Spot Remover

Friday, September 21, 2007


While many media outlets hope that web advertising will provide a much-needed new revenue source, web users have already found a way to nullify ads' value - by making them invisible. C-Net's Declan McCullagh explains that new ad-blocking plug-ins raise serious problems for websites and maybe even legal issues for those who use the software.

Comments [27]

S. Chu from MD

Hi, Bob.

Have you ever gotten up to get a beer during the intermission of a basketball game? Did you ever skip over a full page ad in a magazione?
If so, have you acted immorally or did you commit a crime?

From a different direction, people make a point to watch the Superbowl ads because of their quality. So in a free market, it's really up to the advertisers to come up with interesting ways to engage their audience.

I don't block ads, but I do skip website presented SOLELY in flash which imposes too much on the reader.

Oct. 03 2007 04:57 PM
Keith Jones from San Francisco, CA

There are websites I do not visit anymore because it literally take several minutes for the advertisements to load.

There are also websites I do not visit anymore because the advertisements cause my browser to crash.

Do websites and their advertisers understand this?

Sep. 28 2007 01:47 PM
Steve Friess (The Strip Podcast) from Las Vegas


I skip the ads on the podcast every week. The prior writer claims it takes a little effort, but it doesn't.I just twirl my finger on the iPod dial and I'm past it in the beginning, and if I go a couple seconds too far, all I miss is the part where you introduce yourselves. I already know who you are. And the ads that are inserted later in the program always appear around the same point. It's very easy to pass over that, too. True, it's not "obliterating" it, but it's actually a lot easier to skip on the podcast than it is to avoid the ads on a Web site.

Steve Friess
co-host, The Strip Podcast

Sep. 26 2007 11:22 PM
Josh Burnett from Oakland, CA

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding that web sites generally get paid by advertisers when viewers *click* on ads - not simply for loading them. So if you're going to say it's theft to block ads, doesn't it follow that it's also theft not to click on every ad that comes up? Unless I've been misinformed, the effect is the same.

In any case, for all the interviewee's hysteria, skipping ads is not exactly a new phenomenon. I've been getting up and leaving the room during TV commercial breaks since long before the web was invented. And though I'm not one of them, public radio listeners have been tuning out for the duration of pledge drives ever since the first public radio host started begging.

Sep. 26 2007 07:32 PM
Peter Brinkmann from New York City

Previous posters (Bryan Austin, Morris Cornell-Morgan, and L Larson) already made the most important points, but I'd still like to add two more thoughts:

1. McCullagh's mention of MySpace and LiveJournal is a red herring.

The terms of service of sites like MySpace and LiveJournal are aimed at people who post content there, not at consumers who visit the sites. If you're creating a MySpace page, then you can't include code that'll
obscure ads in common browsers. If I'm viewing your MySpace page, then I'm free to have my browser render it in any way I choose.

2. The claim that readers are trying to get something for nothing shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the web. Yes, I expect to get my news and commentary for free. At the same time, as a researcher,
developer, and teacher, I create a fair amount of content that I also make available for free.

Of course, this sort of reciprocity does not pay for the reporting that major news outlets provide, but attempts to suppress or vilify ad-blocking software seem about as benighted as the RIAA's attempts to suppress file sharing.

Ultimately, any attempt to fight technological progress can only delay the demise of obsolete business models, and the real goal should be to find ways to create revenue without resorting to ads or subscriptions. I can think of one solution --- voluntary donations. It works for NPR, doesn't it?

Sep. 26 2007 12:49 PM
Sherman from Milwaukee

Ads fuel the Web and other smaller media like radio, print and television. Without them, we all lose. Some "bad" ads should be blocked, and can be.

Sep. 26 2007 12:16 PM
Jim Jordan

There was a question about whether the user is 'stealing' content that is funded by ads if they block those ads.

There is essentially no difference in a user ignoring the ads by not clicking on them or by blocking them entirely with an optional adblocker function.

