agreement, and the removal of ads could breach that contract.

In either case, both the website publisher and the advertiser may be compelled to take action, as the long-term result of ad blocking would be lost revenue for both parties. Makers of ad blocking software would then be in the crosshairs, and the resulting litigation could set a major precedent for years to come.

There’s another issue that ad blocking raises though, which is whether it’s ultimately prudent for end users to block ads at all. It’s true that ads are essentially annoying in that they interrupt whatever we’re reading or watching, but advertising also makes the world go ‘round. Consider that currently, Internet users receive an unprecedented volume and number of services of (more or less) exceedingly high quality--for free. We pay absolutely nothing to use Google, the fastest, most efficient, and most comprehensive information-gathering tool of all time, nor for Facebook and Twitter, two of the most powerful online communication tools ever conceived. Web-based mail? Free. Youtube? Free. Unlimited music streaming? Free. News, weather, and stock info? Free. Word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation tools? Free.

Virtually all of it is paid for by ads.

Granted, some ads are just terribly annoying, so there’s an argument to be made for advertisers to see ad blocking as motivation to simply do a better job, such as by using targeted ads. Targeted ads can seem invasive and even disturbing at first blush, but in reality, it’s far better to see ads for things you actually like and are interested in as opposed to a glut of random ads. For example, if you’re an outdoorsy fellow in his mid-20s, which would you rather see: an ad for a 40% off sale on hiking gear from a company you buy from on occasion, or a skin care product ad aimed at women over 50? Further, users are more likely to engage with ads if they pertain to their interests and/or are entertaining, which benefits all parties as users are less annoyed and advertisers see more bang for their buck.

Ad blocking is a classic case of technology being able to accomplish something that may or may not be legal and disrupts the standard way of doing things. Hopefully in this case advertisers can pivot and adjust to this growing trend instead of dragging lawyers into the middle of it.
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sackyhack replied on Sat, Nov 24 2012 4:35 PM

Hmm, touchy subject. I'm more in favor of end-user convenience (obviously). Block ads on the margins don't bother me, but the pop up flash ones that suddenly block half a page, noisy ones, the 1 minute long ads on a 45 second youtube video, or the ones that appear when your cusor moves over a certain bit of text annoy me to no end, so I use a combination of adblock and NoScript. I disable them for small websites like this, but I have zero tolerance for the ones that get in the way of my browsing on big websites that can make a crapload of money off of other people.

I've run into a few sites that force me to disable adblock, but they're few and far in between.

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RWilliams replied on Sat, Nov 24 2012 5:40 PM

What bugs me most about Adblock is that the developer has the gall to beg for donations... beg for donations for creating a plugin that helps ruin the revenue of others. Classy.

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Dave_HH replied on Sun, Nov 25 2012 7:16 AM

A legal battle is a big waste of time, money and energy but if you ad block, plain and simple, you're hurting the sites you value us a resource and if everyone ad blocked everywhere, we'd all be out of business. Think about it.

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sackyhack replied on Sun, Nov 25 2012 5:03 PM

Whoa, did we lose comments in the server move or did an argument break out?? Some other articles are missing comments as well.

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eunoia replied on Mon, Nov 26 2012 12:18 AM

.

...pending.

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sackyhack replied on Mon, Nov 26 2012 8:51 AM

Some pretty innocent comments have been deleted from other articles as well. I don't think they're filtering posts, just that any post after a certain time point got lost in the server move.

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eunoia replied on Mon, Nov 26 2012 5:45 PM

.

...pending.

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Manduh replied on Tue, Nov 27 2012 8:43 AM

Unfortunately, not all sites run clean ads like yours on HH. I have seen many not so smart people end up with viruses and malware from clicking ads on sites because they sound cool or look good. And not to mention having loud video ads pop up when my kid is asleep, or a skanky half clothed woman show up on screen as my daughter is sitting with me. I think having a choice protects us from sites who use the ad rev system poorly to begin with.

Once I see the site runs clean and 'safe to see' ads, I exempt it from being blocked, heck I even help by clicking some :) But taking away our choice to block is just simply wrong.

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Manduh replied on Tue, Nov 27 2012 8:47 AM

It could be the comments posted through the forums and not the main page. I've gone through this with a couple other forums lately.... hopefully it will be back to normal soon!

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Dave_HH replied on Tue, Nov 27 2012 11:48 AM

Testing...

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eunoia replied on Tue, Nov 27 2012 1:49 PM

.

...pending.

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SmogHog replied on Thu, Nov 29 2012 7:38 PM

Just as it the right of a site owner to add whichever type of ads they desire and the amount of ads on their pages it's equally the right of visitors to block them.

Paid memberships have been tried and not too successful.

The individual site must choose the ads and types of ads that will be acceptable to both the visitors and advertizers.

If I remember correctly there was an attempt not too long ago to prevent TV viewers from changing channels during a commercial break in the normal programing.It never materialized.

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Dorkstar replied on Fri, Nov 30 2012 4:36 PM

Manduh:

And not to mention having loud video ads pop up when my kid is asleep, or a skanky half clothed woman show up on screen as my daughter is sitting with me. I think having a choice protects us from sites who use the ad rev system poorly to begin with.

YES!

The loud videos are my #1 annoyance, and I can't stand it when i'm reading the news at work and for some odd reason they decide to post "The sluttiest dressed at..." on the front page, and there stands Marilyn Manson wearing a strap on, or ad for a dating site with a half naked woman on it.  I'm always waiting for the wrong person to walk by and freak out on me.

 

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Advertising means by definition trying to force unrequested information on the viewers through intrusion into the desired content, so what's strange if the viewers try to avoid that ?

If for some reason I had no way to zap away and was forced to watch all the commercials interrupting the TV program I'm watching, I wouldn't watch much TV any longer, just like if for some reason I had no way to stop the delirium of popups, animations, banners telling me I won stuff, ads intended to cover the video I'm watching and so on, I'd visit very fewer websites (the ones that don't do that, basically) and this applies to a lot of people.

Never before had avoiding ads been regarded as some kind of offense; that would have been considered silly by pretty much everybody, advertisers included. This has always been how advertising works, since long before the Internet. The more viewers are reached, the more efficient the advertiser is considered. The advertisers' job has always been to try to reach as many viewers as possible knowing that the viewers will obviously try to avoid the ads. What happened now, have we started complaining that too many viewers succeed in avoiding the ads ?

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