On Ad Blockers, Paywalls, and Entitlement

Questioning the demand for unlimited free content

Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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YouTube “play” logo with the Ad Block “hand” logo superimposed.

Since the dawn of intrusive advertisements, consumers have sought to avoid these interruptions to their viewing. This practice did not begin with the Internet. Many television viewers have left the room or muted the sound during commercial breaks. When VCRs became widely available, viewers fast-forwarded through recorded commercials. Then VCRs were developed that could automatically detect and skip past these ads.

So it was inevitable that when websites began peppering their pages with advertising, ad-blocking technology would soon follow. Beyond being annoyed by ads distracting the viewer from what they are trying to read, savvy users have become increasingly concerned about trackers that record their every move. Some web browsers — including Firefox, my browser of choice for many years — even have built-in functionality to block this surveillance.

Now, some ad-supported websites are starting to display notices or even block use of the site entirely when they detect suspected ad blockers. I have seen several such warnings myself even though I don’t use any such blockers; I simply use Firefox with its default, “Enhanced Tracking Protection” setting.

Screenshot of a browser window labeled “Protections for medium.com”, with “Enhanced Tracking Protection” set to “On for this site”, and other information about tracking content.
Screenshot of Firefox protection settings for this page.

Though I hate intrusive advertising, I don’t use ad blockers because I recognize that ad revenue is a legitimate way for companies and individuals to pay for their expenses. If I find a website’s advertising to be too annoying, I simply avoid that site. If an ad-supported site that I visit frequently offers a subscription for ad-free viewing, and the cost is reasonable, I will consider subscribing.

YouTube is one such site. My partner and I watch a lot of videos on YouTube, so it makes sense for us to subscribe to YouTube Premium. Though the cost is higher than some of the other streaming services we subscribe to, it is worth it to us to avoid the constant interruptions to our viewing.

YouTube is also one of the sites that is now detecting ad blockers, and is displaying a warning that blocking ads violates their terms of service. The…

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Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, pacifist. Pronouns: they/them/their. funcrunch.org, patreon.com/funcrunch