When I am using a non-ad-blocked browser, I voluntarily make the decision not to click on any ads presented online. I can also make the same voluntary decision to use an ad-blocker. As an optional extension, adblockers are pretty safe from legal issues. Browsers often already come with an optional ability (turned off by default) to block pop-up windows. Only when we see a browser developer include ad blocking enabled by default will we ever see a possible legal issue that might make its way to the courts.

Most all browsers have third-party ad-blocking options but Adblock Plus for Firefox is certainly the best I have seen and reason enough to have made Firefox my chosen browser.

Sep. 26 2007 11:54 AM
Morris Cornell-Morgan from Tokyo

To expand on the comment by Bryan Austin, the exact appearance of web pages has always depended heavily on users' choice of browser and customizations (indeed, Adobe Acrobat owes much of its success to guaranteeing the appearance of documents). And while visually impaired users have long taken advantage of browsers' ability to customize text size and color schemes, more deep and far-reaching personalization of content for a general audience is likely to be at the core of the next generation of web technologies. Just as the past decade has seen the rise of dynamic web content and social networking services--changes inelegantly lumped together in the phrase 'Web 2.0'--the next few years will see the development of more tools for users to mix, match, and (as in the case of Ad Block Plus) remove content as it suits their needs. Termed 'mashups' (see Wikipedia), tools like Intel's Mash Maker ( intend to allow users to modify content on the fly--for example instantly pairing Google Maps with listings from Craigslist--to create a truly unique and personal browsing experience.

While the prospect of an ad-free web may strike fear into the hearts of content providers who blanket a third of their screenspace with advertising and divide articles into multiple pages for the sole purpose of increasing ad views, innovative tools like Ad Block Plus demonstrate the personalization users can look forward to on the web in the future.

Sep. 25 2007 11:29 PM
Max F. Exter from Bloomington, IN

One point that appears to have been missed by others (or perhaps not spelled out clearly enough) is what some of these ads can actually do to a computer. Over the last few years, I have personally cleaned out may 150 individual computers that have been infected by malware. In most cases, this got onto the computer via an online ad that either misled them into installing the software, or installed it without their consent. Removal of this software is often extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible leading to loss of data, time and money on the part of the user. This is not a fringe problem; it is extremely common.

Online ad companies violated the trust of everyday users a long time ago, and it should be no surprise that there is now whole industries (security and ad-blocking) dedicated to their blocking or removal.

Just as a final comment, OTM covered a story several months ago (April?) about a substitute teacher who was sued and nearly put in prison because her classroom computer was infected with adware that began showing pornography in the middle of class. Had that computer been properly protected against intrusive ads, her life and reputation might not have been ruined.

- Max F. Exter

PS. Some companies get it right. I don't block Google ads because they are both unobtrusive and frequently relevant.

Sep. 25 2007 10:07 PM
Chris Beach from Gresham, Oregon

I agree with Jock Murphy and some of the other posters on this one.

At one point in the piece, the subject of websites publishing guidelines which dictate that ads must not be hidden is brought up. In my experience, this is directly related to user-inputted code and/or formatting instructions. The websites are stating that their ads are not to be blocked server-side. That I find acceptable - perhaps other users might wish to see the ads.

However, I do not. I feel no compunction against not allowing my browser to retrieve data I do not want. It is a waste of my bandwidth and my system resources. I won't be clicking on them anyway, so why should I have to look at them? This was a very one-sided piece and I feel another piece to balance it, exploring the other side of the issue, is in order.

Sep. 25 2007 10:05 PM
Alpha Jubei from Riverside, California

OTM, I am surprised and slightly nauseated by the blaring narrowness of this report. Since when does visiting a publicly accessible website mean the voluntary submission to all manner of assaults on the senses? If sites were to disclose the fact that the use of its “services” meant agreeing to be targeted by predatory hucksters AND possibly having one’s privacy and security violated by ad tracking, I’m sure most would immediately browse elsewhere.

And by the way… likening the viewing of a website without the ads to “stealing” is about as obnoxious and inappropriately gaudy as some of the ads themselves.

Sep. 25 2007 11:25 AM

First, thanks for the short piece. I had been meaning to try Adblock but just hadn't gotten around to it yet. Listening to the story got me motivated to find it. It couldn't have been easier to download and use.

