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The Brotherhood of the Ad Blockers (bloomberg.com)
174 points by desult 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 288 comments



> Only a few years ago, even people who hated ads saw ad-blocking software as akin to stealing.

I've been using ad blockers and NoScript plugins for longer than I can remember. Before that I was using /etc/hosts file based blocking. I've never felt like I was stealing nor do I know anyone that feels that way.

On the contrary, I've always felt that content to display, and in particular code to execute, on my device is my decision and mine alone.


Even worse, associating blocking ads as something akin to stealing is morally bankrupt.

It's an incredibly slippery slope that leads to complete loss of autonomy for individuals.

If I refuse to read roadside billboards, am I now stealing?

If I tear up newspaper ads and throw them away, am I now stealing?

If I turn off my tv during ads on a cable show, am I now stealing?

I think any sane person would definitively say "NO!", I think it's an incredibly dangerous line of thought that associates loss of attention as theft.

Fundamentally, we have the right to choose what we pay attention to. Some sites block me when I have adblockers enabled, I think that's fine. But don't serve up your content and then complain that I choose to ignore parts of it. I have free will and autonomy.


In the past, when people have asked me about the ethics of using an ad blocker, I always ask the same question: "When you are watching TV, do you wait for the commercial break to go take a leak?" (Not my line, wish I remembered the origin so I could give proper attribution).

The strange thing is it's one of those conversation stoppers, the other person usually gives me a funny look and does not reply at all. This is perfect and I recommend trying it out.


That's a good comparison. It's a shame that a lot of people will now answer that they just pause Netflix and go, and rarely bother with broadcast television.


I wonder why Netflix, and not one of the many free streaming sites serving pirated content. Might have something to do with ads.


>If I turn off my tv during ads on a cable show, am I now stealing?

The former CEO of Turner Broadcasting, Jamie Kellner, thinks that you are:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamie_Kellner


>If I turn off my tv during ads on a cable show, am I now stealing?

I think this is an excellent analogy.

What if broadcasters transmitted control codes that could reconfigure your TV or even disable its functions? You're watching something, a commercial begins and suddenly your TV's volume is maxed out by the broadcaster because they want to reach people who left the room. You try to set it back to what it was, but the controls don't respond. You try to mute the TV but the function appears to have been disabled. Changing channel doesn't work. Turning it off doesn't work. It's as if they were saying "So... You actually thought you could get away with watching our stuff for free, huh? You think you're so smart... Now we've made it so you HAVE to watch this commercial. See how you like THAT!" This attitude is straight up hostile to the subscribers. It attempts to control them, lest they escape from the publisher's money-making machine. Such audacity, right? How dare they not watch my commercial! Can you imagine the rage and indignation the publishers must feel?

How much time would it take before TV manufacturers realized TVs which ignored the broadcaster's commands were objectively superior to those which didn't? The broadcasters would probably call use of such TVs "stealing", too. They'd probably call these manufacturers a "brotherhood of non-standard television manufacturers". They'd probably force narratives saying "hey I hate commercials as much as the next guy but really it's stealing if you don't watch them". They'd probably lobby for laws that criminalize devices which automatically remove ads from recorded footage. They'd probably try to introduce new ways to control the user's hardware in order to make the user do what they want.

This is what Javascript does. "I see you're using an ad blocker, so let me just put an overlay on top of the text so you can't read anything without "paying" for it." Sometimes publishers take issue with something as basic as copy-paste: "trying to select a portion of my page, huh? Must be a lazy pirate trying to clone my website. I'll manipulate the clipboard and make it contain a scathing message instead, just for you!" It's so hostile, sometimes I think they hate users and only see them as potential click-throughs and conversion rates. It's dehumanizing.


Yes.

Frankly, if the ADS have real value, and yes that is entirely possible to do, people won't block them anywhere near the level of concern.

Self selection will improve performance too.

An example I saw play out, and had a small hand in was an auto shop doing political ADS. They combined great advocacy and informed people, leaving their business info low key in there somewhere.

The returns on those were excellent. People actually considered them a part of the programs, and radio station identity.


Didn't this come up with TiVo commercial skipping? The issue was with TiVo, the customer never even had a chance to see the ad, not that ads are mandatory to watch. Doesn't that apply here?


With some shows viewable with comcast they disable fast forward.

Ok that might be acceptable (even though the person was payin over 200 a month)

Heres whats really not ok:

I fat fingered the remote and pressed restart. Now i cant fast forward through any of the commercials OR the program i was 20 minutes into.

We shut the tv off


Do you mean ReplayTV? I owned a Tivo at some point but replayTV was great because it auto-detected ads and had an option (or default behavior?) of skipping them automatically. Tivo you had to manually push 30 second skip 6 times.


TiVo currently has an ad-detecting feature. You used to have to fast forward through the ads (though at 30x speed that just took a few seconds). Now it's still not automatic, but when the commercial break comes you press channel up once and it skips perfectly to the end of the break. It's now almost as good as torrenting!


I think the original TiVo's had this "auto-skip" feature but had to be removed due to this issue.


TiVo had a 30 second skip feature to make manually skipping ads easy that they "disabled" (there was a "cheat code" to turn it back on) to avoid legal issues. They also had a button to skip 8 seconds back, but that was far easier to justify.


On the contrary, blocking ads online is morally bankrupt.

You presented analogies, which I will respond to if you respond to my question at the conclusion.

With the case of billboards, it was never expected nor included in any societal contract that you are supposed to look at them: their sole purpose is to accidentally grab your attention, not mandate it.

With newspaper ads, as above, it was never mandated for you to look at them except incidentally as you flip through. Even after deciding to tear them up, you still had to have looked at them for a moment, at which point they have succeeded in doing all they ever tried to do.

With tv ads, I refer to the exact same reasoning used above.

Now for my question. Since adblock is most prominently used in the context of youtube, answer this - why should you be able to enjoy youtube's content for free without giving anything back to youtube? Are they a charity? And why shouldn't they choose the method by which you give back to them (via watching ads), since it is their platform?

Advertising can cross the line in many cases allowing for the self-defense of ad-blockers, but blocking all ads on principle is an even more dangerous, immoral line of reasoning.


They made also the torrent and ed2k protocols look like stuff for pirated content, but at the end the protocols themselves are really valid and strong, maybe today they would have been better and have maybe prevented centralised information.

But no, they got a bad label and then every major ISP has blocked / tracked them since ever


In all of those cases you're paying elsewhere for the service.

In the case of web ads, you're not usually paying for the content, and so they're expecting you to see the ads.

I don't know why people go to websites to read their content for free while block their ads. To me that just says "I am consuming too much shit."

You don't HAVE to go to these websites and consume everything in the world, you know? Life will go on without these sites.

Really, we need to get people to not consume so fucking much.

Just like TV, where the best thing is to not watch so much commercial TV.

If ads bother you, you're already doing way too much internet. And if you're going out-of-your way to block ads by setting up a network device, you're REALLY consuming too much internet.


> In all of those cases you're paying elsewhere for the service.

Recorded and enforced by a contract.

> In the case of web ads, you're not usually paying for the content, and so they're expecting you to see the ads.

It doesn't matter what they expect. I'm not obliged to view their ads.


> On the contrary, I've always felt that content to display, and in particular code to execute, on my device is my decision and mine alone.

Absolutely. I reserve the right to decide what gets displayed on my computer, and what code runs. Websites can try to serve me stuff I don't want to see, but if they do, I am well within my rights to remove it.

That doesn't stop at ads, either. I often use my ad blocker's element hider to remove all the superfluous cruft that adorns so many websites. I don't want to see your social media sharing buttons, your half-page auto-playing videos, your cluttered sidebars, or enormous footers. And I definitely don't want to see your "Open in App" buttons that occlude the lower portion of your content.

If you want to ruin your site with user-hostile design, then fine, but that won't stop me from making it usable again on my device.


This. So many times.

Sites like the BBC go in for this nonsense with their “Breakinng News” pop over.

Or Reddit taking a third of the screen to push their app.

Even this Bloomberg article has one of those annoying scroll back vanity flaps.

Adblockers are a way of asserting control over how content is displayed, something that was part of the original design of the web.

Many content creators think only they should control display of information hence the push to apps and removing control from users.


> I don't want to see your social media sharing buttons...

I don't want to see them, and I don't want them to see (track) me either.


I feel compelled to write a reply just so there's a record on the internet in an archive somewhere of how history actually was.

Its like industry is trying to actively change history.

Practically no one saw or has seen ad-blocking as akin to stealing. This is a line completely made up by the advertising industry to try to co-opt a publicly available communication and content publishing system that existed and was being heavily used BEFORE advertising was prevalent.

Advertisers came along and polluted the internet after the internet was being used and free content was already being posted.

Ad-blocking arose as an organic and natural reaction to advertisers beginning to appear and moving onto the free internet, not internet denizens thinking/conspiring to get their hands on the sweet juicy content of advertisers and trying to fight their way into the advertisers domain.


> Only a few years ago, even people who hated ads saw ad-blocking software as akin to stealing.

> I've never felt like I was stealing nor do I know anyone that feels that way.

Never understood that concept either. It probably originated with people who were making a quick buck with ads on their sites defending their turf when the winds changed.

For a while advertising was like free money, so that's understandable.

The problem with content providers (news, quality blogs and such) is that they didn't look for a better model earlier. Therefore many were left trapped with this dreadful advertising revenue model.


People have looked for better business models as long as the internet was around. It always comes back to ads.

As it turns out, nobody wants to pay for micro-transactions, and organizations with more then 1 employee can't survive off Patreon.

So, you get labour of love bloggers, a handful of donation-funded individuals making youtube videos, and everyone else in an arms race to put as many frigging ads on their sites as they can.


> As it turns out, nobody wants to pay for micro-transactions ...

Ad-serving systems clearly involve micro-transactions. With payments as small as $.0001 or less. There's no reason why ad-blocking intermediaries couldn't participate.

I suspect that you're referring to "micro-transactions" via PayPal or whatever, at $1 per article or more. It's not surprising that nobody wants to pay that much.


No, I'm referring to 'pay some intermediary $10/month, and they re-distribute it among websites you visit.'

As it turns out, most people would rather see ads... And the websites don't make enough money, unless the rates become unreasonable.


> nor do I know anyone that feels that way.

That’d be me (kinda):

I used to make exception for web comics I subscribed to and other websites I visited regularly, using adblocker only for browsing the random internet at large.

Until looking for group served a malware.

So now everything gets blocked.

So I would probably put myself into the “understands ads are your revenue and once upon a time was permissive” category.


don't most web comics have patreon these days or some other form of donation or merchandise you can buy to alleviate your guilt?


Ads steal bandwidth and electricity. The same can be said of website coin miners. It's my choice to allow or deny anything that I pay for.


Yeah, I found his statement very strange, too. The right not to read/watch what some corporation is pushing down my throat is quite fundamental and I'm not gonna give it up. Why on Earth should I feel guilty about it? It must be some projection by Bloomberg.


I still use /etc/hosts file based blocking and I enjoy it.


You're of course correct, but right now on a great many sites that non-adblock users are subsidizing the content for adblock users. If everyone (or even just a critical mass) of people run adblockers then many sites will either need to put up paywalls or go out of business.


Do you not believe that content creators have the right to set the terms upon which their content may be consumed? In other words, if you write an article, you don't believe that you have the right to say "you may read this article, provided that you also display this ad"? If you don't want to see the ad, simply don't read the article. What makes you think you have the right to the content, without abiding its terms?

I say this as someone who uses an AdBlocker daily. Of course it's stealing. You're violating the contract you implicitly agree to when you visit the site. This may or may not have legal force, but it's clearly stealing. If you don't want to see ads, don't visit sites that have them. THAT is how you retain the sanctity of your experience and avoid stealing.


