Changing my tune Internet on ads

For many years I have installed an extension called Ad Block Plus on my clients’ Firefox and Chrome browsers.  I have made it a habit of installing Ad Block (put out by a different developer) on Safari browsers for Mac.    Over the past year or so, Ad Block Plus became available for Internet Explorer too.   Since so few of my clients use Internet Explorer, this isn’t a bridge I have needed to cross.

I have followed both sides of the argument for quite some time.  Is it ethical to block Internet based ads?    My position used to be ALWAYS, and under all circumstances.  I was adamant about this.

My position is now slightly different.  I want to help you block BAD ADS.  

It is absolutely true that computers have been infected because of ads, often ads that people click, but due to ads that they have not clicked.   Very often these problems occur because of Flash based ads .  I have told you about Adobe Flash before.  It is not an application that we run directly.  It is a “helper” that powers videos, graphics, and games on the internet.   Flash isn’t a virus.  It isn’t evil, but it can be used to to inject bad things into your computer by nefarious actors.   If you can totally avoid Flash, then never install it.   If you need to use it, I believe the safest way is via the Google Chrome browser which compiles Flash on its own as a part of the browser (no separate install required, no separate updates required).    With the computer clients that I serve, I would say about 50% can avoid Flash all together and 50% use it for some reason (websites that they often visit use the technology).

However, lots of websites that we FREELY use depend on revenue from ads.   I am not only talking about big websites like Yahoo, or CNN, or the Drudge Report.  Smaller sites, for example a site for a local radio station or business that you frequent probably depend on ad revenue.  A common misconception is,  that if you don’t click on the ad no revenue is generated.  Why not block them anyway?  That is not true.  Most ad revenue programs are based on impressions, meaning the number of times and ad is shown.    Websites that provide information freely have the right to be paid via ads and also offer options to allow customers to pay a small fee to remove ads.   The wrong way to go is using potentially harmful Flash based ads.  If we block all ads, a lot of good sites are going to go out of business or go behind a paywall (such as one of our favorite local newspapers did earlier in the year).

There must be a happy medium between no ads and all ads.  I am not going to be altering clients’ computers the next time I visit to remove Ad Block Plus.  If you request it or want to do it yourself, this is an option.      On all new computer setups or major computer overhauls, I will not be installing Ad Block Plus or AdBlock.  (They is certainly easy enough for  you to install on your own if you want it).   Instead I will install Flash Control (or a similar extension on Safari for Mac).  The following will happen,

1.  All Flash based ads will be blocked.

2.  All videos on a site that uses Flash, like ESPN (remember You Tube no longer relies on Flash for new videos), will not auto-play.   I think that will be a huge relief right?  Auto-play is extremely annoying.  If you want to play a video on a Flash site, you will simply click on a button that hovers over the video and you will be able to play it.

The take home points are, legitimate websites and content creators on those sites SHOULD be paid for their contributions.   Ads make this possible and keep a lot of content free for us.  We should have every right to block harmful, Flash based ads.   More and more sites are moving away from Flash based ads and we should cheer on this transition.