I agree wholeheartedly with Rick Evans, and most of the posters so far. This was a simplistic one-sided story, and that among other things Declan McCullagh's claims that using ad blocking software was tantamount to theft was nothing short of ridiculous. Sheesh.

Sep. 25 2007 09:00 AM
Computer Professional from Binghamton, NY

Just last week, I was leading a user group, and someone complained about their computer being slowed down by web ads.

To answer their question, I brought up CPU monitoring software, then opened the web site in question. The many animated ads on the page used a tremendous amount of CPU power.

At that point, I explained about AdBlock Plus...

While I realize that many sites rely on advertising to support themselves. I believe that many take it to an extreme; and quite frankly some web ads are quite offensive.

As far as how much sophistication is required... Well, I've used AdBlock for years. One of the big differences between AdBlock and AdBlock Plus is that AdBlock Plus users can easily subscribe to blocking lists.

Sep. 24 2007 11:10 PM
blackbelt_jones from Binghamton, NY

The software that was mentioned on the show, adblock plus, couldn't be easier... but I noticed that not all ads were blocked out, just the vast majority. If there's a way around this, advertisers will find it.

Sep. 24 2007 03:23 PM
Chris Gonzales

Dan Kosik, in the first post, suggests that the average user will find ad-blocking software too difficult and time-consuming to configure. This is not true of some ad-blocking software, which rely on their own communities of users to identify advertising content. The average user will find most ads are blocked by default.

Sep. 24 2007 12:17 PM
Willem Vanden Broek, J.D., Ph.D. from Ann Arbor, MI

I am surprised that Bob Garfield, with his advertising expertise, could produce such an unsophisticated report.

When I go to the local Kroger store, they do a good job of forcing me to listen to loud, intrusive, annoying, and, generally, unhealthy advertisements. Revenues from these advertisers no doubt help the Kroger bottom line. If I wear headphones to block them out, am I being immoral?

Is there a distinction between this situation and advertisements in internet media? Well, the media content is free. So is access to to grocery store.

Where do we draw these lines, and to impositions on our attention are we entitled to withhold our consent? These issues deserve some careful and extended scrutiny from On the Media, because, for advertisers, the less we can avoid a message and the more intrusive it is, the better, and, as the media landscape changes, they are trying every possible avenue to colonize the sensorium.

Mr. Garfield likewise misses the issue with website user agreements. If ever there were examples of "adhesory contracts", these are they. Does Mr. Garfield himself scrupulously read every one of these to the end, consent to all the terms, and adhere to them, including, for example, Microsoft's terms not to deprecate the product?

These issues cry out for additional, and better, coverage.

Sep. 24 2007 10:15 AM
Rick Evans from Massachusetts

Dan Kosik and Edward Kant hit most of my points spot on. I'm a long time web user who never agreed with the silly purists who objected all advertising. In fact I have at various times clicked on both text and picture ads.

However, I have never supported or tolerated ads intended to distract and annoy me while I'm trying to read an article.

Frankly I thought Brooke, who is usually a tougher interviewer really let Declan McCullagh pull off some astounding feats of pretzel logic pontification.

Were browser producers aiding "law breakers" by allowing users to turn off .gif animation when it was popular? What about turning off Java? The latest abusive, rudest, intrusive ad tool is Adobe Flash. Many sites increasing use Flash as an exclusive development tool while offering no alternative for those with non Flash browsers. Why isn't borrowing magazine at the library and flipping past ads not cheating?

I wonder if Declan McCullagh would enjoy watching a TV drama with a constant stream of video ads running in an surrounding frame WITH SOUND. That's what its like trying to read an online story while some obnoxious Flash ad cycles in the corner of your eye.

Declan McCullagh needs to get real.