I'm curious about this point of view. Would you consider it stealing if you read the before-the-fold content of a newspaper through the glass of the dispenser and then didn't buy the newspaper? Would it be different if you did it at a newsstand? At a coffee shop? If I buy a newspaper, read it, and then give it to a friend, would that be a form of theft? Is using a Tivo to prerecord a show then fast-forwarding through the ads stealing? What about just using the mute button? What if I watch all the ads but never buy any of the advertised products?

From my point of view advertisers pay to access channels where they believe their messages will have an impact. Presumably they will pay more for higher-impact channels and less for low-impact ones, it would be unreasonable for them to expect their message to have 100% consumer penetration. If people without technical expertise have chosen to package "valuable" content along with a low-impact advertising channel in a way where the ads can be trivially stripped and relying on these ads to be profitable I posit that these entities deserve to go out of business and stripping their ads is no more stealing than buying a gizmo from a company that has unwisely decided to offer their product for less than it cost to produce.


> Would you consider it stealing if you read the before-the-fold content of a newspaper through the glass of the dispenser and then didn't buy the newspaper? Would it be different if you did it at a newsstand? At a coffee shop?

Reading through the glass may be a bit different, because the glass is transparent on purpose to entice you to buy the paper, so they intend for you to do that. That is, it's part of the deal they're making with you.

> Is using a Tivo to prerecord a show then fast-forwarding through the ads stealing?

Yes.

> What about just using the mute button?

Yes.

> What if I watch all the ads but never buy any of the advertised products?

No. Advertising is a risk taken by the advertiser. The contract is that they pay for the content and you consume the message. You're under no obligation to be impacted by that message.

> From my point of view advertisers pay to access channels where they believe their messages will have an impact. Presumably they will pay more for higher-impact channels and less for low-impact ones, it would be unreasonable for them to expect their message to have 100% consumer penetration. If people without technical expertise have chosen to package "valuable" content along with a low-impact advertising channel in a way where the ads can be trivially stripped and relying on these ads to be profitable I posit that these entities deserve to go out of business and stripping their ads is no more stealing than buying a gizmo from a company that has unwisely decided to offer their product for less than it cost to produce.

I think you're right in a certain sense, but also conflating some things. Let me clarify a bit. If a website clearly states "You must watch the ads in order to consume our content", then I believe it is stealing to contravene that. They have stated their terms, and are providing content to you contingent upon your adherence. If you break that agreement, you're stealing. Simple as that. If the agreement is not explicit, that's less clear. If the website does not say that you have to watch the ads to view the content, then i'd say that it's not stealing. Same with television, by the way.

The litmus test for stealing here is breaking an agreement. I believe fundamentally that any content creator has the right to specify the terms by which their content is consumed. If one of those terms is 'watch the ads', then you are morally obligated to watch the ads. If they don't specify, then i'd say you're free to do as you wish.


> I believe fundamentally that any content creator has the right to specify the terms by which their content is consumed. If one of those terms is 'watch the ads', then you are morally obligated to watch the ads.

In addition to the counterarguments you've already received, I'd also like to note that the quote above is simply your personal opinion. Content creators often have specific, limited legal rights to specify how their content is consumed, none of which are absolute and most of which vary wildly between different jurisdictions. The same applies to moral obligations. If a content creator specified that you must kill yourself immediately after consuming their content, no reasonable person would interpret that as a legal or moral obligation. Clearly, there are limitations to the conditions content creators can impose, both legally, morally and as a matter of fact.

I'm not aware of any jurisdiction where content creators have the legal right to force you to watch advertisments (that is to say, avoiding watching ads is against the law). Personally, I feel no moral obligation to watch them either, but this is a matter of opinion and obviously you disagree, which is fine. I just don't see how you have any claim of obligation beyond a personal moral sense here.


> Content creators often have specific, limited legal rights to specify how their content is consumed, none of which are absolute and most of which vary wildly between different jurisdictions.

Not really. What's limited is not content creators ability to specify consumption, but rather the assumption of the ability of the counter-party to understand and agree to the terms. There are some genuine content restrictions, like first sale doctrine, but those are fairly narrow in scope. EULAs are limited not by the fundamentals of the medium, but by the assumed ability of the customer to meaningfully agree to the terms.

If you want to argue against my position, you should be taking the position that your average web surfer does not have the ability to meaningfully agree to the terms of the contracts with all of the websites they visit, and that thereby those contracts are unenforceable. That is the correct and only correct objection to the moral obligation to view ads.


You could argue that web users with adblockers are rejecting these agreements by refusing to HTTP GET the linked ad content and that the sites are accepting the modified terms if they subsequently serve the requested non-ad content.


Yep, that'd be a reasonable case to make. Although the site could simply augment its terms with "Serving the content any way does not represent a change in terms; proceeding to consume our content remains in violation" to clarify.


While we're into making one-sided arrangements, one could add to the HTTP headers: "Serving this request in any way consents to having the content returned displayed in a matter that is determined by the user-agent and the user. This supersedes any other terms of service that purport to governing the processing of this requerst."

This, at least, has the precedent of accurately describing how websites have been presented since the days of NCSA Mosaic.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure that unread terms presented from either side should have anything to do with it.


I disagree with you on quite a few different levels and, for clarity, I'll attempt to separate them out in this reply.

First of all, you've completely conflated the distinction between legal and moral obligations. Your entire argument in this post is a legal argument, from which you jump to an entirely unfounded moral assertion. Even if I agreed with your legal argument, which I don't, the moral conclusion would not follow. Since you've offered no moral argument, I'll confine the rest of my response to the legal issues.

Secondly, your legal argument seems specific to the U.S. legal system (for instance, you reference the first sale doctrine, which is specific to U.S. copyright law). In most of the world, I'm happy to note, EULAs are a legal non-starter and TOS are significantly limited by legislation. To give you a concrete and topical example, the GDPR directly invalidates virtually all existing website ToS in the EU (exceptions exist, but are few and far between).

Thirdly, even in the context of the U.S. legal system, which I am not subject to and from which I derive no moral obligation, I believe you're incorrect. The argument you propose is certainly one possible and strong objection to the legal (rather than moral) obligation to view ads, it is by no means the only one. For instance, the absolute majority of the ToS you're defending here do not force visitors to explicitly agree to their terms before proceeding further. This overwhelmingly popular class of ToS was rendered largely unenforcable even in the U.S. by the precedent of Nguyen v. Barnes & Noble, Inc. [1], and the legal argument had nothing to do with the ability of your average web surfer, but rather the lack of constructive notice on the part of the website. We can discuss other precedents if you like, as there are several, but it's clear that contrary to the picture you attempted to present, even in the U.S. legal system it is far from the case that browsing a website implies a contractual relationship with binding terms of service.

If you personally feel a moral obligation to watch ads on websites you visit, that's your business. I don't see any reasonable basis to your attempt to find a legal justification for your position, and you haven't presented any moral argument that didn't directly derive from an incorrect legal position. There are certainly moral arguments you could pursue and, although I haven't yet seen one that was even mildly persuasive, we can have that discussion as well.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nguyen_v._Barnes_%26_Noble,_In....


I mostly agree with you. I'm not making arguments about the behavior of most websites - i'm taking a more abstract perspective.

> and the legal argument had nothing to do with the ability of your average web surfer, but rather the lack of constructive notice on the part of the website

Indeed, I also do not consider websites without constructive notice to have legally binding terms. I'm referring specifically to cases that do have constructive notice.

> but it's clear that contrary to the picture you attempted to present, even in the U.S. legal system it is far from the case that browsing a website implies a contractual relationship with binding terms of service.

Those terms are limited, but there are terms. That is my point. The existence of such a contract is limited, but not zero.


Okay, so you agree that in the absolute majority of cases users have no legal obligation whatsoever to watch ads, but you're interested in a hypothetical website that has constructive notice for terms of service that specifically include language which says users must watch ads. All right, let's discuss that.

In this case, even though the contract itself is enforcable, it does not necessarily follow that every clause is enforcable. Standard unilateral contract law restrictions apply. To the best of my knowledge, no comparable clause has ever been directly tested in a U.S. court, so we'll have to speculate. However, it is well established that certain types of clauses are invalid for reasons such as being unconscionable (compulsory arbitration clauses are a common example). The extent to which a website's terms of service can restrict your legal right to not download certain network packets or adjust how your browser interprets them is an open legal question, at least in the U.S. (I'm confident no such ToS would be upheld in the ECJ).

Furthermore, if we lived in the (in my opinion, dystopian) world you envision, what happens if due to, for instance, an ISP routing issue the third party advertisements you've "agreed to" aren't loaded onto your computer? Are you in breach of contract? And this is not even touching upon the question of whether a "legal obligation to watch" the content your browser actually displays in the end makes any sense (I don't really see how it could).

Also, while this is an amusing legal question to ponder, I continue to hold that the finer points of contract law in a particular jurisdiction don't really serve to illuminate any underlying moral questions.


> Okay, so you agree that in the absolute majority of cases users have no legal obligation whatsoever to watch ads, but you're interested in a hypothetical website that has constructive notice for terms of service that specifically include language which says users must watch ads. All right, let's discuss that.

I'm not sure exactly how hypothetical it is - I see websites doing this now. But yes, this is what i'm talking about.

> Furthermore, if we lived in the (in my opinion, dystopian) world you envision, what happens if due to, for instance, an ISP routing issue the third party advertisements you've "agreed to" aren't loaded onto your computer? Are you in breach of contract?

I think you can answer this question yourself :). This happens all the time in real world contracts. Some unforeseen, unspecified circumstances crop up, and an arbiter or judge decides whether and to what extent they fall under the existing terms. My personal opinion is that if this happened and it was a condition not explicitly spelled out in the terms, it would not be a breach. Because you basically acted in good faith, and factors beyond your control prohibited you from complying.

> Also, while this is an amusing legal question to ponder, I continue to hold that the finer points of contract law in a particular jurisdiction don't really serve to illuminate any underlying moral questions.

I agree, they don't. I think the basic moral principle is this: You create a thing. You say to the world "Hey world, i'll let you consume my thing, if you do this other thing". The world has the right to say "No thanks, we don't want your thing, because the other thing is too onerous". They do not have the right to say "The other thing is too onerous, but we're going to take your thing anyway, thanks."


> I think you can answer this question yourself :). This happens all the time in real world contracts. Some unforeseen, unspecified circumstances crop up, and an arbiter or judge decides whether and to what extent they fall under the existing terms. My personal opinion is that if this happened and it was a condition not explicitly spelled out in the terms, it would not be a breach. Because you basically acted in good faith, and factors beyond your control prohibited you from complying.

It's easy to invent more complex issues that render the enforcability of the contract suspect. For instance, I use NoScript. If your ToS notice relies on JS, as most of them do, I won't even see it. Have I agreed to the contract? What if my browser is configured in such a way that I can't see your ad, but I haven't specifically blocked it? Were the precise technical requirements explicitly stated in your ToS? If not, how would I even know how to comply? Even if your legal system recognizes such clauses, they are utterly unenforcable as a matter of fact, if not as a matter of law.

> I think the basic moral principle is this: You create a thing. You say to the world "Hey world, i'll let you consume my thing, if you do this other thing". The world has the right to say "No thanks, we don't want your thing, because the other thing is too onerous". They do not have the right to say "The other thing is too onerous, but we're going to take your thing anyway, thanks."

It's certainly a moral principle, but I doubt you'd find many people who would agree that principle supersedes every other consideration. Even in the crazy world of the U.S. legal system, copyrights and patents have limitations and expirations. If you create a thing and publish it, you certainly have a limited say in what happens to it, but you don't get to dictate terms in perpetuity and at whim, nor should you. In a society that prioritizes the rights of creators to the exclusion of everything else inventions have very little value.

