UPDATED: Altruism And Ad Blocking

Note correction to original posting

It is kind of interesting to see the ad blocking industry taking what seems to be the high-minded approach to obliterating advertising for iOS9 phones and the Internet in general.

Marco Arment pulled his Peace ad-blocking app from the Apple Store, even though it quickly became the top-selling app shortly after it was introduced. He wrote a sincere apology.

“Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have,” he wrote. “Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: While they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”

But he never said he’s against the idea of ad-blocking, which the cheerleading leader in the field, Ad Block Plus, noted in a blog post today. That’s quite true. In fact, in his own blog, Arment said, quite eloquently:



“Ad-blocking is a kind of war — a first-world, low-stakes, both-sides-are-fortunate-to-have-this-kind-of-problem war, but a war nonetheless, with damage hitting both sides. I see war in the Tao Te Ching sense: it should be avoided when possible; when that isn’t possible, war should be entered solemnly, not celebrated.

"Even though I’m 'winning,' I’ve enjoyed none of it. That’s why I’m withdrawing from the market.”

Ad Block says Arment ended up concluding that while some, perhaps most, ads deserve to be blocked, others do not.

By blocking all, everybody gets hurt. Ad Block says it understands, and that’s why it has approved ads that, in its mind, keeps the gears of advertising commerce going without unduly annoying the masses.

But my goodness! Ad Block Plus first obliterates the “problem” — then puts itself in the position of deciding what is not a problem — that is, the ads and formats it has decided are worthy. How altruistic in a we-had-to-destroy-the-village-to-be-able-to-save-it kind of way. 

It has published a list of what is an acceptable ad that Ad Block Plus wouldn’t block. Most of them sound reasonable. Others sound totally subjective. For example on its list of “acceptable” types of ads are ones that have “no attention-grabbing images.”

Peace and Ghostery had worked on blocking together until Friday. But in its own blog today, Ad Block Plus says it is working with other ad blockers.  EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Ghostery is working with Ad Block. 

Says Ad Block Plus, “In fact we’re helping several developers out with integration logistics and even paying some of their costs when they want to incorporate Acceptable Ads. We’re proud to be able to help them, because at the end of the day we’re all fighting on the same side for consumers’ rights.

"We have this massive open-source effort that creates the EasyList and EasyPrivacy, and we want everyone (even our ‘competitors,’ if you can even call them that, since our app is free) to enjoy the fruits of that effort. It’s the will of the people.”

Or at least the "people" Ad Block Plus is hanging with. It’s not altogether clear its  standards are or should be yours. It would be great if, on television, the infomercial had never existed, or if those loud-mouthed local car dealers were told to stuff a sock in it. But that’s not the way a free speech society works.

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