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Advertising Censorship Your Rights Online

Website Mass-Bans Users Who Mention AdBlock 660

An anonymous reader writes to recommend TechDirt's take on the dustup over at the Escapist, which recently tried on banning users from their forums for the mere mention of AdBlock. In the thread in which the trouble started, a user complained that an ad for Time Warner Cable was slowing down his computer. Users who responded to the poster by suggesting "get Firefox and AdBlock" found themselves banned from the forums. The banned parties didn't even need to admit they used AdBlock, they simply had to recommend it as a solution to a troublesome ad. The forum's recently amended posting guidelines do indeed confirm that the folks at the Escapist believe that giving browsing preference advice is a "non forgivable" offense. After a lot of user protest, the forum unbanned the transgressors but heaped on the guilt.
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Website Mass-Bans Users Who Mention AdBlock

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:24AM (#31919972)

    The same place as any person inquiring about AllParadox goes on Groklaw. (He left the site due to their moderation policies which are both sneakily implemented and poorly known. See his post to the SCOX forums, for example.)

  • by 1s44c ( 552956 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:27AM (#31919988)

    What is the value of a site without visitors?

    The site owners banned these people because they don't see any value in a site without revenue.

  • Re:Non Issue (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:28AM (#31919996)

    only because social media will make it an issue and make the situation worse than it is for them.

  • Re:Troublesome ads (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:29AM (#31920000) Journal

    The problem I see with ads is editorial control.

    With real magazines ads, editors have some kind of control of the ad after they receive it. For example, they can decide if they accept an ad with a full page giant penis in it selling v14gr4.

    However, with web ads, the editors have no control over it. The advertizer has complete control of how the ad looks. And even though at the time of "contracting" the ad the editors may like the types of ad, maybe after a month the ad will get changed to something really annoying.

    From the original forum thread, the problem was that someone's computer was slowing to a halt because some random flash ad. That sort of thing is really annoying.

    I even have seen similar kind of trouble in pages of open source projects. In one of those pages, the guys used some ad service and got some kind of virus or XSS attack in one of the ads... even though the ad company was supposed to be good!

  • Good Luck with That (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:46AM (#31920098)

    When Obama decided that the only way out of this depression was massive spending programs, I affiliated myself with a different party.

    I hope it wasn't the Republicans, since the bailout that was required to prevent a depression directly resulting from years of irresponsible lack of oversight was initiated by George W. Bush and merely completed by Obama.

    I also hope it wasn't the Libertarians, since it was their lassaiz-faire philosophy of deregulation and strict adherence to the Chicago School of Economics which infected and drove the Republican deregulation push of the last 20 years that in turn was directly responsible for the unregulated behavior that resulted in the current crash, and would have sent us directly into a second Great Depression had Bush/Obama/Brown not acted as they did.

    I'm not sure what that leaves ... the Greens? Aryan Nationalists? Socialists? Teabaggers? Communists? The Party of Everything-is-Black-and-White-No-Exceptions-Allowed-and-Anything-That-Doesn't-Fit-My-World-View-Perfectly-Must-Be-a Liberal/Conservative-Conspiracy?

    One issue only voting rarely works out--there will be some other issue in your new affiliation that drives you away, like a lone sheep being herded back and forth across the paddock by a playful terrier.

  • by Dukenukemx ( 1342047 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:54AM (#31920160)
    Every time HardOCP or TechReport mention web browsers, ADBlock Plus is sure to follow in the discussion. When that happens, administrators go ban crazy on their asses. If your tech website relies on revenue from ads to the point when you ban forum posters, you're just digging a slow grave for your site. The website ads are nothing more then another form of pop-up ads.
  • Re:Find a new site (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:55AM (#31920166)

    passive aggressive behavior is only part of the dynamic.. it is reactionary. something like adblock is proactive, which forces the other side to sit up and take notice. since when does visiting some site qualify as a business relationship by default? ...arrogant 'webmaster' mentality taken to extremes I guess..