In fact, one could argue that in the case of websites we care so (comparatively) little about the public interest precisely because most websites offer little of significant value.


> It's certainly a moral principle, but I doubt you'd find many people who would agree that principle supersedes every other consideration.

No, it most certainly doesn't. But the burden of proof is very clearly established to be on the side of those wanting to limit private property and contract rights. I see no proof of significant public interest in restricting this right.

> In fact, one could argue that in the case of websites we care so (comparatively) little about the public interest precisely because most websites offer little of significant value.

This is pretty clearly false. Plenty of websites offer enormous value. But even if it weren't, there's a feedback loop here. Content created is influenced by regulatory climate, just as regulatory climate is influenced by content created.


> EULAs are limited not by the fundamentals of the medium, but by the assumed ability of the customer to meaningfully agree to the terms.

You can't use a EULA to extend the term of your copyright. EULAs are quite definitely limited by far more than the "ability of the counter-party to understand and agree to the terms".


> The litmus test for stealing here is breaking an agreement.

This sounds fine, but how can you break an agreement you haven't conceded to? I cannot see how the simple fact that an ad was offered alongside other content constitutes any agreement from the receiving party.

No one owns your attention.


> This sounds fine, but how can you break an agreement you haven't conceded to?

That's quite easy to do.

The question is why it should matter that you did so.


> This sounds fine, but how can you break an agreement you haven't conceded to? I cannot see how the simple fact that an ad was offered alongside other content constitutes any agreement from the receiving party.

Indeed this is the question. If you haven't meaningfully entered an agreement, then I don't believe you're obligated to abide this term. However, that's sort of the question. What constitutes entering an agreement? How explicit do they have to be exactly to make it enforceable? I don't know the answer to that question, but it seems to me that there ought to be some standard by which you can be considered to have agreed to some sort of service-terms.


as a baseline, to constitute entering an agreement, each party must have a reasonable idea of what they are agreeing to, as well as the capacity (mental, emotional, physical, rational, etc) to actually make such an agreement. to enforce an agreement, it must be recognized that some term.has been broken by some party.

ad providers, as a collective (that is, no single actor is responsible by themselves, and not every actor is at fault) began breaking the terms of the implicit agreements with Pop-up ads, ads with sound, ads with visual motion, ads with full video, ads that look like real articles, ads that block actaul content from the website you are visiting, dishonest or misleading ads, targeted ads without the users consent, ads that are significantly louder than the video you are watching, ads that hijack your mouse, etc.

each of these phenomena were introduced after previous terms were implicitly agreed upon, that is, they were introduced without informing the user beforehand. and so, as a collective, ad providers have broken the agreement much more and morw often than users who wholesale block ads. in this moral economy then, the users have the high ground.


If sites want to force the issue, they can block ad blockers.

Also, with GDPR, this argument is about to become perilous.


Thank you for the response, I found it illuminating. You seem to contradict yourself, though, you claim you view Tivo use as stealing but later you make a concession to my view:

> If the website does not say that you have to watch the ads to view the content, then i'd say that it's not stealing. Same with television, by the way.

I have never seen a TV program imply that I must watch the ads in exchange for consuming the content. Given this, how do you support your claim? Or are such messages common on television in your locality?

Also I have a follow up question for you: You say using the mute button during the ads qualifies as stealing (for the moment, let's assume the program has come with explicit terms requiring you to watch the ads), would you still consider it stealing if I had left the television muted for the entire show? Am I obliged to unmute the TV when the ads come on? Does the answer change if I have been selectively unmuting parts of the program (for instance if I was just interested in watching the daily doubles on Jeopardy)?


> I have never seen a TV program imply that I must watch the ads in exchange for consuming the content. Given this, how do you support your claim? Or are such messages common on television in your locality?

Sorry, I should have been more clear. I consider it stealing if and only if that agreement is made explicit. Most television channels i'm aware of do not do this. So fast forwarding / muting is not stealing. But in principle it could be, if they specifically requested that you not do it.

> Also I have a follow up question for you: You say using the mute button during the ads qualifies as stealing (for the moment, let's assume the program has come with explicit terms requiring you to watch the ads), would you still consider it stealing if I had left the television muted for the entire show? Am I obliged to unmute the TV when the ads come on? Does the answer change if I have been selectively unmuting parts of the program (for instance if I was just interested in watching the daily doubles on Jeopardy)?

This is an interesting question to explore. In some sense, you're consuming a fractional portion of the content (i.e. the visual portion), and you are consuming the same portion of the ads. So, there is some sense of symmetry there, which seems intuitively appealing as a standard to me. If I were adjudicating this personally, i'd say that seems acceptable, unless the terms of the content delivery explicitly forbid decoupling the audio/visual channel in this way.


> Sorry, I should have been more clear. I consider it stealing if and only if that agreement is made explicit. Most television channels i'm aware of do not do this. So fast forwarding / muting is not stealing. But in principle it could be, if they specifically requested that you not do it.

Well, your ethics seems to change in a matter of minutes, it's hard to follow.

> i'd say that seems acceptable, unless the terms of the content delivery explicitly forbid decoupling the audio/visual channel in this way.

OK, you got me. Now I know you can't be serious.


> > What about just using the mute button?

> Yes.

Seriously?


> I believe fundamentally that any content creator has the right to specify the terms by which their content is consumed. If one of those terms is 'watch the ads', then you are morally obligated to watch the ads.

And luckily there are plenty of content creators that don't think that way.


> If you don't want to see the ad, simply don't read the article. What makes you think you have the right to the content, without abiding its terms?

We've entered no contract, you have no right to dictate any terms to me at all. Period.

If you'd like to chose to not display your content when I have a blocker enabled, so be it, I'll leave and never come back.

But to make an assumption that you have any sort of control of my time and attention is insidious. Fuck off.

I'm not stealing when I drive by billboards without reading them, I'm not stealing when I turn my tv off when commercials come on, I'm sure as fuck not stealing when I block your ads.

If you'd like to enter into a contract that actually tries to enforce your ludicrous idea that my attention is implicitly yours to demand, I'd suspect you'll find very few takers...


> We've entered no contract, you have no right to dictate any terms to me at all. Period.

That's fine for you to say, it just doesn't happen to be true. TOS are enforceable to some degree.

> But to make an assumption that you have any sort of control of my time and attention is insidious. Fuck off.

So, you think you have a right to their work product, but they don't have a right to your attention? Why the asymmetry?


>TOS are enforceable to some degree

You cannot state "by reading this notice you have accepted our terms and conditions". Maybe - _maybe_ - you could force people to register and explicitly agree to your terms which specify that you may not view the page without also loading the ads, though I think such a clause would be immoral.

The ability to control what code executes on one's computer is a fundamental freedom of general purpose computing. I don't feel that it's any more appropriate to demand I load ads than to demand I load your images or your css, or indeed to demand I install your bitcoin miner.

Ads from even the major networks are damaging to run far too often to be considered safe. They're resource intensive and a common malware vector. Whether or not it is _legal_ to block ads (it is), it is certainly not immoral to choose not to execute code which has a high likelihood of compromising your device's security - this being the tool many people use for everything from personal communications to financial transactions. The idea that one should compromise that security for the sake of your blog is ridiculous and a strong sign that the ad-driven business model of the web is neither sustainable nor ethical.


> Maybe - _maybe_ - you could force people to register and explicitly agree to your terms which specify that you may not view the page without also loading the ads, though I think such a clause would be immoral.

What moral rule exactly does that contravene? You can simply not load their content. What gives you the right to load their content on terms other than theirs?


Hopping into this. The GDPR ask just that: if you are using ad networks, you should ask your user to give his explicit consent for each network you are serving him. Note that if you are serving malware, you are responsible and can be fined, which is pretty fair, imo.


> What gives you the right to load their content on terms other than theirs?

They gave me the right. I sent a request for the content, they sent me the content. If they would like to add additional terms then they should do so before they send me the content.


That is what the rest of my post goes on to discuss, I believe. _All_ content loaded onto somebody's general purpose computer is loaded on their own terms.


By reading this content, you agree to record yourself doing 10 jumping jacks and reply to this message with the link to the video. If you don’t agree to these terms, you may not load this content or read it.


> What gives you the right to load their content on terms other than theirs?

robots.txt for one thing.


robots.txt is a gentlemen's agreement between a site and search engine running automated crawlers. It has no meaning for regular visitors.


I haven't entered any TOS when I visit a publicly available site.

You have my signature on no documents, you have no agreement from me to abide by any terms at all.

If you want me to be held to a TOS... force me to make an account to read your content.

>So, you think you have a right to their work product, but they don't have a right to your attention? Why the asymmetry?

I think you've made your work product available freely online without stipulation. If you don't like that, DON'T FUCKING DO IT!

It's entirely reasonable and within your control to not serve me content. A lot of sites block me with an adblocker enabled, I value my attention more than I value their content. But that's a completely fair exchange - I wanted to read their content, they wanted to serve me ads, I concluded that I'd prefer to walk away.

In other words: your "work product" has no inherent value. If you value it, charge for it. Don't make it freely available online.


If I click a link on Google there is no TOS. If you want to show a screen with the TOS when I visit your site and make me agree to view your ads you can totally do that. And I will click the back button.


Some sites pretty much do this already (Popular Mechanics, for one). I get a nice popup when I arrive at their site that says I need to turn off my adblock to continue.

I actually don't even use adblock -- I use pihole, which means I'd have to add who-knows-what domains to my DNS whitelist (not just popularmechanics.com, because if it wasn't already permitted I wouldn't have even got to the page with the popup). So back button it is.


> So, you think you have a right to their work product, but they don't have a right to your attention? Why the asymmetry?

Nobody has a right to your work product. Nobody's putting a gun to your head, and demanding that you distribute it.

But if you choose to publically broadcast it, then yeah, people have a right to listen to it. And only the parts of it that they care for.

Putting something up on the open internet is the digital equivalent of a broadcast. Gating it behind a login, or an adblock-blocker is another thing.


How many sites include in their ToS that you must not block their ads?

How many sites are willing to accept legal liability for malware served up by their ads?


I don't know. I'm simply saying that if they do, then it's stealing. If they don't, then it's not.


> What makes you think you have the right to the content, without abiding its terms?

To state the same points others already did in a different way - you put out data on the Internet, over HTTP protocol. You agreed to abide by the terms of the involved protocols, which say that if I send a proper HTTP request to your public server, and your server responds with data, then you gave me that data and it's now mine to view[0]. The browser is merely a rendering device for that data. At the HTTP level, you have no right or way to dictate to me what program should I use to render the data. Want the data rendered your way? Use a different protocol, leave HTTP alone.

Now you're free to use technical and legal means to enforce your business model. It's your prerogative. Please do make me register an account and consent to a TOS contract, and deny access if I don't. HTTP protocol supports that too. If you do that, then I'll be morally and legally expected to follow the contract. But if you serve stuff unconditionally on publicly routable servers, you have no moral right to tell people what to do with that data.

EDIT: also, you're free to detect I'm not parsing your content correctly (by e.g. not requesting appropriate files from your servers, or not running scripts that ping you back), and refuse to send me more content. That's your right. But if you send me content, your rights end, and I decide how I want to view it.

--

[0] - There are legal caveats there that supersede this basic idea, like copyright and unauthorized access, but there are no laws nor any reasonable moral expectation that would force me to render the data I received in exactly the way the server wants.


> you have no right or way to dictate to me what program should I use to render the data

Why not? Why am I not allowed to say "If you want to consume my content, you need to view it in Firefox", if you don't want to agree to my terms, don't view my content. This is how all contracts work. This is how all business works. Why is the internet different?


