The ethical necessity of ads4/27/2016
One of the most volatile debates in the world of technology is of ethics. What set of norms do technologists use as a guide to build morality when it comes to software, hardware, content and oversight? The clearest debates over ethical technology rage in the world of science fiction. Should we create autonomous super robots that have the ability to make decisions about humanity? Should we force consumers to vehicles and devices that protect our environment for future generations? Are countries that are more scientifically and technologically advanced required to protect and enhance developing societies? Of course, these are all grand scheme debates about what civilization, as a whole, will face. There are plenty of immediate ethical conundrums developers and consumers wrestle with every day, and a perfect example is the use of ad blocking technology.
Twenty-five years ago, consumers had close to zero options when it came to evading advertisements. Unless you lived on a self-sustaining farm or were a survivalist in the woods, you were subjected to ads in the newspaper and magazines, on the TV and radio, on billboards, and when you really got down to it, even church bulletins proudly shared community opportunities that parishioners could take advantage of (don’t kid yourself, those are ads). This existence might have been irritating at times, but there was a civil understanding that advertisements were a means for businesses and institutions to generate revenue while informing the marketplace of available goods and services. It was only a few years later when the Internet erupted into the media landscape, eating away at industry business model after business model that advertisements went from consumer fact-of-life and business norm to consumer burden and business necessity.
Today, the vast majority of content you consume by electronic means is sustained by advertising. Love Buzzfeed, Facebook, Google search, Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Gmail, WhatsApp, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, Hulu or even local papers such as Cityview? Then you must recognize the life-blood quality that advertising has for these entities and industries. But the economics of ad-fueled business are so tight that even monster ad providers like Buzzfeed are having trouble making it work.
Of course, recognizing this condition and accepting it are two different things. Ad blocking applications and browser extensions are a quick download away from keeping more of these contrivances out of your life. But by implementing an ad blocker, suddenly you’ve entered the debate of technological ethics and now cause-and-effect will come crashing into your life like a drunk driver.
Let’s say 30 percent of the Des Moines metro population enacts ad blocking technology. That means 180,000 people are removed from the consumer marketplace. Their blocking tools remove them by either blacking out ad images and videos or sometimes stopping them from loading, but either way, ad blockers keep consumers from entering revenue models that keep so many digital goods and services afloat. Lesser revenue means fewer people can be employed, which means the amount of content available will dwindle, and suddenly you’ve eaten your own tail by blocking ads from your life.
There is another effect, this time to subscription models. Battling razor-thin ad revenue margins and a consumer base that doesn’t care, some organizations are adding a second layer of revenue generation by enacting subscription models. YouTube Red is the friendlier version, where consumers can choose to erase ads from their life by paying $10 a month. The more costly measure can be found in The New York Times, which has a digital paywall, and only subscribers can see all of its content. Both are alternatives to ads, but the problem is, if you aren’t willing to have ads in your life, chances are you won’t pay to remove them.
So what side of the ethical line do you fall on? Blocking ads and fueling the demise of content-rich Internet or enduring the ad-populated world and continuing to enjoy “free” news, reviews, videos, games and more? CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.