Sep. 24 2007 07:53 AM
Ralph Santos from Berkeley, CA

Advertisers never had any entitlement to the public's attention. They simply relied upon it because publishers could sell bits of space in their products to them and their customers had no choice but accept what they were given. Now Web browsers now offer users some choice as to what they accept in this process beyond simply skipping over a thirty-second interval. The argument against ad blockers is based entirely on lost ad revenue and ignores fair use, as well as the fact that nothing is being copied for reuse or resale. It effectively declares attempts to use tools to help one avoid ads as a criminal act. By that logic we should stop using spam filters and read every last penis enlargement ad and Nigerian email scam that hits my inbox because otherwise we're denying someone ad exposure and thus potential revenue.

It's also worth noting that the citation and interpretation of "derivative work" is highly selective and completely slanted in favor of advertisers. The report suggests any transformation of a web page violates copyright ignoring the technical reality that web pages are regularly transformed even during normal operation. Changing the type size on a page, resizing the browser window, reformatting a page to print it. Are these derivative works? By the logic of the report, it would be a "tiny financial crime" for a blind person to use a text browser or screen reader to access a Web page because it would not display an animated graphical advertisement.

Sep. 23 2007 09:21 PM
John from Menlo Park, CA


This option piece is complete one sided. The interviewee liked to preach to us and tell us the moral purity of advertising. Why do you feel it is OK for advertisers to steal computer cycles, network bandwidth, screen real estate and time? Sometimes ads cause computer failures. Is this morally correct?


John Kern

Sep. 23 2007 05:49 PM
blackbelt_jones from Binghamton, NY

I don't really think it's advertising per se that adds cookies to your hard drive and I'm not sure that adblock plus does anything directly to address that. You get a cookie when you log onto a web page, whether you went there by clicking on an ad banner or

I'm kind of sympathetic to the point of view that ad blocking software undermines the financial underpinnings of the web media industry, and not every web advertiser is a huge corporation. It might be some small business with a great idea, or a public service foundation.

And yet, after hearing the report, I had to try the software, and it sure is great to see a nice clean web page for a change. I see trouble ahead.

Sep. 23 2007 02:16 PM
L Larson from Princeton, NJ

Your guest claimed that readers are trying to "get something for nothing" by blocking ads. Are you kidding? The reverse is true.
Advertisers get free information by attaching cookies on readers' hard disks, and using these cookies to track web site history, personal preferences, and other unique data. This information is of direct monetary value to the marketer, and readers are not paid or even aware they have been attacked.
Some ads contain "mal-ware," software that can interfere with security and privacy by reporting back to the predator. Computer owners later suffer by being targeted by direct mail or e-mail marketing they don't want. Attacked computers can slow down or stop working altogether as a result of mal-ware.
Far from feeling guilt for blocking the predators of the internet, users should be warned when an ad is trying to modify their hard disk. (Oh, by the way, what is this cookie from "SKUNKTREK" that On The Media's web page is trying to place on my system? It's history....) Ad-blocking is an essential means of self-protection for anyone who does not want to be victimized by ad-ware, spy-ware, identity theft, and internet viruses.
It's hard for me to believe that On The Media, which is generally tech-savvy, is in the dark about internet abuses. Please tell the other side of the story.

Sep. 23 2007 12:51 PM
Jock Murphy from Portland, OR

In response to the guests comment that blocking ads borders on the illegal, there is one other thing to consider. It is generally accepted that fair use extends to personal and private use of copyrighted material. For example, there is nothing illegal in making a personal translation of a John Grisham novel for yourself (distributing or sharing that translation with another person is a different matter). As such once a page is on my system, there should be nothing preventing me from transforming that page for my own personal private use, and that is exactly what adblock plus does.

As has been stated above, users don't mind ads that do not detract from the content. It is the popup ads, the ads that appear like system dialogs, the ads that entice you to download software based on deceptive ads, the ads that overlay (and even move over) the content that drive us to ad blocking technologies.

I do wish that OTM would have examined the other side of this issue. I hope that the feedback you have received here is enough to spur you into doing so.

Sep. 22 2007 11:18 PM
John Hampton from New York City

1. Everyone in my family uses adblock plus and has since the firefox plugin has been available. We also have a TiVo and listen a great deal to Sirius Satellite radio (no ads). I find ads on broadcast media and the internet really annoying and useful more for knowing what NOT to buy and where NOT to buy it than a way to get someone in our household to spend money. Mass market advertising - on Radio, TV or the Internet - is WORTHLESS now that so much information is available to a prospective purchaser.