> Why is the internet different?

The Internet isn't really different, it's just people are bending over backwards to have their cake (send free content) and eat it too (tell people how they're supposed to view that content).

When you're serving stuff over HTTP, you're giving me data in response to a valid HTTP request. That data is a binary/text blob. The HTTP protocol does not include any technical or legal provision that allows you to control how I interpret that binary/text blob. You can say "only for Firefox" all you want, but the only way to make it meaningful is to not send the data unless you're sure I'll be using Firefox to view it.

I'm focusing on the protocol here for a reason. That protocol comes with the set of expectations; probably the most important is that you get to decide how you respond, but not what I do with that response. Understanding of that is necessary to draw correct analogies to other real-world practices.

So a real-world analogy would go like this: you've set up a stand on the street, with a big sign saying "FREE BOOK ABOUT CATS". I come to you, and ask if I can have that book (GET request). You give me a book (content) and a hat with a company logo (an ad). I leave you, and on my way discover that the first page of the book says, "you can only read this book if you're wearing the hat that was given to you".

It would be ridiculous of you to expect me to honor the request in that book. Hell, it would be ridiculous of you to require that I actually read the book. Maybe I only needed it as paperweight, or as starter fuel for a wood-burning stove. Oh, and I threw the cap you gave me away, without even looking at it.

The only implicit contract we had in this example was that I might get a free book if I ask nicely. That's also the only implicit contract that you get when you host a publicly routable HTTP server.


I’d add that there’s nothing stopping anyone from creating their own protocols and their own content browsers that can enforce whatever contract the software makers and content creators choose.

DRM and proprietary apps already do this.

The HTTP User Agent implies user agency when it comes to how and what content is rendered.


> So a real-world analogy would go like this: you've set up a stand on the street, with a big sign saying "FREE BOOK ABOUT CATS". I come to you, and ask if I can have that book (GET request).

I think the substance of our disagreement comes down to this. You think that a website is a sign that says "FREE CONTENT", whereas I don't believe the HTTP protocol represents any particular specification regarding the terms of access. The HTTP protocol allows you to access the data. However, a storefront allows you to access the goods inside, but that doesn't entitle you to take them without payment.


The HTTP doesn't just allow access to data. It mediates the entire exchange.

As others pointed out, a HTTP 200 response is an action that's explicitly defined to mean "here, have this data, we're done here". If a physical storefront was running on HTTP, then the 200 response would contain just the image of the storefront (I get to view it how I like - maybe through glasses, maybe through rose-tinted glasses, or maybe via touch if I'm blind; and I definitely get to not look at advertisements if I don't like them). If I ask the store clerk for an item, they would usually respond with something like 402 Payment Required or 403 Forbidden, and that response would not contain the item I asked for. This would indicate I need to meet extra conditions to access the resource (like giving them cash along with my request).

Fundamentally it all boils down to this: on the Internet, if you send some data, you give it away. You can't, by default, dictate what I do with that data. The time to make those demands is before you hand over the data.


> Of course it's stealing.

Oh, really?

What about the websites who allow dozens of third parties to serve me an unknown quantity and quality of content that I did not request? They steal my bandwidth, compute cycles, and privacy.

And what about data brokers? My browsing history is my work product; I create it through my own actions. Much of the information that data brokers sell about me would not and could not exist without my direct contributions. When they sell that data, do I get an appropriate share of their profits? No. They are regularly stealing and profiting from my work. The websites you claim I'm 'stealing' from are giving away tons of my information without anything even approaching affirmative consent.


> What about the websites who allow dozens of third parties to serve me an unknown quantity and quality of content that I did not request? They steal my bandwidth, compute cycles, and privacy.

Yes, even then. You have no right to the content they produce. They offer it up for you, contingent upon you consuming it commensurate with the terms they've set out. If you don't like those terms, don't consume the content. It's that simple.


> They offer it up for you, contingent upon you consuming it commensurate with the terms they've set out. If you don't like those terms, don't consume the content. It's that simple.

What 'terms'? They're essentially giving third parties the ability to inject anything they want into their websites. How can they meaningfully establish 'terms' if they have willingly given up the ability to hold up their end of those terms?

If, the first time I visit a website, they actually bother to:

  1. Disclose everything they and their affiliates will do with my information;
  2. Disclose the sources of any and all content that will be served;
  3. Get my affirmative consent before allowing me in;
  4. Not share *any* information until I consent;
Then, and only then, would there be some reasonable semblance of 'terms'. As things are now, they couldn't possibly do any of that, because they themselves don't even know what they're serving up, or what will be done with my information.

If your 'terms' are, "we can do anything we want with your device and Internet connection when you visit our website, but you can't do anything except view what is served to you, as it is served", then you do not have terms; you have a farce.


This is practically GDPR.


> What 'terms'? They're essentially giving third parties the ability to inject anything they want into their websites. How can they meaningfully establish 'terms' if they have willingly given up the ability to hold up their end of those terms?

The terms are that you run the code they give you. If you don't like those terms, don't go. Simple as that.


> The terms are that you run the code they give you.

Just like if I hand you a box of donuts on the street you have to eat all of them, right now, in front of me, and hope that none of them contain battery acid.

Seriously though, a requirement to run code has never been an implicit TOS on the web - if a site wants to introduce those terms, it needs to actually propose them when I visit the site.

A website can't retroactively propose terms after I've visited.


I understand you to be suggesting that it's like as if you went to a restaurant whose terms were that you must eat the food you're served -- force fed -- and that if "you don't like those terms, you shouldn't have come to this restaurant". However, these terms are not disclosed until you visit.

Is that the position you're trying to advance?


Also, if you get some horrible disease from eating our food, we're totally not responsible. I mean, yeah, we let randos walk in off the street and sprinkle whatever they want in your food, but you really should have expected that. We're sorry your daughter died, but maybe next time you'll read the thousand pages of terms and conditions that we buried out in the back yard.


Close. I believe that uninformed consent is not consent. In order to meaningfully enter any agreement both parties must understand what they're agreeing to. However, what that means is that a website ought to have the right to put up a page that says "Hey, if you want to proceed and view our content, we require that you turn off ad blockers. If you don't, then please do not view our content", and that to proceed anyway is theft.

To modify your analogy: If a restaurant says to you when you arrive "If you want to eat here, you must eat the food you're served, force fed. Do you still want to eat here?" And then you say "Yes", then yes, you are obligated to abide their terms.


Do you believe the operator is liable for any damages their website causes to computers whose owners disable their content protection software (e.g. ad blockers) in order to comply the the site agreement?

Do websites take on a duty to protect visitors from the foreseeable harm that malicious ads cause to unprotected computers by requiring content protection software to be disabled?


Tricky question. I think I would come down on the side that they are liable for that, perhaps unless they very explicitly and clearly disclaim liability before exposing you to the risk.


Product liability disclaimers are often found to be unenforceable; is there a particular disclaimer strategy[1] you have in mind that would effectively shift liability to the presumed counter party?

[1] https://injury.findlaw.com/product-liability/are-product-lia...


I'm not saying that a disclaimer would necessarily do it, I was just excluding that case from consideration. I'd defer to standard disclaimer case law on the matter.


> If a restaurant says to you when you arrive "If you want to eat here, you must eat the food you're served, force fed. Do you still want to eat here?" And then you say "Yes", then yes, you are obligated to abide their terms.

I'm pretty sure that's illegal.

They can require you to pay for the meal if you don't eat all of it. They can't legally force you to eat the food.

If a website poses an interstitial that says "To access this content you must agree to disable your ad-blockers or purchase a subscriptions." and you click "agree" but do not disable ad-blockers or subscribe, then you have a point. However, you are in breach of contract, and there is still no theft.

However, the agreement MUST be explicitly agreed to. If another visitor clicks a link that goes straight to the content, they are not in breach of contract because they did not explicitly agree.


If an ad. includes malware, am I contractually obliged to run it? That position doesn't seem tenable.

Further, what does "run" mean in this context? For example, I don't download images by default on mobile devices - is that not "run[ning] the code"? - or different rendering engines, or screen-readers, that run the same code differently.


What makes you think you have the right to the content

The fact that my web browser received a 200 from the server. Server seemed to think it's okay to give it to me.

You're violating the contract you implicitly agree to when you visit the site.

I will once again remind those that pull out this argument that the "implicit agreement" is that my web browser sends a request, and if the server thinks I am worthy of viewing the content, it sends said content along with a "200: everything is A-Okay! Happy to be of service!". If the server thinks me unworthy, it can send a 403.

If someone wishes to redefine the "implicit agreement", please include a reference to the relevant RFC. Because otherwise it's just some marketing person trying to redefine the world the way they wished it were. Should someone care to redefine the World Wide Web experience such that I do not control what my browser displays, well, maybe the WWW isn't appropriate for their business.


You seem to think technical implementations matter for some reason. I find that rather odd. Do you think that someone leaving their front door open entitles you to the contents of their home?


If they put up a public sign in front of it that says "come on in and take anything you want" then... kind of.

It's not that access implies consent, it's that the technical standard is the methodology by which a company grants consent.

The fact that there's ink on a piece of paper is meaningless by itself, but if it forms my signature on a contract, then it does have meaning. The fact that I can get to a server is meaningless by itself, but if the server returns a 200, explicitly designated as "yes, you can access this", then that's a different story.

Of course there are gray areas there. If someone faked my signature, or if someone accidentally made their server return a 200 code without meaning to or understanding what they were doing... then fine, I'll concede that they haven't really offered informed consent.

But that's not the position that any news site is in. No news site is accidentally returning a 200 code when my computer asks "can I have this content?"


> If they put up a public sign in front of it that says "come on in and take anything you want" then... kind of.

Do you believe that putting up a website is the equivalent of that sign?


Yes.

https://www.iana.org/assignments/http-status-codes/http-stat...

It's hard to describe an HTTP status as anything other than a sign. If it was purely technical, we wouldn't distinguish between 402 (payment required) and 403 (forbidden).[0]

While HTTP status codes can be understood by a machine, they're also designed to be highly semantic and understandable by humans. I would argue that the burden is on people who argue that they are not contractual to justify why, in the same way that I would expect them to justify why a handshake isn't contractual.

Edit: Potentially interesting as well is a semi-recent court ruling about web scraping[1], where courts effectively ruled that once LinkedIn made their information public, they couldn't block web scrapers from accessing that information, which suggests that the law also agrees with the web community on this one.

> "But Judge Chen concluded that the issue isn't so simple. When you publish a website, you implicitly give members of the public permission to access it, he ruled."

[0]: Although admittedly, nobody really makes much use of 402.

[1]: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/08/court-rejects-li...


> It's hard to describe an HTTP status as anything other than a sign. If it was purely technical, we wouldn't distinguish between 402 (payment required) and 403 (forbidden).

I agree that the existence of those status codes does a good job at disambiguating representations of intent regarding payment. However, to my knowledge, there's no status code that means "Ok, as long as you don't use an adblocker". As such, any such provision has to be layered on higher up the stack. The current solution is to put it in the site's terms of service.

That seems pretty equivalent to an HTTP status code, no? I'd argue that you have contracts simply operating at multiple levels here. All an entity ought need to do is clearly communicate the terms of access to their interlocutor. If they have done so, and the client understands the terms, then they should be bound by them if they proceed.

> Edit: Potentially interesting as well is a semi-recent court ruling about web scraping[1], where courts effectively ruled that once LinkedIn made their information public, they couldn't block web scrapers from accessing that information, which suggests that the law also agrees with the web community on this one.

Haha, yes i'm quite familiar with this case, having written a LinkedIn scraper recently. LinkedIn still does not make this particularly easy, despite being compelled to by the courts. The nuances the judge seems to have settled on are a bit interesting. Apparently they're allowed to block access to stuff that requires you to login to see, but not stuff that doesn't.


