I’m a long-time fan of ad blocking software, from the Siemens Webwasher plug-in in the early days to the Adblock Plus and CustomizeGoogle Firefox add-ons today. I know that some people view the use of ad-blocking software on ad-supported sites as anti-social or unethical. My personal view is that it is no different from physically obscuring the ads, or muting a television set during an advertising break. In any case, the technology allows it, and I’m am a very satisfied customer.
But I’m delighted to see that mainstream sites are finally starting to understand that advertising should not be coercive. Check out a post by Marisa Taylor in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Turning the Ads Off“. There she notes that some high-traffic sites, including wikiHow, AboutUs and, Kayak.com, are allowing users to opt out of ads.
Most users apparently aren’t opting out. According to Jack Herrick, founder of wikiHow:
“‘Opt-out’ ads are the good netizen thing to do for users,” he said. “It doesn’t actually hurt revenues that much anyway. And users love it. So why not do it?”
The other day, I asked a friend at Google if, given the option, she’d opt out of Google’s ads. Since she’s an employee, I imagine she might take the site’s terms of service seriously, or at least have more moral qualms about violating them. But she said that she found value in the ads, and wouldn’t opt out of them. Indeed, Google claims that the ads are valuable to users, not just advertisers.
I’d love to see Google put its money where its mission is, and make it easy for users to opt out of ads. That would show true leadership, as well as a confidence in its most sacred principle: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” But I’m not holding my breath.