  • by SakuraDreams ( 1427009 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:11AM (#31920242)

    What if you know for sure you will never buy or use any of the products advertised - is it still bad? I live in a different country and most of these ads advertise services not applicable to me or my profession, the online shops don't ship to my address and so on. When you block the ad you're also saving site bandwidth and also reducing impressions and the amount of money the advertiser has to pay for displaying ads to non target audience visitors.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:16AM (#31920282)
    Yes, mod points seem to be a lot rarer after ticking the disable ads box. If this is indeed a real policy, it should be made public so we can assess the pros and cons of ad-free viewing.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:19AM (#31920306)

    It's juvenile behaviour of people who who have not grown up enough (mentally) to be something on their own but get their self esteem by belonging to a group.

    I'd say you are half-right. Its not just about being a member of a group, but being part of the hierarchy. The feeling is that as long as they show 'proper deference' to their 'betters' they will receive similar deference from their 'lessers' - and if there are no 'lessers' now surely there will be once they move up the hierarchy. I think 'proto-fascist' is a pretty accurate knee-jerk description for that mindset.

    Cartman summed it all up in one short sentence, "Respect my authoritae!"

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:21AM (#31920328) Homepage

    Moreover, I really feel like it should be obvious at this point that banner ads are stupid. They fact that people go to such lengths to remove them should indicate how people feel about them. They're really no different then spam; except spam is free, so it can be profitable with abysmal response rates. Does anyone actually buy anything as result of banner ads? Sure people click them all the time, but how often is it done on purpose? The damn things are just in the way. I'm constantly accidentally tapping on ads on my iPhone, but I sure as hell have never bought anything as a result.

    The thing is that even though click-through rates are bullshit the billboard space is not. If you're a semi-smart consumer you at least check a couple sites and a couple brands before picking one, but WHICH stores and WHICH brands? Oh, the ones you've been fed with the last year and are the first to pop into your mind. There's a diminishing rate of return on checking every store, every model (if such a thing even is possible) as long as you get a good deal on a good model from a reputable seller.

    People think they know exactly what you want and isn't affected by ads which is only true for the things that are important to them but ignores everything that's not so important to them. I might know all the high-end CPU models but buy lots of foodstuffs and clothes and furniture and whatnot where it's not like I've gone through any exhaustive search or made a huge in-depth analysis. Nice shirt, best possible shirt purchase? No idea, but I'll buy it anyway. A fashion freak might know every deal on shirts but not have a clue of computers, this is where marketing matters.

    Finally, and this is an important point about advertising - ignorance is bliss. Unless they're aware that they overpaid, they don't really care. People just think "Cool, this 600$ computer is amazing, it's so fast and nice and 600$ wasn't much..." even if they could have gotten it for 400$. It's only if they know that they care about the 200$ they "lost", not because it was poor value but because it was a poor deal. If they take the deal then stop looking because they're no longer in the market for any they are happy.

    Personally, I hate shopping. If you throw a decent offer in my way I might just to be done shopping. I think these ads are trying to be much the same way, they're not just the window you glance past but the clothes rack in your way. A little obnoxious yes but at the same time something you're not able to dismiss so easily, which might lead you to stop and ahhhhhhh looked at this long enough, I'll buy something now and be done with it. There's definitely business in that in the real world, I don't think the online world is that different.

  • by delinear ( 991444 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:28AM (#31920374)
    You joke, but I'd be surprised if TV stations didn't have strict rules about programmes not telling viewers to channel surf while the adverts are on.
  • by Mystra_x64 ( 1108487 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:32AM (#31920394)

    I thought you need to enable Javascript to get them in the first place.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:38AM (#31920408)

    I've have seen a fair size web site use puppet accounts to control their users. From this crap and what I have seen previously I would bet The Escapist makes major use of them.

  • by bipbop ( 1144919 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:46AM (#31920448)

    Yours is the second comment I've seen on this article with a stipulation similar to "until they start guaranteeing their ads free of such issues". I'm surprised. What guarantee could they possibly make that would be both convincing and immutable? I say "immutable" because any guarantee they offer now, technical or otherwise, could easily be discarded without notice by future management.

    It is wise to consider the ad companies untrusted, and decide when the risk is justified by the potential benefit. Right now, that's looking something like zero percent of cases for the foreseeable future. It only took one malware-infested PDF ad to convince me.

  • by Mandrel ( 765308 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:51AM (#31920480)

    The problem I see with ads is editorial control.

    With real magazines ads, editors have some kind of control of the ad after they receive it. For example, they can decide if they accept an ad with a full page giant penis in it selling v14gr4.