> As such, any such provision has to be layered on higher up the stack. The current solution is to put it in the site's terms of service.

But the problem is that I never signed that TOS. We keep on coming back to this, but putting a TOS somewhere on your site is not binding. You need to get my informed consent. In the same way, if I stuck up a contract on my public blog that said "by fulfilling any HTTP request I make, you grant me license to republish your content," I couldn't steal everyone's artwork off of DeviantArt and claim "well, we did have a contract."

We have a really good solution for this problem - put a 401 (unauthorized) page in front of your content, which is accurate because the site operator has decided that someone who hasn't agreed not to block ads is not authorized to view the content. Then require me to sign the TOS before you authenticate me.

That would be an enforceable contract. Ad blocking is a solved problem for anyone who's really willing to block requests and require authentication.

Of course, the vast majority of sites don't want to do that because it's incredibly annoying to the average user. But that's not a problem with the technology - informed consent is fundamentally annoying to procure in any context. It will always be more work to get someone to voluntarily agree to a set of conditions than it will be to just give them something. On the web, that's just more of a problem because quick, impulsive, uninformed clicks currently form the majority of web revenue.

So site operators have discovered that it is more profitable not to get informed consent and just hope that nobody blocks your stuff. The downside is that you have no TOS to enforce because you never got anybody to agree to it. But, that's a downside many sites are willing to live with.

The conflict comes when courts rule that the implied contract that users believe they're agreeing to isn't the terms that ad networks wanted. I find that often what ad agencies want is to have legally binding implied contracts, but only in one direction and under terms that they can change at any time.

I'm all for contract law, but if it's the users responsibility to understand a site's TOS before they request information, shouldn't it also be the site's responsibility to understand a user's TOS and intent before they fulfill a request?

That's what web authentication does. It gives sites the opportunity to form a contract with a user, and to tell users who don't want to form a contract "sorry, but we have conditions before you view this."


> But the problem is that I never signed that TOS. We keep on coming back to this, but putting a TOS somewhere on your site is not binding. You need to get my informed consent. In the same way, if I stuck up a contract on my public blog that said "by fulfilling any HTTP request I make, you grant me license to republish your content," I couldn't steal everyone's artwork off of DeviantArt and claim "well, we did have a contract."

Yep. Totally agree. Consent needs to be informed. In order for anything i'm saying to apply, the agreement must be meaningfully made. Personally, I consider a checkbox saying "I won't use an ad blocker" to be sufficient to declare that agreement valid.


It totally is.


Analogy time!

It's more like a robot that the householder has placed at their front gate that responds to arbitrary requests from visitors

"Can I have a table lamp?" "AFFIRMATIVE OK"

"Can I have a list of all retrievable objects?" "AFFIRMATIVE OK"


What if they put a sign up next to that robot that says the robots answers do not constitute a legally binding agreement to ownership transfer of any property herein?


It's fine as long as the robot, when asked "Can I have a table lamp?", doesn't fetch that lamp, give it to you and say "ok, take it". If it does, then the whole example breaks down, and the judge would just laugh and tell you it's your own fault that you got your apartment cleaned out.


Whether if it's the contents of a home or the contents of a text file sitting on a web server, if I ask, "can I have the contents of that, please?" and they answer in the affirmative then the answer to your question is, umm, yes? And should I decide to leave items that I don't want, I don't see where the homeowner has reason to complain.


So, you consider a GET request to be the equivalent of an unconditional request for content. That's an interesting perspective. What if the GET request delivers you the terms of a contract, that then requires a POST request containing "agree=yes" to the terms of the initial GET request to obtain the actual content, and the terms of that first stage GET request say "You must not use an ad blocker when viewing the second stage GET request".


YES! That would start to make sense. With such a setup, if I answered POST "agree=yes" and proceeded to GET your content while using an ad blocker, you'd have a right to call me an asshole breaking a social contract, and - if the content of that initial GET with contract met appropriate legal standards - you could probably even sue me for misuse of computer resources and win. Might be a hard case to win, given that nothing on the Internet is built with expectation of users having to fetch more than they want, but at least you'd have a basis for a case, because I did enter a contract with you and didn't held to my end.


What if a frog had wings? It wouldn't bump its ass when it hops. I'm talking about today, as it is currently implemented. You seem to think that if you keep moving the goal posts, you'll "win" the internet. "That's an interesting perspective."


The analogy is closer to having a butler permit entry to a visitor. The website operator has delegated authority to the webserver to issue their content to visitors.

If the operator doesn't like what their webserver butler is doing with the operator's content, that's on the operator.


>if you write an article, you don't believe that you have the right to say "you may read this article, provided that you also display this ad"?

You have the right to say it, and I have the right to ignore it, because that's the way the Internet is implemented. You may pretend that it works differently, but until the day it works like broadcast TV, users will have the right to pull whatever content they want from servers.


You have the right to possess it, and I have the right to take it by force, because that's the way physical reality is implemented. Arguing that implementation implies natural rights is a pretty silly path.


In this case there is no contract. The websites are really giving their things away for free, only with the expectation , but no guarantee, that some users will see ads. The societally agreed upon principles, that constitute the law, place no responsibility on the receiver of free content (an easily justifiable principle in fact).

They have all the right and power to refuse to give their content away for free. You have all the right and power not to look at their ads, to preemptively strip them from your view, or to modify the page you yourself will visualize in any way you see fit.

Think of newspapers given away for free on the streets. I can make whatever collage I want into what I received for free, it's absurd to insinuate my reading habit could constitute a crime.

Of course, since you're being given something for free, there might be cases where you're ethically compelled to retribute (in particular when you enjoy the content, believe it is useful, etc). But here you should be able to chose how to contribute -- if you're restricted to contribute only by viewing obnoxious ads I would say it's perfectly ethical to refuse to do so.

What I do is support the Patreon account of several content creators I enjoy. I know my little donation has an impact on them, enabling them to keep producing great content. Most websites that I find useful don't offer particularly compelling media of retribution, and I feel my cost to them isn't significant at all. The marginal cost of my usage of Google search engine to Google is quite small, I would guess thousands or millionths of a cent per query. I don't need to worry about donating to Google. They have other ways of generating revenue from me, like the query information itself, and other services like the Android App store.


Just some questions. Niw the purpose of all these questions are to get ur viewpoint on certain issues. Thanks. Do u encounter obnoxiousads 100% of the time? I mean Taboola ads sure, bad. Also, if you were running website or were any other content creator making money through ads, thrn would you want 100% of visitors to use adblockers? Also, do u think whole world should block ads, because reality is most people cannot pay for content. I mean how many subscriptions are you gonna buy, so that's why ads became the de facto way for earning revenue. Also, a slightly different question. Not sure how to frame this. The ad revenue has enabled Alphabet to do various stuff like Verily life sciences, project loon, self driving cars. Make products like Google Maps which power transportation and are indispensable ( i know about Openstreetmap). So, is that all justifiable? Also, do you regard Youtube ads as bad also? Also, many people say ads are annoying. Sure, i have also felt that way sometimes. But with Youtube most of the times, i get to know about a new product/movie etc. Personally, as a student I use youtube a lot, can't imagine life without it.


> In this case there is no contract. The websites are really giving their things away for free, only with the expectation , but no guarantee, that some users will see ads.

This does seem to be the crux of our disagreement. You think that offering up your content merely represents a non-binding expectation. In other domains, we don't take that position. If I weave you a scarf, and I say "Hey, i'll give you this scarf if you go to the store and pick up some cough medicine for me", and then you take the scarf and refuse to go to the store for me on the grounds that I "merely had the expectation, but no guarantee that you would go to the store for me", that seems pretty odd. I'm curious:

A) Whether you believe these situations are different

And

B) If you believe they're different, why.


They're different because in the scarf example, you're expressing the expectation before giving the scarf. In the web example, the expectation is applied retroactively. It's as if you gave me the scarf, no strings attached, and later said "oh, since I gave you that scarf, I also want you to go to the store and pick up some cough medicine for me".

On the web, we have a way to handle the exact equivalent to your scenario. We do that by ensuring the user agrees to go to the store before handing them over a scarf. For instance, on the protocol level, you could reject all GET requests that do not have attached the proof of acceptance of the cough medicine quest. The rejection message (e.g. 403 Forbidden) would contain a machine-interpretable requirement of the quest. That synergizes well with the legal level - faking proof of quest acceptance would (AFAIK) constitute unauthorized access to scarf under CFAA. At the same time, the valid proof could match the legal definition of informed consent. It also meshes well with the social level, as whoever reads the 403 response (e.g. in their browser) would see the need to consent to the quest in order to get the scarf. Consenting to the quest, taking the scarf, and then not doing the quest would rightfully classify me as a thief and an asshole.


> They're different because in the scarf example, you're expressing the expectation before giving the scarf. In the web example, the expectation is applied retroactively. It's as if you gave me the scarf, no strings attached, and later said "oh, since I gave you that scarf, I also want you to go to the store and pick up some cough medicine for me".

I'm glad we've come to agreement, then :). I agree, if the expectations are unstated, there is no agreement, and nobody is bound by unstated expectations.

If the website makes you agree to not use an ad blocker, you agree, and then still do it, that's stealing. If you do not undergo this interrogative exchange, then it's not stealing.


Yes, that I agree with.

EDIT: maybe not 100% agree, because I'm not confident that "stealing" is the right word. The concept of theft carries extra connotations and constraints with it, and I'm too tired today to go into exploring this. But I definitely agree that if you consented to a contract and then proceeded to break it, then you're both morally in the wrong, and liable for any consequences that can be legally enforced.

Also, out of curiosity, looking at all your comments in this thread - is all this discussion a one big exercise at applying stuff from Scott Alexander's "Varieties of Argumentative Experience"? ;).


> Also, out of curiosity, looking at all your comments in this thread - is all this discussion a one big exercise at applying stuff from Scott Alexander's "Varieties of Argumentative Experience"? ;).

Haha, well, I did say this in the discord channel I share with some friends about an hour ago:

> whew boys, i'm arguing on like 87 fronts on hn simultaneously

> rly stirred up a hornets nest

> told them using ad blockers was stealing

> not even sure if i believe it, but makes for a good tussle

And I am also a pretty religious reader of slate star codex :).


Hah :).

> And I am also a pretty religious reader of slate star codex :).

So am I!

> > not even sure if i believe it, but makes for a good tussle

So are you now more, or less sure if you believe it?


> So are you now more, or less sure if you believe it?

Haha well....I'm not sure i'm any closer to an answer, other than of course that the label 'theft' is slippery and labeling something "theft" or "not theft" is kind of meaningless [0] (except insofar as the whole prison thing is concerned - it's kind of meaningful there). It is theft in the sense that something has been taken from someone under conditions other than those they specified. It is not theft in the sense that maybe they didn't really specify it clearly, or maybe society has decided to limit the media within which such terms may be specified? But why did we decide to do that? It all seems a little arbitrary, and really kind of boils down to the way certain mediums make people "feel". People (myself included) "feel" like digitally copying something is not the same as taking a physical object. Partly maybe because digital goods are non-rivalrous? I'm not sure.

There is actually a physical world example of this exact sort of thing: time share presentations. They often will give you some reward like a trip for sitting through their presentation. The dynamics are a little different, because you can't get the reward without sitting through the presentation. But what's really going on there? Is it the physical gating mechanism that gives it moral force? If they said "On the honor system, don't take any free meal coupons unless you watch the whole presentation", does that change the moral dynamics of the situation? I think the answer is probably no, but i'll tell you that it makes me personally a whole lot more likely to skip the presentation :p.

