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Ad Blocking – a Coming Legal Battleground? 686

Posted by timothy
from the you-must-watch-and-hear-this-ad dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Computerworld asks: What will happen if big advertisers declare AdBlock Plus a clear and present danger to online business models? Hint: it will probably involve lawyers. From the article: 'Could browser ad blocking one day become so prevalent that it jeopardises potentially billions of dollars of online ad revenue, and the primary business models of many online and new media businesses? If so, it will inevitably face legal attack.'"
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Ad Blocking – a Coming Legal Battleground?

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  • Yes. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:34PM (#42076839)

    The businesses it jeopardizes are flawed in that they depend on advertising. When that business model doesn't work, they deserve to die.

  • Yup (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nemyst (1383049) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:36PM (#42076851) Homepage

    Because legal attacks have worked really, really well against anything that happens on the Internet. Taking down MegaUpload and The Pirate Bay eliminated piracy altogether, never to resurface again. Gone, dead, finished. Burying ad blocking services under lawsuits will totally never make them even more resilient and hard to pin down. No way that'd happen.

  • by griego (1108909) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:38PM (#42076877)

    I've run across a few sites here and there that won't display any content unless I disable ad-blocking. I'm surprised this isn't more prevalent. Surely it's cheaper to pay a programmer to write some code than paying lawyers to do their thing.

  • by RenHoek (101570) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:40PM (#42076899) Homepage

    I'd love.. well.. no. I'd tolerate more ads on sites if they were safe. Here in the Netherlands, we've recently had infections go via nu.nl and nrc.nl. Both very respectable news websites and perfectly safe. If it wasn't for the trojans served via the ads.

    Nowadays all ads are the enemy. Flash, Java and Adobe reader seem perma-broken, coming with new 0-day attacks every time.

    So adblockers aren't just a convenient way of stopping the more shady sites from popping a million blinking commercials in your face, they're part of regiment to keep your PC as healthy as possible.

    (Certainly with the current trend of commercialized trojan kits, which means every noob can whip up something that nestles itself in your MBR, stays invisible and undetectable to everything you can through at, can steal your passwords and inject any banking site with redirecting iframes. No sir, the internet is a wild an dangerous place.)

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BonzaiThePenguin (2528980) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:43PM (#42076915)
    It's not about clicking the ads, it's about the impressions. Oftentimes the ads are about increasing awareness of a brand's existence.
  • Re:Yup (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kye4u (2686257) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:44PM (#42076927)

    Because legal attacks have worked really, really well against anything that happens on the Internet. Taking down MegaUpload and The Pirate Bay eliminated piracy altogether, never to resurface again. Gone, dead, finished. Burying ad blocking services under lawsuits will totally never make them even more resilient and hard to pin down. No way that'd happen.

    You can add napster as another case example. Did the legal battle on music piracy really change anything? No. What ended up happening was a handful of individuals were fined ridiculous amounts of money that they would never would make in their life time.

    You know what changed everything? Having a legitimate alternative to being forced to pay $20 for an album with maybe only 2 or 3 descent songs on it. Cue itunes.

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:48PM (#42076959) Journal

    Anyone can file a lawsuit over just about anything..... So could advertisers decide to sue developers who made tools like Ad-Block? Of course!

    I think the reason you haven't seen this happen so far (and why it may not happen in the future) is the relatively poor odds of winning such a case. First of all, you have to ask if users normally have the legal right to avoid viewing advertising that's presented to them. Clearly, there's vast evidence that they do, including the ability to change the channel on the TV when commercials come on.

    One would have to successfully argue that somehow, contrary to all advertising ever created in the past, advertisers placing their ads on web sites enjoy a special legal protection where they can force viewers to view their ads.

    IMO, such a suggestion borders on insanity .....

  • by dragisha (788) <dragisha@m[ ]org ['3w.' in gap]> on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:51PM (#42076979)

    ...I'll be happy to look at whatever they send to me.

    And vice versa.

    They probably can kill AdBlock Plus (legally). As they tried to kill libdvbcss, at least. When this happens, people will find other ways to block. And advertisers will find new ways to attack blockers, and to pass their ads through. And so on.