    However, with web ads, the editors have no control over it. The advertizer has complete control of how the ad looks. And even though at the time of "contracting" the ad the editors may like the types of ad, maybe after a month the ad will get changed to something really annoying.

    3rd-party ad servers do have one benefit: There is no direct relationship between content makers and product makers. With magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, and direct online ad sales, there is a temptation to do secret editorial-for-content deals with their product-maker customers.

    Advertising is most suitable for things like classifieds and job ads. But interruptions with agendas are a pretty silly way to learn about new products. It would be better if we paid people to help us select products [rbate.com].

  • Let's not forget (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crossmr ( 957846 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:15AM (#31920620) Journal

    This is the same website that bans you if they think you've commented too quickly on a video. If they didn't have ZP, I'd never go there.

  • by internewt ( 640704 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:18AM (#31920638) Journal

    Plus now they are interested, they show through their own actions, they have no moral limit to how far they will go. This action by them is blatantly effectively punishing Thought Crimes. I guess talking about AdBlock is against what the business wants, which is effectively compliant consumers who don't learn how to block advert bombardment.

    Talk of Adblock is a signal that the user is empowering themselves. If you want to make money with computers, the last thing you want is the user to become empowered, you need them reliant on you, the man in the middle providing a service.

    Long term successful products on computers do not empower users, they make users dependent. Now, for an example, this'll go 2 ways: Windows (insightful please), MacOS (flamebait from the fanboys). But the point is valid. You don't learn about computers using those platforms, you learn about those platforms. We've all seen Windows users who brain shuts down in front of OSX, or Mac users who bitch about any other platform - it is because they are familiar with their platform, but not the ideas behind what they are doing.

    Facecrook, Google et al. use the same idea: be the middle man, make the user come to you as the first thing when they need to contact someone, or want some information, etc..

  • by delinear ( 991444 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:21AM (#31920654)

    I don't know much about the site in question, but having scanned the first page of the thread two things are obvious - it's widely known that the moderators don't tolerate discussion of ad blocking (and the first reply was a very reasonable "you should speak to the mods about this not raise it in the forum" kind of reply), and the site offers two models, a paid subscription service that disables all ads and a free, ad-supported service, so it seems it's already clear to the core users why the ads are there, and there's even a legitimate alternative for users who don't want ads but would like to support the site in other ways.

    On your point about "reasonable discussion", maybe it went the way of exaggerating a simple website policy to the status of a criminal law. Nobody claimed it was a crime, it's merely a policy that such things aren't discussed openly (if anything, that line from the terms suggests to me that ad blocking is implicitly tolerated so long as you don't openly talk about it, there's no mention of not ad blocking, just not promoting ad blocking - no doubt because the advertisers might be alarmed if they saw such talk in the forums).

    As for who the customers are, follow the money - the advertisers are the ones paying for the user views, the advertisers and users who pay a subscription are the customers.

  • Re:Troublesome ads (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:30AM (#31920702) Homepage Journal

    maybe after a month the ad will get changed to something really annoying.
    My former employer had an interesting policy on "wrong ads". You purchase a time slot for displaying your ad in a box on the page. The ad must conform to strict guidelines. If you violate the guidelines, the ad gets removed immediately and without notice. You still have the time slot and can post another ad, or the same, fixed - but the clock is ticking, and the ads there being helluva expensive, you'd better pay a close attention to the guidelines.

    Yep, I've spotted one non-conforming one once. It was a fill-page ad. The close button was "jumping away" from the mouse and you needed 2-3 tries to nab it. It was gone in 5 minutes. It returned, fixed, the next day. The amount of money my one mail to the ad dept cost the advertiser (purchased time slot without displaying the ad) - probably more than I earned in my lifetime.

  • Re:Troublesome ads (Score:3, Interesting)

    by beakerMeep ( 716990 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:36AM (#31920718)
    It's not that they have no control, it's that they exercise no control (or QA/due diligence).

    Most medium to large websites will have some clause in their contracts with media buyers/ad networks where they reserve the right to pull any ad, at any time, for any reason. The problem is often the traffic departments (more so for large websites, but this applies to smaller ones via the ad network they use).