[0] http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-mad...


> of course that the label 'theft' is slippery and labeling something "theft" or "not theft" is kind of meaningless [0] (except insofar as the whole prison thing is concerned - it's kind of meaningful there). It is theft in the sense that something has been taken from someone under conditions other than those they specified.

The label "theft" is not like the label "feesh". Words carry weight beyond the category to which the refer.

If I say "You're an asshole! (btw, by 'asshole' I mean anyone who enjoys arguing on the internet)".

That is not the same as saying "You're a genius! (btw, by 'genius' I mean anyone who enjoys arguing on the internet)".

When you choose to use an morally (and legally) loaded term, you are doing more than just opening up a pointless semantics debate, you are striving for an emotional impact.

Why would you choose to use such a loaded term as "stealing", rather than the more clear and accurate term "breaking contract" when that much more clearly describes what you mean?


> When you choose to use an morally (and legally) loaded term, you are doing more than just opening up a pointless semantics debate, you are striving for an emotional impact.

I didn't originate the term, the comment I was responding to initially did.


In your scarf example, you gave me the scarf after you gave me the terms.

Let me flip it on you. Let's say you bake me a cake and give it to me. The following week you say, "Hey, you need to go to the store and pick up some cough medicine for me, because I gave you that cake." If I then refuse, would it be valid for you to claim I stole your cake?

In your scarf example, I also probably indicated to you that I would accept those terms. Suppose that I told you, upfront, before you gave me the scarf, "No, I'm not going to pick up cough medicine for you, period. If you hand me this scarf, I'm still not going to the store."

If you still handed the scarf to me after I made it clear I wasn't going to the store and made no effort to take it from you by force, could you claim that I stole from you?

Funnily enough, the second scenario is not entirely fictional. I remember a particularly scummy practice that businesses used to do when I was growing up where they'd mail you an unsolicited physical item and then demand payment or return of the item.

I don't remember if it was illegal at the time or if it became illegal later, but the basic gist was "if you post something to another person in the mail, you can't later demand that they send it back to you or pay you."

On the modern web, I connect to the NYT to read some text, and they return a bunch of unsolicited code that I never agreed to request. The idea that I have the obligation to run code that I never requested from the server (literally, my ad blocker prevents the request from being made) when I never agreed to any terms surrounding that code is... crazy to me. In any other domain we would call that crazy.


> In your scarf example, you gave me the scarf after you gave me the terms.

I didn't intend that interpretation. However, if you believe that's the crux of our disagreement, then we in fact do not disagree. If a site does not make clear its expectations, then there's no theft. If they do, then there is. And certainly you cannot be expected to turn off your adblocker before seeing those terms - that's silly. Uninformed consent is not consent. But once you are informed, to proceed with content consumption without abiding the clearly stated terms is theft.


You must get somebody to agree to the terms, not just state them.

If you say "I'll give you this scarf if you go to the store for me" and then drape it over my shoulder, I haven't broken any agreement or stolen anything if i walk away. You gave me your scarf without any agreement on my part and will have a hard time enforcing that agreement in court.

Similarly, I suspect that the "by using this site you agree to..." declaration that is widely used has fairly limited legal efficacy precisely due the the lack of explicit agreement.

Even if I do agree to your terms, if I don't go the store it STILL isn't theft. I am merely in breach of contract and you will have to go to court to get them to force me to return the scarf you gave to me.


> Similarly, I suspect that the "by using this site you agree to..." declaration that is widely used has fairly limited legal efficacy precisely due the the lack of explicit agreement.

The case i'm considering here is one of explicit agreement. E.g. checking a checkbox.

> Even if I do agree to your terms, if I don't go the store it STILL isn't theft. I am merely in breach of contract and you will have to go to court to get them to force me to return the scarf you gave to me.

Breach of contract and theft are often the same thing. I'm not sure what distinction you're drawing here.


> The case i'm considering here is one of explicit agreement. E.g. checking a checkbox.

So a fictional case? No site I have ever seen explicitly asks you to agree to view its ads.


Humans didn't implement physical reality, you have no choice but to live in it. If you use the internet to distribute your content however, you agree to its rules. And unlike physical reality, you may choose another platform to distribute it that conforms to your views. You may say that the internet is the most popular way to distribute content, but it didn't get there by accident.


You believe that protocols ought to represent binding contracts, then? Does that mean that exploiting bugs and stealing people's money is a perfectly legal and justifiable use of the internet?


Protocols and legal considerations go together. Exploiting bugs and stealing money is also breaking the law.

The issue sites have with ad blocking is because they demand from their visitors more than they agreed to on the protocol level.


is obeying the letter of the law but violating the spirit legal to you?


"Of course it's stealing. You're violating the contract you implicitly agree to when you visit the site."

No it's not and no you aren't. Entering a public area isn't trespassing and there's no such thing as a contract you implicitly agree too.


...you consider private websites to be public areas?


If I can get to it without passing through a gate (login) then yes, it is a public area. Content creators should put up a wall and gate (require someone to pay money to view the content) if they want their content to not be public.


Does a "check this box to agree to the terms" constitute a wall?


That would be an explicit agreement to a contract and there are still a large number of restrictions as to what a TOS can require from you.


> That would be an explicit agreement to a contract

Indeed it would. That's what i'm talking about.

> there are still a large number of restrictions as to what a TOS can require from you

Yep, there certainly are. And I don't believe the issue of "disable your adblocker" has yet been specifically adjudicated. But it seems like an eminently reasonable request to me.


If it is publicly accessible, it is not a private website. If someone hands me a free newspaper and I cut out the ads before reading it, is that also stealing?


Privately owned doesn't mean it's not publicly accessible. If they want selective entry, they need to put a bouncer at the door, not expect me to close my eyes, let them jam ad blasting headphones in my ears, while they riffle through my pockets for any personal information they might find valuable just for the privilege of viewing what is, more often than not, just another thinly disguised ad.


is browsing an open s3 bucket hacking?


Of course not, but that's a non-sequitur. A privately owned store has a public entrance, but we also are happy to accept the right of the store owner to charge admission or kick out people who cause trouble. Entering the store is not burglary, but staying there against the wishes of the owner is trespassing.


No one is preventing you from refusing to service a GET request.


Sure, but they haven't expressed any wishes at all.

If a site blocks me because I have an adblocker, I happily leave.

But if a site sends content to my machine... that's on them.


> But if a site sends content to my machine... that's on them.

Do you apply this moral principle in other areas? If your friend leaves their wallet at your house, do you consider the money in it to be yours?


A site does not send content to you by accident. Literally the very job of a web server is to evaluate whether or not you met the conditions entitling you to content. A HTTP 200 response literally means "here, you can have it".


This is an old argument.

If I record a TV program off-air and fast-forward through the commercials, am I stealing? If I arrive at the movie theater 20 minutes late to skip the trailers, am I stealing? If I change radio stations during the commercials, am I stealing? If my DVR automatically skips commercials, am I stealing? If I'm an eccentric billionaire and have my butler clip the advertising from my magazines and newspapers with scissors before I see them, is that stealing?


That depends on the nature of the agreement. If the content creator says "yes you must consume the ads in order to view the content", then you are stealing. If they don't say that, then you aren't.


I would consider this contract to be more "legal" if it contained the other side of the equation:

By looking at the ads and executing the code we download to your computer, our site assumes full responsibility for the code, ads and content, and will reimburse you for any damage (physical, material, emotional) caused to you by the software we serve.

We will not blame it on the "ad network", or "ad exchange" or a "google". Nope - if you got it from us, it's ours. So feel safe in deactivating your ad-block and surfing our site, because we got your back!


And as a consumer of content, it is absolutely within your rights to only frequent websites that have that clause.


You seem to consider the consumer the only “agent” — they have to make the decision on what sites to visit, they have to comply with the terms of the implicit agreement... what are the obligations of the publisher?


A publisher chooses what to publish. The agent chooses what to consume, on the terms specified by the publisher. If they don't like those terms, they don't consume. If publishers don't get enough consumers due to onerous terms, they relax their terms. That's how our system is supposed to work.


But couldn't this be framed as: the viewer chooses what to request. The agent chooses how to respond, based on the terms offered by the requestor. They could require a payment, a login, or a promise to view ads before responding.


No, I think if creators release their content in the world it becomes the world's. If you want to set terms rent a shed in the Nevada desert, charge admission, and make people leave their phones outside.

The idea that there are "terms" when there's never even been a negotiation is absurd.


> No, I think if creators release their content in the world it becomes the world's. If you want to set terms rent a shed in the Nevada desert, charge admission, and make people leave their phones outside.

The law disagrees. Intellectual property is a real thing. You can argue that it shouldn't be, but it is. Releasing something into the world doesn't mean that you no longer own it.

> The idea that there are "terms" when there's never even been a negotiation is absurd.

There has been a negotiation. Sites have a TOS. The fact that you choose not to read it does not mean that you can ignore it.


It seems you missed reading about the royalties you'd owe for quoting my HN comments. It's all in my Comment Usage TOS. If you'd found them you'd know that there are fees associated with quoting my comments. But no worries, since you have such a clear understanding of things I'm sure you realize that you've stolen $500 from me and violated my Comment Usage TOS. Please pay up.

I'm really glad we had this negotiation, by the way.


> Do you not believe that content creators have the right to set the terms upon which their content may be consumed?

That is it exactly. If you (knowingly/willingly) transmit information to a person, what they do with their copies of it is entirely up to them. This is items zero and one in (my particular ordering of) the set of inalienable right fundamental to sapient beings. If you don't want people to read your articles without seeing your ad, then don't publish your articles.


So, if someone tells you the password to their bank account, does that entitle you to the money in it?


If they intended to give me root access to the account, then yes. In the much more likely case that it was unintentional, I should badger them until they change their password. If they gave me the password unwillingly (eg, because they wanted me to deal with financial issue for them and their bank doesn't support more fine-grained authorization), same caveat. In either case, the problem is that the bank thinks that "[password]" is something only they know, and the solution (changing their password) has nothing to do with anything I actually do with the information, aside from (not) lying to the bank about my identity/money-ownership.


Its relative easy to replace a raw-ressource producer?

Nearly everyone who is bodily able and has the land- can farm or mine. You can specialize in a certain fruit, or in a certain growth method- but these are easily copied, and thuse the price differences in the long run always gets equalled out or - if there is a surplus, even drop below the point of creation.

Content can be created by nearly everyone who is able to write sentences and glue stockfootage into it.

Its the agriculture of the e-industry, the raw ressource. Once it is created, you loose controll over it, it goes from hand to hand, is traded, trafficked, refined and reused. And all those millers, traders, feedalot farmers, butchers and finally the customers- of the content world will be better off then the content creators - perpetually for eternity by the nature of the trade.

The only way out, is to create brands and fashion waves ala "organic" content. Which if succesfull will be aped by all and surplanted.

Contentcreators - welcome to hell.


This attitude is ridiculous. It's akin to saying I'm obliged to read a whole book.


You are if the author makes it a term of the sale.


I can't believe you're being serious. OK, let's take it a step further. What about this: in the middle of the book the author says you can't finish reading if you don't stand on your head. Will you do it? Classic reductio ad absurdum.

We are free people. You are free to invent your own terms. You can propose any rules. You can declare that visiting your website without clicking five times on different buttons is unethical. I can visit your website and only raise my eyebrows at your rules, without feeling any moral urge to do what you demand.


> I can't believe you're being serious. OK, let's take it a step further. What about this: in the middle of the book the author says you can't finish reading if you don't stand on your head. Will you do it? Classic reductio ad absurdum.

That is not an ad reductio argument in the least. It's a silly condition, but if the author requires it, then you must do it, or you can simply not read the book. What part of basic social contract theory do you not get?


