The Noisy Channel

 

Opting Out of Ads

January 31st, 2009 · 7 Comments · General

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.

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andreas Ringdal // Jan 31, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    No content, or is it my Adblocker that is blocking it all? :)

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Jan 31, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    WTF! I just wrote the post and apparently suffered a WordPress hiccup. Re-constructing it now…

  • 3 Jack Herrick // Jan 31, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for blogging about this. I certainly agree that other websites should do this. It’s great for users and it doesn’t hurt revenues. Kinda perplexed that so few sites do this.

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Feb 1, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Jack, thanks for taking the initiative and publicizing it. Perhaps more companies will learn from your example. But of course the 800-pound gorilla of online advertising is Google, and I doubt they’re ready to gamble with 99% of their revenue.

  • 5 jeremy // Feb 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Most users apparently aren’t opting out.

    I would like to see this turned around. I would like to see what would happen, if the ads were *off* by default, and it were up to the user to opt in.

    What would the statistics be, in terms of user opt-in rate? I bet they would not be that different from the low opt-out rate.

    What that says to me is not that ads are useful to the users. That says to me that users are just lazy, and tend to stick with defaults, no matter what the default does.

    But to conclude that since most users don’t opt out means that ads are useful to most users seems like too much of a leap. It’s not a very scientific/rational conclusion.

  • 6 Daniel Tunkelang // Feb 2, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    I hear you, and I’m familiar with the literature on people’s tendency to go with the default option, most recently given a popular treatment by Dan Ariely in his book, “Predictably Irrational”.

    http://www.predictablyirrational.com/

    But allowing users to opt out of ads would be a very significant step. Sure, people like us can do it by installing ad blockers, but how many non-technical users feel comfortable doing that–or even are aware that such functionality exists? For that matter, most websites have terms of service, however unenforceable, that prohibit the use of ad blockers.

    You’re right that users’ failure to opt out proves nothing. But perhaps it is enough to embolden search engines and media companies to offer users this functionality. Surely you agree that this would be a significant step in the right direction.

  • 7 jeremy // Feb 2, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I do agree it would be a significant step.

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