    Traffic departments are basically the office peons that cut and paste the HTML code from, say Doubleclick, into the publisher's website. These people are overworked, underpaid, and under-skilled. Almost none of them could program hello world in JavaScript and their HTML mostly consists of knowing that tags have a beginning and an end. The problem with all this is that these are the gatekeepers between malware ads and that ad showing up on a website.

    Their idea of "QA" is to load an ad up in the ad serving software, look at it, click on it, and make sure it only loops/animates within the guidelines. But this is the cost of business. Having a JavaScript expert try and reverse engineer every ad tag that comes through would be impractical, and nearly impossible. Ad tags are made up of hundreds of lines of JavaScript code that is all obfuscated to help protect the ad serving companies "IP." (All variable names changed to random 2 letter names, no line breaks, functions that go nowhere, etc)
  • by mathx314 ( 1365325 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:43AM (#31920756)
    I'm not a member of the forum, but I do occasionally lurk there after watching some of the video content they have. People are constantly getting banned for what appear to me to be non-offenses (just read a large thread, you'll see at least three people who have been banned recently). Why anyone would want to post in an environment like that is beyond me.

    (For what it's worth, I never found their banner ads to be terribly intrusive, so I never AdBlocked them. That's changing today.)
  • Citations Needed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:58AM (#31920880)

    The link to that story about AllParadox is here [yahoo.com] for anyone who is smart enough to require them for a bold claim like that.

    You can find other, independent corroboration of that from some poor sod who commented about it years ago [blogspot.com], from someone who was briefly given moderation powers on Groklaw [linux-blog.org], and more recent examples on Jay Maynard's website [ibmvshercules.com] which has some active discussions about how it's going down right now, with respect to those who don't think IBM was justified in how it intimidated TurboHercules SAS.

    I've seen it personally, but you don't have to take my word for it. Their idea of "trolls" over there is anyone who disagrees too often. I think that anyone has been around Groklaw for long enough should remember how respected AllParadox was. She calls people who bring up this stuff "PJ moderates trolls" just so you know. Because nobody can think that sneaky moderation systems that don't show you when your post has been deleted, or silently editing people's comments are bad without being paid to think that by SCO, Microsoft or Satan.

  • Re:Find a new site (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IANAAC ( 692242 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:09AM (#31920964)
    I was getting packs of 15 for quite a while, but I never ever used them all. The last couple times I've been given mod points, it's been back to packs of 5, and I do use them.
  • by verbatim ( 18390 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:13AM (#31920990) Homepage

    There is one line in the post that intrigued me:

    I ad-block sites that I've never been to before. If they look like a cool site or something that I'd use in the future, I turn off the ad-blocker on that site for any future visits. It's my way of saying "hmm, good job" to the site.

    I realized then that most websites offer opt-out advertising. That is, you have to see it unless you pay, use an ad-blocking program, or contribute something that the owners deem worthy of removing adds (like that tempting "no ads for good karma" thing I keep seeing on /.).

    I agree with what this community manager said and I would dare ask the logical follow-up question: why don't websites ask you to opt-in to their advertising? The idea would be simple - you visit the site and after X page views, or some other evil metric, you are taken to a page that says: hey, you can help us out with $$$, view ads, or just be a leech. I firmly believe that you will find that the majority of people who become engaged with the content will select either the $$$ or advertising paths. Right then and there your advertising space is worth more than all of the traditional "opt-out" websites.

    So, do any advertising market providers allow for this?

  • Re:Find a new site (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:34AM (#31921210)

    Probably 1 of 2 things: You are very active (so they would rather have you posting), or you made it onto a magic perma-ban list (I have had excellent karma for about 6 years and gotten mod points twice in that period, on the front half of it).

  • by Gaian-Orlanthii ( 1032980 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:36AM (#31921216)

    TV is passive entertainment. Site forums aren't, so your comparison isn't exactly accurate.

    Besides having rules on directing continuity people to keep viewers in place for the ads though, TV companies use localisation, CGI to alter advert content, higher sound volume during the adbreaks, adverts during the programmes themselves (not counting the product placement) and they crop the programmes' lengths to suit rigid advertisement times.

    And none of that even mentions the lengths they'll go to censor writers, commission programmes for the braindead and shuffle their schedules around in direct competition with each other - just to pander to the advertisers.

    Oh yeah, and in Ireland and the U.K. you're required by law to pay for a TV licence to watch that crap.