There is no requirement in social contract that you have to obey anything another person says, just because they said it. On the contrary, social contract has it that whether an exchange is a gift or a business transaction must be defined before the exchange happens.


Yes, of course. In the example I assumed the terms were laid out beforehand.


It's important to make that assumption explicit, because the current situation on the web is that sites do not lay the terms out beforehand, do not demand an informed consent, and then proceed to complain people use the web the way it was intended to use (according to web protocols).


This isn't correct. I believe there are extensive restrictions on what type of terms are considered "reasonable", especially between consumers and corporations.

Arbitrary contract terms aren't automatically viewed as valid and binding by the courts.


You're correct, and this is the path to the primary legitimate argument against the view that you're morally obligated to view ads. None of the things other people are saying in response to me represent correct understandings of the issue. This is its crux: Can users meaningfully agree to the terms of websites they visit?


> This is its crux: Can users meaningfully agree to the terms of websites they visit?

Even if you can show that a user has fully read and understood the terms of an agreement, there are MANY legal restrictions on what these agreements can stipulate and require. These restrictions are NOT based only on a user's ability to "...meaningfully agree to the terms of websites they visit"

Furthermore, nothing at all of what you have said makes any sort of moral argument. There is nothing immoral about breaking a contract as long as you entered it in good faith.


> Can users meaningfully agree to the terms of websites they visit?

Yes, of course. But the issue isn't with that, but with how these terms work. The terms start to apply after the user has read and considered them. If you want to limit access to some content unless the user agrees to your terms, you're free to do so. But you can't give the content, and then retroactively ask user to accept the terms and expect them to agree because they already got the content.


If the terms aren't legally enforceable, then why is it immoral for the user to ignore the terms? We are certainly not talking about theft anymore.


Or else what? The author won't sell me another one? That's his only recourse, just like how the website owner's only recourse is to make the terms explicit by blocking the content if I block your ads, which some sites already do, and which I gladly avoid.


First sale doctrine disagrees with this assertion.


First sale doctrine has nothing to do with this. First sale doctrine applies to resales, not the initial sale.


Nope.

First sale doctrine explicitly limits the restriction that the seller of a copyrightable work can place on the buyer.

It is illegal for you to sell me a book and say "you can't let any of your friends read this copy of this book" because that violates the first sale doctrine.


I'm aware. But the fact that limits exist to copyright does not in any way show that this particular limit exists or is good.


In my terms of service for my website, I state clearly that all visitors must pay me a billion dollars when viewing my page. You think that is stealing too? There's zero difference between the two. If blocking ads is stealing, then certainly, not paying me a billion dollars for every page view is massive theft. I not only want to recover the billions that people owe me, but I now should have the right to get the state to prosecute them and they should spend a significant portion of their lives in jail for such felonious theft. Or, maybe blocking ads isn't stealing, only suggesting that it is is clearly an argument that hasn't been through through at all.


>Do you not believe that content creators have the right to set the terms upon which their content may be consumed? >you don't believe that you have the right to say "you may read this article, provided that you also display this ad"?

No.

>What makes you think you have the right to the content, without abiding its terms?

The server has already sent it to me. The data is already in my computer. I can do whatever I want with it. Does a magazine publisher get mad if I rip out the advertisement pages and throw them in the trash?

>You're violating the contract you implicitly agree to when you visit the site.

Nobody implicitly agrees to anything. Is that even a thing? People simply open up sites and consume whatever's on them.

>Of course it's stealing. >it's clearly stealing

That's about as dishonest as claiming piracy is stealing. Making copies of something doesn't subtract the original from its owner, therefore it is obviously not stealing. It's called artificial scarcity for a reason: it doesn't actually exist. Receiving ad-loaded copies of something and then using a computer program to remove the noise is not stealing, it is user experience improvement.


I'm going to need a Poe's Law check on this one. Sincere or satire?


Sincere.


Content creators have a privilege granted by copyright law to control the manner in which their work is distributed. Once the copy has passed to another, the law does not grant any further control over what the recipient may do with it privately. That is governed by explicit licensing terms.

Websites may have a terms of use document that offers an adhesion contract for licensing the copyrighted materials served by the site. But such terms are not necessarily enforceable in every jurisdiction. And the onus is on the provider to enforce their licenses.

Therefore, if the license contract states that a user may not read article X unless they also watch advertisement Y, it is in the site's interest to not serve X until after proof of Y has been returned.

One cannot steal what was given freely. And it isn't exactly clear what remedy should be available to sites from users that breach an adhesion contract that has no technical measures implemented for enforcement. It isn't stealing. It is a civil licensing violation, at best.


Pushing an ad to my browser is stealing - namely CPU cycles and network bandwidth. My terms and conditions (which they implicitly agree to by answering an HTTP request from me), forbid them from supporting themselves with advertising.

Sound ridiculous? That's because a web request and response is a collaborative effort of the two computers. The World Wide Web wasn't built for this kind of shitty, vaguely-adversarial, commercial-transaction-like interaction that everybody seems to want to turn everything into.

If you place your "content" for "consumption" on the World Wide Web, you are saying clients can connect to that server and request content. To say that certain content is mandatory is completely ridiculous. Restricting content can only be subtractive, that's why a paywall is the only sustainable model for anyone who insists on eternally Septembering their way to profit and riche$ on the WWW.


> Pushing an ad to my browser is stealing - namely CPU cycles and network bandwidth. My terms and conditions (which they implicitly agree to by answering an HTTP request from me), forbid them from supporting themselves with advertising.

Great, and if those are your terms and conditions, guess what, nobody forces you to visit their websites.


Look, the only implicit conditions on the Web are those of networking protocols - which work in the following way: I can request whatever I want. You can do whatever you want with my request - namely serve it (e.g. HTTP 200 + data), refuse to serve it (e.g. HTTP 4xx / 5xx), or ignore it (just terminate the TCP connection, or not accept it in the first place). Whatever you choose, our interaction ends there. Whatever you sent me is now mine to interpret the way I want.

Anything beyond that is defined by laws, and there are no laws that tell me I have to use a Typical Browser in a Typical Configuration to render all the data you sent me with a HTTP 200 response. There are no such laws, and there can't be, because they would be completely ridiculous.


> Anything beyond that is defined by laws, and there are no laws that tell me I have to use a Typical Browser in a Typical Configuration to render all the data you sent me with a HTTP 200 response. There are no such laws, and there can't be, because they would be completely ridiculous.

Not true. There exists a thing called contracts. Contracts allow two (or more!) parties to come to complex agreements about the manner and conduct of transactions. Terms of contracts can be quite broad, and specify the manner and mode of consumption, use, or disposition of goods and services.

Now, there is some debate over whether or not web users can meaningfully agree to such contracts. This is a legitimate debate. What is not a legitimate debate is how the semantics of the HTTP protocol relate to any of this.


>Not true. There exists a thing called contracts. Contracts allow two (or more!) parties to come to complex agreements about the manner and conduct of transactions.

Um... it was completely true.

1) Contracts are not laws, they are agreements that have some ability be enforced by our legal system.

2) The are strong legal limitations (by actual laws) on what restrictions contracts can impose on "the manner and mode of consumption, use, or disposition of goods and services"

3) There is no debate as to whether web users can meaningfully agree to such contracts. If the terms of the contract are illegal, then the contract is invalid. A recent example is the FCC's recent statement about warranty stickers. There is debate as to what degree the common trope "check here to agree to our ToS" actually constitutes agreement to a contract.

4) You seem to have backed yourself into a corner where websites must explicitly get you to agree to now block their ads before showing you content. This still isn't stealing, but it may be a breach of contract. Now do you have any examples of websites that are doing this? Or has your entire point been to acuse 0 people of breaching 0 contracts?


That’s... not how contracts work. Contracts require signatories and notiries and so on. There is no debate to be had here, unless you’re making some wild claims about what people are agreeing to. Informal agreements between computers or even people are not legally binding contracts, and neither are Get requests.


> That’s... not how contracts work. Contracts require signatories and notiries and so on.

While that is a common misconception, it is false. Contracts do not require signatures or notaries. Signatures and notaries help to make a contract more enforceable, but they are not required for a contract to be enforceable. An email exchange can constitute a legally binding contract. Even a verbal exchange. The notion that signatures or notaries or any such formalities are required is simply untrue.


Obviously. Just like nobody forces them to answer HTTP requests.

Your comment is mighty thin gruel, intellectually speaking. Couldn't handle reading the second whole paragraph where it's revealed that this is a thought experiment?


Do you not believe that content creators have the right to set the terms upon which their content may be consumed?

Sure, if they’re on a private network. If you’re broadcasting though, hell no. It would be like a tv network demanding that you don’t use a DVR because it lets you skip ads. If you want the benefits of broadcasting to the open web, you’ve already tacitly agreed to let people consume that the way they see fit. You don’t get to set the volume of their audio, or anything else, including what gets displayed.


I agree with you. The thing I do not like with the current ads on the internet is that you are implicitly agreeing to a contract which is written nowhere and that you have no way of reading.


Hey, cool fact: you're not entering any such contract, and the idea that you are is insane.

There's no such thing as an implicit contract in this case (and most cases in general). If he chooses to serve his content and I choose to not read parts of that's fine.


When I was a child, I would record cartoons on the VCR. When the commercials started, I would stop the recording and resume once the programme began again. I think I would mute the TV too!

There was certainly a way that the distributors wanted me to consume the content with the ads, but I'd think that my muting and selective recording was socially okay. The media companies were welcome to stop broadcasting cartoons and sell movies or high-margin DVDs if they wanted.

I don't really see a bunch of HTML and JavaScript as any different. I'd prefer that they revert to a paywall if they don't like the their content being modified locally by the end-user.


How are ads not stealing bandwidth and electricity?


The only reason we have free online content to consume is because content creators expect to be reimbursed through ads. When I block ads I am free-riding off of people that don't. Whether this is stealing or not is semantics, and I don't care to get into that discussion. But I do see a moral problem here.

I personally do block most ads, which is kind of justifiable to me because of malware concerns, but I'm not going to pretend I'm doing nothing wrong. I try to pay for content when possible. I support non-advertising business models.


There's just one little problem with your theory, which happens to be the factual accuracy.

Free online content was around before the ads were :\

Certain KINDS of online content will go away without advertising, but when you look at a great deal of that online content, I think there's at least a debatable moral argument to be made that the moral position is that it should be gotten rid of.


> Whether this is stealing or not is semantics, and I don't care to get into that discussion. But I do see a moral problem here.

It's not just semantics. Words matter. It's important semantics. Using an ad-blocker is neither stealing, nor free-riding (web-content is excludable and other consumer are not paying for it.)

This is much more akin to making use of a facility with a suggested donation and not making a donation. The morality here is fairly grey and heavily circumstantial. If you can easily afford the donation and the facility is the verge shutting down due to lack of funds, the the immorality seems fairly clear cut. If making a donation would preclude you from being able to use the facility or the facility is sufficiently funded, then few people would fault you from making use of it, especially if you make a point of picking up trash or making other efforts to improve the facility.

Online advertising not a clear cut case. Do we need to make sure our content creators get paid? Certainly. Does online advertising do a good job of rewarding skilled content creators? Sometimes. Does encouraging content creators to use advertising for reimbursement lead to access to better content? Doubtful.

I think you can easily offset any moral qualms you have about using an ad-blocker by funding direct donations, patreons, kickstarters or any of a number of other means of funding content creators and publishers directly.

Overall, I think paid advertising is an inherently immoral way of funding the content I consume. Why should I force the customers of companies I'm never going to buy anything from to pay for my entertainment?


If a site I cared about was teetering on the edge in the internet stone age, they'd put up a Paypal donation button and you chip in.