  • Dear ad-blocker (Score:1, Insightful)

    by dshk (838175) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:57PM (#42077031)
    You do not need to block ads if you have some self-respect. You have to visit ad-free and payment free pages. Good luck for that.
  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by multicoregeneral (2618207) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:04PM (#42077093) Homepage
    Seems to me that if an advertising scheme is so obnoxious that an entire category of software arises to block it, then it's the fault of the medium of advertising being too invasive, too obnoxious. Not the fault of the people who block it.
  • by pollarda (632730) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:23PM (#42077263)
    The whole point of HTML's markup language is to separate structure from content so that client side devices can render the HTML (and XML/SGML) in a matter most appropriate for the user. It was planned from the onset that many different devices could render a page differently. For example, there used to be completely text based browsers and clearly they rendered pages differently than graphics based browsers. While I'm not sure if they were ever built, there were even discussions of audio based browsers for those who are sight impaired. The ability to modify how a page is displayed is central to the entire concept of HTML. Using an Adblock add-on is simply utilizing HTML in the way it was intended. If the publishers do not like it then there are many less flexible formats that render a page exactly how they want it -- most notably PDF files -- that they can use to publish their content.
  • Re:Short answer: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by John Bokma (834313) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:29PM (#42077337) Homepage
    Heh, it's more like: 1) can we break this 2) is it easy to do so 3) can we get away with it 4) get we something out of it (real or assumed) if all 4 can be answered with yes, then a lot of people do so, even the reward is just a giggle. Hence vandalism, animal torture, uprooted plants, names scratched in objects/trees, shop lifting, graffiti, you name it. Advertising is always obnoxious no matter how subtle it's done.
  • Re:Short answer: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:30PM (#42077351)

    NO. Fuck this.

    I have a browser connected to the internet.

    Put your fucking site on the internet or DON'T.
    Allow me to view it, or don't.

    FUCK any process that allows an external entity to query my status or the status of the hardware I'm using.

    if your business model *requires* you to snoop on me.... fuck off.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:45PM (#42077433) Journal
    It's not about clicking the ads, it's about the impressions. Oftentimes the ads are about increasing awareness of a brand's existence.

    Free hint - If you use such aggressive ads that they make it through my filters and I actually see them, I intentionally won't buy your product.

    Your move.
  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:48PM (#42077463)

    > And I'll say fuck you to the parasites

    I understand why you don't like ads and I support your right to avoid them, but are you sure you understand who is exhibiting parasitic behavior in this situation?

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by m00sh (2538182) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:52PM (#42077487)

    I don't have an ad blocker. I use Request Policy to block external requests (and whitelist and temporary whitelist if I want external content in a web page). This blocks most ads by default, without any extra work on my part.

    There will be new techniques to serve ads. AdBlock and your technique works because ads come from a different website than the one serving the content. Simply blocking those website like adBlock or by not allowing external requests to be loaded blocks ads. However, advertisers can easily ask the content provider to serve the ad and content together by first contacting the ad website at the server end.

    Performance will be an issue for the heavier ads and they could do something like akamai for both content and ads. Both the content provider and ad server use the same set of hosts.

    Of course, a new generation of tools would have to be built to counter something like this. But, that's another story.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bfandreas (603438) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:56PM (#42077509)
    Adblocking is an act of self defense. Too often has my system been halted to a crawl by Flash and bad JS. Also I have a 2gb mobile data plan. You trying to sell me stuff using resources I have to pay for is not acceptable.
    If the adoids and other mad men showed some restraint then this wouldn't be such a big problem. Instead they do this LOOK AT ME BLINK FLASH BANG stuff that really gets in the way. Also targeted ads for stuff I searched for online is becoming creepy. I don't appreciate being stalked by cellphones I decided not to buy.

    The subscription model works if you manage to get single sign on done(I don't want to memorize another password for another website) and if you get micropayments/subscriptions to a level that is practical and reasonable. People buy apps for a buck on a whim. I buy kindle newspaper editions on a whim. Yet in many cases payment gets in the way. For instance I was really interested getting the online edition of DER SPIEGEL(one of the few remaining respectable weeklies worldwide) for my tablet. Their subscription process mimicks what they had used for their print edition. I wasn't able to pay on Amazon. I wasn't able to pay via Google Play. I decided I didn't need it. If your process still uses snail mail, fax or me setting up monthly payments via online banking and a week-long approval process then you got no sale. Good luck with that ad revenue and dead tree editions.

    No failed business practice has ever been successfully defended by a lawyer. They only can slow down the inevitable and become rich in the process.
  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blacklint (985235) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:57PM (#42077517) Homepage

    And I'll say fuck you to the parasites and find my sources of entertainment, news, and community elsewhere. I'd be perfectly happy if all ad supported websites went out of business (I'm not counting those that have ads for their own products though, just those with ads from external sources).

    Just out of curiosity, I'd like to point out that all search engines are ad supported. And, for that matter, Slashdot. You don't want to be able to use Google or Bing (and by extension, pretty much any other search like DuckDuckGo), or do you have some other business model to propose?

  • by CHRONOSS2008 (1226498) on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:05PM (#42077571)

    and im paying it not the advertiser
    until they pay me then they can fuck off

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:22PM (#42077727)

    Back in the old days there was lots of talk and more than a couple of companies working on micropayment systems. The idea was that you could pay something like half a cent for a webpage. Prices could be adjusted depending on things like demand and target audience. Quality web sites would prosper, crappy ones would die out. All the good stuff you get from a free market.

    But somewhere along the line, advertising usurped that role and no micropayment system ever achieved viability. So now we get useless ad-farms filled with seo-bait, articles on web-sites broken down into one paragraph a page to maximize ad-impressions and worst of all a brain-drain focused on spending billions of dollars for tracking systems to (presumably) more effectively target advertisements (never mind the societal cost of using these tracking system for other purposes) rather than creating new and innovative technology that would benefit man-kind in general.

    So I welcome a show-down between advertisers and ad-blockers. There will be casualities, maybe even bullshit where adblock authors see some jail-time. But if the end result is that advertising recedes and we come up with another more straight-forward, less socially-destructive way to fund the creation of high-quality content on the internet it will be a huge step forward for society.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:30PM (#42077783)

    It is about neither. It is about drive by downloads, redirected/phished sites, and browser exploits. To a lesser extend, infinitely stored local material (BHOs), permanent cookies, and fingerprinting machines.

    Because ads are a security issue, I block them. Not doing so means I'm not doing due diligence for clients because I am allowing potentially malicious code in, which can make me liable for negligence, as ad-based malware is a significant threat.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:43PM (#42077871)

    I understand why you don't like ads and I support your right to avoid them, but are you sure you understand who is exhibiting parasitic behavior in this situation?

    Let's see.

    The person running the web site. Seriously. They're accepting money from the advertising company that provides the ads. The advertising company ultimately gets nothing out of the deal because I - the viewer - am not going to buy their crap. Ergo the ad-funded web site owner is the parasite, feeding upon the false assumptions of the advertising industry.

    Not good enough? Let's try again.

    The advertising company providing the ads. They are using my compute resources and bandwidth to display content that is offensive to me. Without asking my permission, they utilize my time as well, consuming the moments my brain spends viewing their intrusion. While it can be argued that I benefit in the form of the content I DO want being paid for by the ads, there are other revenue models that mysteriously work for much content.

    Just a thought... we - the consumers - should be suing the advertising industry (out of existence). If their model is snake-oil and does not work (as in generate sales) then they should be persecuted as frauds. If their model is effective and "generates" sales, they are guilty of the monetary equivalent of date-rape. Their images, sound clips, product-placement and so on act to manipulate us into spending money we do not otherwise wish to spend. It's coercion. It's just like hypnotizing their "marks" and "suggesting" the target voluntarily empties their wallet. If advertising works, it's disgusting.

    TLDR? Just read the bold parts.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wiedzmin (1269816) on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:56PM (#42077973)

    People actively seek out and view the webpage

    Notice how you didn't say "I spam my oversized/bliking/popup banner all over other sites to get people to view my webpage"? People find your page because you provide information they need, not because they see your ads. Personally, I can honestly say that not once in my life have I read/viewed/purchased anything from clicking a banner. And yeah, I know the whole subconscious brand recognition shpeel... Still - I never buy anything on the brand name alone. Except for Sony, their products I don't buy specifically because of their brand name. But I digress.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by runeghost (2509522) on Friday November 23, 2012 @08:58PM (#42078439)

    "It is stealing because you are denying the revenue stream."

    No.

    Apparently the abuse of the word "stealing" by the MAFIAA is starting to cause etymological damage among the public. While you have every right to discontinue your business or to control access to it, you damn well do not get to open your doors to the public and then claim that if they come in and look at your wares without buying they are somehow "stealing". There is no "right" for any given business model to be profitable.