    If they acted like that on your favourite website, would you still use it?

  • Re:Find a new site (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jadrian ( 1150317 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:41AM (#31921276)

    After reading your post I thought, yes maybe I should disable adblock for slashdot. So I did. And I got a flash ad. And I enabled adblock again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:54AM (#31921396)

    What if AdBlock was modified so that it would load the ads but not display them? In this way the website would be paid by the advertiser and you would not have to look at the ads. AdBlock could even fake a click on a few ads, just to be nice.

    AdBlock should load the ads in a low priority thread after all the other elements of the web page was loaded. This would maximize the bandwith usage. Of course, all of this would be disabled if you pay per byte transferred.

  • by Myopic ( 18616 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @09:04AM (#31921526)

    Me too! Whenever I see a web ad my initial reaction is no longer annoyance, but rather surprise. "What is this?" I think to myself. "Lo, this foreign thing is so incongruous! Here I am on a web page about one topic, and there is this strange part of the page about a totally unrelated topic!" Then half a second later my brain realizes what the thing is, and then the annoyance sets in.

    Also, pages with ads have an odd "shape". I'm not used to seeing big tall column-shape images next to whatever I'm reading, but that's the shape of most pages when not using AdBlock. Or, when I load a forum page, I can normally see the first and maybe second posts when using AdBlock, but if not then there is an ad there and I have to scroll to see the posts. It's strange that way.

    I am so incredibly happy that ad filtering is possible with the internet. I literally never watch TV or listen to the radio now, because of ads. I still watch TV shows on Netflix (live or on disc) and I still enjoy radio programs as podcasts -- but I just can't or won't agree to the previous broadcast model for programming.

  • by TheVelvetFlamebait ( 986083 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @09:08AM (#31921590) Journal

    The balance is wrong and we should have the means to tip it back to a sane level.

    You do. Don't use the internet, or at least the advertisement-supported sites.

    You see, if enough people take up a site's bandwidth without generating ad impressions, the ad companies pay less for their ad-space, and each visitor, on average, produces less income for the site. The site's gotta keep itself afloat (or in some cases, profitable), so it has to try harder to increase the number of ad impressions, or increase the value of ad impressions (e.g. making them more obnoxious). So, what ad-blocking does is bring this sense of "balance" to a select few, at the expense of making everyone else's experience extremely "unbalanced".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @10:32AM (#31922796)

    "I hope it wasn't the Republicans, since the bailout that was required to prevent a depression directly resulting from years of irresponsible lack of oversight was initiated by George W. Bush"

    Hardly. Repeal of the relevant bill was during the Clinton administration, with a Republican backed Congress helping. It isn't irresponsible lack of oversight when there is no oversight power granted to the government. Not many people, you included, who made out during those years were screaming for oversight either. Only when the fall came did you bank it on it politically.

    THAT is the problem with politics; allowing things to fail because there is political gain. Note that Dodd and Frank, as well as government backed loan agencies, were crucial in the fall.

    "and merely completed by Obama."

    Merely? He's spent more bailout money than Bush (both of them). The Dems, when the initial bailout was discussed, sat on the sidelines gladly while funds were wiped out. Pelosi was quote as saying that "it's there problem, let them fix it"; she was the leader of the House at the time.

    Obama is part of the problem. Even if he wasn't before, he is *now*.

    And in any case, the timeline makes him complicit. Obama was a sitting Senator for nearly 2 years during the fallout. He also during his 30 minute advertising buy during the campaign used the bad economic times to booster his presidential run. He knew that his job entailed a bad economy. He even ran political ads FOR HIS ELECTION using the economy. He still accepted the job. It is HIS JOB and of his party to solve the crisis, regardless of the blame.

    If they don't, they get voted out. They haven't for 2 years now, and people are tired. That's why the heated turn in events in such a short while.

    You don't get excuses for taking a job and not doing it. Ever. You can blame your predecessor all you want, but people like you, who blame singularly a party, instead of the members of government directly involved, tend to vote on party lines, and nothing gets solved. This is why independent voters sway the vote, and rightly so.

    If you get elected to do a job, regardless of party, and don't do it, it doesn't matter who the F your predecessor was. As bad as people hated W, even mentioning Bush these days isn't a valid excuse anymore; that currency and good will ran out months ago.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes