The Ad Blocker's Dilemma: Sell Your Soul or Destroy the Internet | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Note to Self

The Ad Blocker's Dilemma: Sell Your Soul or Destroy the Internet

The Internet runs on advertising. Everyone from huge tech companies to scrappy start-up websites rely on ads.

There's just one problem: People hate advertising and the tracking that comes with it – and droves of us have started blocking them.

I might have raised my voice a little when I learned she was adblocking our own. site.

— Nicole Cliffe (@Nicole_Cliffe) September 21, 2015

A report from Adobe and PageFair last month found that there are now 198 million active ad-block users worldwide, costing publishers nearly $22 billion. With the advent of iOS 9, app developers can now create ad blocking software for Safari’s mobile browser, giving the huge market of iPhone and iPad users the power to block ads on mobile. Within hours of iOS 9's launch, ad blockers topped the App Store charts. And within hours of that, even the app's creators started having second thoughts.

It's the ethical quandary at the heart of the Internet as we know it. If we're not paying for content, how does it generate a salary for the people producing it?

On this episode of Note to Self, Casey Johnston of WireCutter and The Awl helps us delve into the catch-22 of loving the scrappy start-up websites, and hating the way they're funded.

Here's some parting advice:

If you decide to take the ad-blocking plunge?

If you use Android or Apple, you have options. The most popular app for iOS right now is Crystal.

Once you’ve chosen the right app (list here), install it, go into "Settings" for Safari, and select that app as your content blocker. This way, content is blocked across all implementations of Safari, including the Safari app itself and within apps that use the Safari API.

Do the same on your desktop web browser.

If you want to use an ad-blocker, but really, really don't want to hurt your favorite content creators?

Try "white-listing" that site under settings – you can pick and choose which sites show you ads.

In fact, you might not always have a choice. The Washington Post refuses to show content to people who use ad blockers. The Atlantic, The Guardian, and Mother Jones all show ad blocking users requests to disable or donate in place of ads.

Ad blocker users are themselves becoming the new target of ads

— Nieman Lab (@NiemanLab) September 22, 2015

And if you want to outsource this ethical quandary to an app?

Developer Darius Kazemi has been working on "The Ethical Ad Blocker," a Chrome extension/ad blocker that will not let you see a website if it runs on advertising. Basically, you have to make the choice every single time

Let us know what you decide! 

Subscribe to Note to Self on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. 

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.