If You Don’t Want People Viewing Content For Free Stop Posting It For Free

The war over online advertising just keeps getting better. Even though ad blockers reduce bandwidth usage, increase battery life, and protect against malware there are content providers whining that consumers shouldn’t install them. Some are even claiming that consumers have a moral obligation not to install them and have gone so far as to use loaded terms such as theft.

Now the pro-ads crowd is saying web consumers who view ad supported content while using an ad blocker are hypocrites. I might as well address this pile of bullocks since I’ve already invested so much time on this topic. The pro-ads crowd is painting a false picture. Namely that consumers should feel hypocritical about viewing something that’s been publicly displayed if they’re not viewing it how the creator intended.

Let’s consider a hypothetic scenario. A sculptor homesteads a plot of unused land in Libertariantopia (a magical land where everybody is supposedly a libertarian) and places one of his sculptures on it. He doesn’t build any fences or put up any signs indicating the land is his so people continue to walk through it as they always have. As they walk through his little plot of land they see his sculpture and stop for a moment to admire it. Suddenly the sculptor run at the people and starts screaming, “You can only view that sculpture through blue tinted glasses! You call yourselves libertarians?! You’re a bunch of hypocrites!” Assuming the people admiring the sculpture are good libertarians who believe in property rights, were they hypocrites for viewing that sculpture on the sculptor’s land without blue tinted glasses?

Absolutely not. First, they had no way of knowing they were even on private property since it wasn’t marked as such. Second, there was no indication that the sculptor wanted people to only view his sculpture through blue tinted glasses. Things would have been different had the sculptor fenced his land or put up obvious signs indicating the property was private. Then passersby would be aware that the property was private and not have entered it. Had the sculptor then hung signs stating, “Everybody is granted free entry for the purpose of viewing my sculpture so long as they are wearing blue tinted glass,” everybody entering his property would know that they could enter but their status as guests would be conditional based on the posted terms.

As you can guess this analogy is meant to illustrate accessing ad-supported websites. The sculptor’s plot of land is the website, the sculpture is the content, and the blue tinted glasses are the ads. Most websites have terms of service but they are not clearly posted just as no signs are clearly posted on the sculptor’s land. Under such conditions most visitors will remain entirely ignorant of any special rules they’re expected to abide by.

Unless web site owners clearly display their terms and conditions to visitors before allowing them access to the content they have no grounds on which to call visitors using ad blockers hypocrites. If you want people on your property to act in a certain way that’s outside of social norms, and let’s face the fact that using an ad blocker is now a norm, you should inform them. Don’t scream “Hypocrite!” because visitors are using an ad blocker if you don’t first display terms of services indicating such behavior was not allowed on your website.

What if the visitors aren’t libertarians and therefore don’t respect the owner’s property rights? Then you’ve got a much bigger problem on your hands because their philosophy may very well be socialist in nature and therefore they may view all property, including your content, as public. You’re going to have an even harder time successfully arguing that they’re hypocrites.