2. Ads are useless if you're not in the market for something; they're just an invasion of one's mental space. They only serve to distract from a website's content.

3. If someone in our household is in the market for something, we research it, looking for reviews and owner comments, discuss it, then shop for the lowest prices.

Example: we just bought an Oxo Good Grips Corn Stripper, because it was mentioned on Serious Eats. We bought it from Sur la Table because they had it; couldn't find one locally anywhere else.

Viewing webpages without an adblocker, or TV without TiVo just isn't worth it. I'm just sorry we don't have a TiVo-like device for broadcast radio.

Sep. 22 2007 09:14 PM
Jonny Goldstein from DC


about 1/2 the , I skip the underwriter statements at the beginning of the OTM podcasts. It's not hard. Just wait 5 seconds for enough of theaudio to load and then click the mouse about 50 seconds after the start. Still, I do listen to them about half the time, since it takes a little bit of effort to skip 'em.

Sep. 22 2007 06:18 PM
Bryan Austin from Orlando, FL

I agree with strongly with Edward Kant.

The one point I want to add is that computers and the web where designed to be customized. If you want to block flash, because its annoying, you can. If you want to block animated gifs because they are too distracting, you can. You can block pop-ups, cookies, javascript, java plugins, font sizes, font colors, font style, images, image size, background colors and anything else a web page is comprised of.
One of the things that is the hardest for my clients to understand is that the way you see the page is not going to be how everyone else sees the page.

The web was originally designed for text based data. The drive to make our own website stick out from the rest polluted the internet. As it matures everyone will use a uniform for their websites and have their own style. The style will easily be overridden by each person for their own viewing pleasure. Its up to the marketing department to figure out a why to make the distribution of information profitable.

Sep. 22 2007 05:19 PM
Edward Kant from New York, NY

I am very glad that the first post pointed out that this news piece was definitely one-sided. It does not analyse in any substantive way why users block ads.

I'll keep it simple for you, OTM. If you did your homework, you would have learned that...

-- users do not mind ads if they are not detracting or disruptive to the web viewing experience.

-- users feel that there is an over-use of ads which is not only affecting the performance of their privately-owned computers, but also warping the legitimacy of the online content.

-- people actually like text-based or non-animated ads, and routinely do not block them.

-- Ad-blocking software allows for customized filtering. A user can be as agressive or as permissive as he or she wishes.

No software that I know of blocks ALL ads out-of-the-box. Firefox does not; Adblock Plus does not; etc.

Don't believe the semi-anonymous commenters, go do the work of real journalism.

Oh yes, as mentioned in your piece, for all your colleagues who just discovered ad-blocking software, please tell us how many of them are now using it on their computers.

Sep. 22 2007 04:08 PM
Dan Kosik from Montrose PA

Interesting story, but with only one point of view presented. A few key points:

1) Adblocking software does not block all ads, not without a savvy user spending a lot of time configuring it.

2) When you can't see an ad it is still there, and you may click on it causing ad-based traffic that wouldn't have happened with a visible ad.

3) Ads do often slow down pages tremendously, and some offend some users.

4) Many of these advertising companies are highly disrespectful businesses that invade the personal property of users and install software onto their computer without their permission and gather a varying amount of information on people unrelated to traffic on any one website. This is no different from someone sneaking into your home and installing cameras and microphones and a tracking device on your car. It is irrelevant whether this is 'allowed' on barely visible and unreadable 'terms of use' and 'privacy policies' or federal law, it is an invasion of privacy and property and is highly immoral behavior. Many of the ad companies involved have even tried to attack (through PR and lawsuits and likely lobbying the government) software to remove or block viruses and 'spyware.' Until websites(and the ads they allow) end this disgusting practice, or the government rediscovers who it is supposed to be protecting and takes steps to stop such behavior, no one has any valid argument against ad-blocking or similar software.

Sep. 22 2007 10:53 AM

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