    If you (and other businessmen) are worried that obnoxious, overdone ads are damaging the effectiveness of ads, then they (and you) need to STOP the people who are abusing advertising by throwing seizure-inducing crap in my face. Or, at the least, create a discriminating group of curated and trusted advertisers whose content we, the users, can trust to not adversely effect our use of the web. What you don't need to do is to sue your potential customers in pursuit of some imaginary god-given right to profit no matter what.

  • by thoth (7907) on Friday November 23, 2012 @09:42PM (#42078727) Journal

    Aren't there tons of Slashdot users that would argue a corporation can do whatever it wants to (within certain legal limits - talking about murder, not sending you an ad) and your choice is to take your business elsewhere? These people are "libertarians", die hard free-market-is-always-correct folks?

    I'm not fully in that camp, BTW, and agree with you. I just find it hilarious that some that argue for corporate supremacy on the other hand feel their rights are invaded by ads. Comedy gold.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by innerweb (721995) on Friday November 23, 2012 @10:16PM (#42078905)

    And this is the reason I block all ad server contents to my network. Almost every virus I have ever found on one of our systems has come from an ad impression.

    If the advertising servers want to get picky about me blocking the content provided by or through them, then they better be ready for a class action lawsuit for for the malware and inappropriate content they facilitate through their services

    If they offered up accurate, honest and safe advertising, I would have little issue with that. The problem is most ads fail on two of three. I will not let the kids be bombarded with lies, lies, lies. I will not leave the network open to malware via advertisements. I will not allow cross site scripts/content to run from anything but highly trusted sites. None of the ad sites qualify in those cases.

    To the advertisers. When I want something, I look for it. I read the content I can find on the Internet. If it is too *advertisy*, I typically close that page and go on. Stop making trash ads and start making truly informative, reviewable honest ads. Maybe I would be inclined to read it if it was not the utter nonsense that is normally spouted out.

    BTW - I do subscribe to email notices of things I am interested in. I do bookmark and watch sites of products that I am interested in. I do communicate with my friends and family about sites that are full of poppycock to avoid them and their products. I am a modern customer, and I demand intelligent honest marketing that is neither blatant nor unwanted.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday November 23, 2012 @10:30PM (#42078975) Journal

    But advertisers have some sacred "right" to make a buck that's more important than me making my own decisions.

    It's not some right of the advertisers that's at issue. It's about whether the author/publisher of the original work containing the link to the ads has the right to demand you view the ads that pay him if you view his work, or whether your right to cut out the ads and only view the remainder takes precedence.

    Now if the advertisers and the authors really wanted to get you to see the ads, they could literally embed the text of the ad in the text of the work, rather than embedding an easy-to-filter link. (This could be done automagically at the server.) Then you'd need some serious A.I. to do the cutting. But that would also make it harder for the advertiser to track how often the ad was seen (he'd have to trust the server) and eliminate the obnoxious graphic and animated ads.

    (And they ARE obnoxious. I just started a new contract and the customer's I.T. department deployed Chrome with substantially less ad protection than the firefox+adblock plus+flashblock I'm used to. Popups/overs/unders are supposedly blocked, but the animated garbage and the mouse-over stuff that pops out and covers the screen I'm trying to read are horribly annoying, and they HAVE to be sucking up a lot of network bandwidth. If advertisers had just stuck to still images scattered around the page it wouldn't have attracted so much work on countermeasures.)

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xeno man (1614779) on Friday November 23, 2012 @10:39PM (#42079015)
    You got it completely wrong. You can't put something online for free and demand that visitors cover your costs. It's not up to the users to make sure you're profitable, you are. Sure, put up ads, have a store, donate button, something else but if you're not making enough money, then too bad. Having a website is no different than the guy standing on a street playing a guitar. People can stop an listen if they want and put a coin in the cup if they want, his only revenue source. But if someone listens to a song and then walks away without giving a thing, don't you dare say that person is stealing. Either your site works as a business or it doesn't. If is doesn't, take it down and move on to something else. People probably won't miss it. Only when really good content starts disappearing will people be willing to pay to keep it there.
  • by dadioflex (854298) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @12:05AM (#42079471)
    If content creators embedded graphics and text in the article I'd be fine with that. I don't expect to tear pages out of a magazine before I read it and those suckers are full of ads. The problem is, as you ably stated, the animated crap. I've had access to ad-skipping on TV for around a decade. I can not watch TV advertisements. I will leave a room and rest my fevered brow against an exterior wall before I'll watch one. Unless I hear about a clever ad then I'll trawl Youtube until I find it. So, in summary, make better ads.
  • by epyT-R (613989) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @12:35AM (#42079603)

    uh no a libertarian would support both the business right to embed the ad AND the consumer right to block it on his equipment. please get a clue about what libertarians are about instead of getting your definitions from the new york times and cnn.

  • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @12:52AM (#42079673)

    As long as the actual rendering of the page takes place on my computer - on MY property by MY terms - I have the right to modify the content shown on MY computer loaded from MY RAM. As long as I don't modify the original content on THEIR server, which would be shown to everyone else as well, I have done nothing wrong.

    This makes me steaming mad because it is basically advertisers saying "We are too stupid/lazy to come up with a new, less outdated business model, so make them conform to our decade-old adfarm server methods."

    If a page hosts their own ads, locally, and they aren't from some servenet adfarm bullshit, they will probably show up even with something like AdBlockPlus installed. You can manually block them, but you can do mostly the same thing with any element, of any page, anywhere, using a plugin like FireBug.

  • by turbidostato (878842) on Saturday November 24, 2012 @05:11AM (#42080499)

    "a libertarian would support both the business right to embed the ad AND the consumer right to block it on his equipment"

    Truly.

    *AND* they would support the right of both parties to sue the heck out of the other to make their point prevalent too, so back to square one.

  • Re:Short answer: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday November 24, 2012 @02:20PM (#42082379) Homepage Journal

    A new business model to propose? How about information should always be free? Isn't that what honest white hat hackers have been saying for decades now?

    Information may want to be free, but gathering, collating, prioritizing and publishing information will never be free. It takes effort by someone, and there's a strong correlation between the amount of effort and the cost, even with computers to automate much of it. Now, that doesn't mean that anyone should be forced to pay for it, but it does mean that if there isn't a way for people to make a living doing it, it won't get done. Crowd-sourcing can effectively extract small amounts of volunteer effort from large numbers of people, and as a result produce something for free that would cost a lot if produced by a smaller, full-time group. But that model isn't applicable to everything.

    Web search is a good example of an area in which it doesn't work well. Your UID is high, so you may be young enough that you don't remember the crowd-sourced predecessor of web search. I'm old, and I do remember it well. People collected bookmarks and published their huge lists of links on web pages. Groups collaborated to curate and organize these bookmark collections. Web site owners lobbied to get their links added. In the (tiny!) Internet of the day, it worked, sort of -- though the most popular bookmark collections had enough hardware and bandwidth costs that even with volunteer labor they had to resort to banner ads to pay the bills, so it doesn't really fit your ideal.

    As the web grew, though, the approach became very, very hard to maintain. Yahoo! was considered the pre-eminent solution -- a large, curated, categorized directory of links maintained by a large group of full-time employees and funded by banner advertising. Even that, though, was being massively outpaced. Enter Google, which did fit your paradigm -- it was completely free. No ads, no fees, and thanks to its clever ranking algorithm it did approximately as good a job as the Yahoo! team... but it was able to scale much more easily. It wasn't necessary to add exponential people to keep up with the exponentially-growing web. And it could be free because its real estate and bandwidth was all donated by Stanford University, which means it was really primarily taxpayer funded. Labor and hardware was all donated by the founders, whose research project Google was. They, of course, lived on university stipends. Taxpayer-funded.

    So, now, there is an "information wants to be free" business model that works, and scales: forcibly collecting money from everyone then doling it out (on some basis) to people who build and operate systems to collect and disseminate the information!

    Except... it didn't scale. Not far enough. Eventually the hardware was overflowing the dorm room and the limit of even Stanford's patience with the exponentially-growing bandwidth consumption came to an end. Investment capital was obtained, real estate was leased (a house, actually -- Google finally obtained a garage) and a business was established, but one that didn't have any idea how to fund itself. Advertising was constantly suggested and rejected because the founders hated banner ads. They looked far and wide trying to find some way -- any way! -- to be able to keep doing what they were doing without advertising. Eventually, they caved, because there was no other way. Google had to become an advertising medium, or it had to close the doors. They held the line against allowing ads to pollute "organic" search results, and adopted a pay-per-click model based on a real-time auction for ad space that only permitted unobtrusive text ads which sought to be relevant to the user, but they had to go with ads.

    I think the founders of Google are still unhappy about being in the advertising business (even though it has made them billionaires), but it's the only way anyone has found to provide a free service at a large scale, and a search engine is only useful if it covers the whole web.

    Information wants to be free, but people gotta eat.

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