Now, sites with value have either figured their strategy out or have something like Patreon, which I'm a big fan of. I'll donate to the Guardian if they flash that yellow banner, you know?

So no big loss for the other 99% of the web that feels slighted by ad-blockers and complains or shills for the ad network industry to save their bacon. If they fold, it's no loss.


Content creators seem to be expecting a lot, based on absolutely nothing.


Is it me, or is pi hole way more popular than it should be? Compared to the alternatives, it's worse in almost every way. It only works on your local network, so good luck blocking ads while you're at work, using mobile data, or at a cafe. Browser based adblockers (which is available on most desktop browsers, mobile safari, and firefox for android) can block elements and url patterns, pi hole can't. Even if you're on a browser that can't use adblock (mostly android), you can still use VPN based adblockers (the ones that reroute your traffic through a local VPN), which work regardless of what network you're on. And worst of all, all of the alternatives are free, which can't be said for pi hole[1].

[1] I know you can run pi hole on your desktop OS, which is technically free, but you need to leave your computer on 24/7 which undoubtedly raises your electricity bill.


I run pi-hole in conjunction with browser blockers and still find it a net benefit overall. Anyone who uses my wifi gets an adblocker, any device, for any browser, and any configuration gets the benefit of having it. It's not just myself, a technically literate person, but my mother, sister, girlfriend and friends... Ideally if it stops just one malicious ad from landing itself upon my home's network then I say the benefit is there.

If you have an excuse to run a Raspberry Pi at home for any other purpose then use Pi-hole to piggy back off it and the cost you cite becomes a writeoff. I had a Rpi running OpenVPN for myself, throwing PiHole on it was a no brainer.


Not just that but it also can block all sorts of telemetry for devices on your network beyond PCs.

For example, mine blocks Samsung telemetry from my TV, so I can still use the TV apps without having my info sent to Samsung.


Interesting. I assume that it could do generate IoT telemetry blocking. That's reason enough to investigate moving forward. With smart appliances and IoT there is no opportunity to install stuff on the device.

The big hole in this model is for devices that have their own cellular radios.


> Browser based adblockers (which is available on most desktop browsers, mobile safari, and firefox for androd

Answered your own question. That list does not include chrome, smart TVs, fire TV, Roku, Kindle, game consiles, iot devices of all types. Nor all guests.

You need both. Security / defence needs to be deep and layared and mukti-vendor to be effective.


Pi Hole is free, unless you're counting the system you have to run it off of (like a raspberry pi) but you can run it off any device you want like a virtual machine at home for instance, so you only need to buy a Raspberry Pi if that's how you intend to operate it. The benefit of it, is it blocks a lot more than just ads. For instance, it blocks any attempts to "phone home" by my smart TV or by applications I use such as Nvidia Geforce Experience. It's more extensive than browser based ad blockers because it works for your entire network, not just web browsing (for example, blocks all youtube ads on my un-rooted mobile device). It also has a huge set of customizable community maintained block lists that block everything from simple ads all the way to pornography (if that's what you want).


Here's an example of some of the community maintained lists you can use to block more things easily. https://wally3k.github.io/ Many of these are updated quite frequently as well.


You got it to block YouTube ads? Thats the reason I bought an rpi, but it didnt block the ads in the native YouTube app. Still works great against other inapp ads though.


>Pi Hole is free, unless you're counting the system you have to run it off of (like a raspberry pi) but you can run it off any device you want like a virtual machine at home for instance, so you only need to buy a Raspberry Pi if that's how you intend to operate it.

That was addressed in the parent comment under footnote [1].


All you need is a VPN (such as OpenVPN) or SNT (such as ZeroTier) to your home router with your Pi-Hole. Which is conceivable on mobile, though it does cost some power (but you also don't see/load the ads saving bandwidth and CPU cycles). A Pi-Hole on a Raspberry Pi doesn't cost much electricity-wise; it does cost something for the hardware but you can use the RPi for more that just Pi-Hole. An alternative is Ublock Origin which works in Firefox and Chrome (even Firefox Mobile) but it isn't OS-wide.


With always connected VPN on my mobile to my home, blocking ads on mobile works well. Also when connected to hotspots on my portable devices. Great point about work though.


The difference with pi-hole is that since it blocks it at the DNS level the network traffic doesn't even reach you, saving on bandwidth.

It will also be faster than most browser based ad blockers since the browser has to analyze every webpage whereas pi-hole blocks by simply not making a request.

Also if you want a DNS that works outside your local network it would be trivial to get a cloud server for $5 a month put pi hole on it and route DNS through that. Then you could get free https certs and have a pretty sweet private DNS just for you!

And if you're someone trying to setup their own local DNS it's likely you have a spare pi or computer laying around somewhere to use.

And finally it offers pretty great convience. Instead of having to setup blockers on every device it just needs to be set on the pi.


Every major ad-blocking browser extension blocks based on URL patterns and CSS selectors. Requests that match URL patterns on the blacklist are dropped, which is at least as fast and saves at least as much bandwidth as blocking at the DNS level. More, really, since URL patterns can block individual paths under a domain, blocking ad scripts hosted on the same domain as content you want to load.


I thought you had to root your Android to block ads?

In my household we have four people with smartphones and another four laptops. That's a lot of ads to block.

Blocking ads on my laptop made a more noticeable improvement to web browsing than increasing my network bandwidth.


DNS66[0] can block ads without root.

[0]: https://f-droid.org/en/packages/org.jak_linux.dns66/


> I thought you had to root your Android to block ads?

Maybe with Chrome, but there's an Android version of Firefox that lets you install uBlock Origin:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.mozilla.fi...


I do what pi-hole does using pfBlockerNG, a package available for pfSense, which my home router runs.

But I still combine it with a browser-based ad blocker. It's worth doing both, because the network-based blocker will also block other LAN devices connecting to tracking servers, increasingly important in this IoT age.

According to my router's stats, the most blocked sites are:

device-metrics-us.amazon.com e.crashlytics.com ssl.google-analytics.com www.googletagservices.com www.google-analytics.com nexus.officeapps.live.com api.stathat.com www.googleadservices.com


It can block ads on devices where I _can't_ use an adblocker (Xbox One dashboard, Windows Phones), and blocks telemetry data from those devices and Windows 10[1]. It's also set and forget - I set it up once, then get "good enough" blocking on _any_ device on that network. I'm also on my home network 95%+ of the time, so I don't really care about mobile usage (for my use case).

[1] Such as the 1450 requests in the last 24 hours to watson.telemetry.microsoft.com


If you are on Android, you can install the Brave browser for Android. It's essentially just a recompiled Chrome with built-in ad-blocking.


> ... using mobile data, or at a cafe.

I run a VPN on my Edgerouter X and use that while out and about to keep things ad free and reasonably safe.


I run Pi hole on my home network, and then connect to my home network VPN on my phone and get mobile ad blocking.


Just get a raspberry pi, the power usage is negligble.


$35 for the device + ??? for accessories, compared to $0 for downloading an adblocker.


[flagged]


Android Chrome, specifically.

It's maddening.


No, I was astounding that something so wrong was being peddled.


I run a similar setup that downloads the blacklist from some guy named Steven Black who wants to make the internet better and then I pipe it through sed to include them on my unbound resolver. The file is configured as an include on unbound.conf.

#!/bin/sh

PATH="/bin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/usr/sbin"

rm -f /tmp/badsites

wget https://raw.githubusercontent.com/StevenBlack/hosts/master/h... -O /tmp/badsites

if [ -f /tmp/badsites ]; then

    grep '^0\.0\.0\.0' /tmp/badsites | awk '{print "local-zone: \""$2"\" redirect\nlocal-data: \""$2" A 0.0.0.0\""}' > /etc/unbound/badsites.conf
  
    rm /tmp/badsites
  
fi

rc-service unbound reload


Surely the next step is for websites to host their own ads again? They can even forward cookies on to ad networks etc.


Hosting their own ads would at least force them to vet their own ads, which is ultimately what most people want, I think.


The next step would be to do render the whole page including ads directly into a canvas/opengl element using some heavily obfuscated wasm binary in order to circumvent the DOM and any DOM/JS-based ad blocker.


You still need to make an HTTP request to get the ad data. Ad blockers don't just block the DOM elements, they block the HTTP request too.


Data can easily be embedded either as inline data URI or as JS arrays. You can have static pages containing many MB of embedded data. If the adds used SVG they might not even be very large, bandwidth wise.


Would be great if this would be an option, especially with the GDPR coming. But for small to medium sized publishers there are no ads you could host your own.


This is simply not true. i spoke two years ago with the CEO of a small publisher company (~3 employees). This company was focused on mobility, from train to skateboard, with cars being obviously the main focus. Affiliated links for small stuff like electric monocycles and/or sponsored tests for cars was enough to pay himself, his author, IT guy and tester.


It also requires you to self-host an ad server (and most open source ad servers are terrible) and it requires the advertiser to completely trust your numbers since they'll have no way to verify how many impressions you served. That's tough right now even for people who sell ads directly.


I wish it were that simple. Self-hosted ads still get blocked.


I've been running a Pi-Hole instance for about a year now, it's excellent. I could never get it to work with my router, but manually configuring the DNS on my devices to point to it works just as well.

One thing that became immediately apparent was how much faster browsing the web got after I turned it on.


Been running it myself for 5-6 months, and other than the occasional (actually, very rare) complaint from the Mrs. that a link she clicked won't go through due to a blocked tracker/analytics intermediary, it's been a peachy time VPNing into our home network so it works just as well on the go.

Our install Pi-Hole points its upstream DNS to 1.1.1.1, with uBlock Origin where possible installed on our devices. Can't imagine going back.


What advantage is there in using 1.1.1.1 instead of your own DNS resolver?


To add to a1369209993's comment, an alternate DNS might be faster (as Cloudflare claims for 1.1.1.1), too. Or more stable than your default DNS. But for me, anyway, I made the switch after Frontier started pulling the NXDOMAIN stunt.


Some ISP-provided resolvers fraudulently replace NXDOMAIN responses with NOERROR IN As pointing to (ironically, in this context) advertisment sites.


I'm aware of the problems with ISP-provided resolvers. I meant running your own resolver, like named, which queries the root zones itself, supports DNSSEC response authentication, etc.


In that case: local resolvers involve actually installing and configuring a recursive dns server, which isn't everyone's idea of fun, whereas 1.1/8.8.8.8 can be set up with a one line config file edit and then forgotten about.


...also censorship. Even my German ISP (Vodafone) apparently reroutes some URLs to servers they control.

Solved it with DNS66.


I resorted to having that PiHole to be my DHCP server and I turned off DHCP service on the router. It's a bit more fragile, but more flexible as well...


Agreed, same for me. I did get it to work with my router as well, and it works amazingly well. When you supplement it with the community ban lists as well, it's incredibly powerful and updated quite frequently. Highly recommend it. Works great off a Raspberry-Pi.


I wonder if the backlash against advertising and social and the web more generally will lead to more people buying these sorts of devices to try and own their own networks and information again. Surely the cloud providers and the platforms will suffer in this shift.


Ever since I was given my first computer and was allowed on the internet, I've had NoScript and Adblock installed.

I installed a Pi-hole last week, totally worth. Best amount of time and money I've spent so far this year.


Here it is! That comment that makes you feel old!


I think we are slowly gaining consciousness about the danger of ads. It's really pernicious but I think has overall terrible effects on people (self estime, food / alcohol consumption...). And not just ads, but also product placement in movies / TV shows.

I think it's terrible for our health and our minds.


Ads aren't innocent anymore. As technology gets better they are getting far, far more persuasive. It's gonna get weird once it hits a crucial threshold of effectiveness and basically make public opinion counterfeit.

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