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Ad Blocker Debate Rolls Into the Weekend

The ethical quandary of ad blocking hasn't gotten old yet.


There’s nothing we media types like more than talking about ourselves. So it’s not surprising that the debate around ad blocking, which took center stage in tech media this week after Apple’s iOS 9 update, continued to rage into the weekend.

Ad blocking is the practice of using an app or service to stop advertisements from appearing on websites you surf. If you’re new to the issue, you can read a great explainer here.

The short version: It threatens online media’s already tenuous revenue models, most of which rely on advertising dollars, and it’s been exacerbated by Apple in its new version of iOS, which enables its users to employ ad blockers for the first time on mobile.

Fortune writer Dan Primack kicked off the weekend fuss on Saturday morning with a mini tweetstorm about how ad blocking isn’t positive “disruption” — it’s a form of stealing. He was responding to blowback from a piece he published Friday about how robbing the Apple store would be roughly equivalent to Apple allowing ad blockers. Venture investor Hunter Walk, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, Gawker Media COO Scott Kidder and others chimed in.

Walk posed the question of whether ad blocking is like using a DVR to skip television commercials — “using 3rd party technology to harm the business model of the content provider you’re enjoying.” Kidder pointed out that DVRs serve other purposes beyond commercial skipping. Stelter responded by saying ad blockers also serve alternate uses, like speeding up Web page load times.

Former Evernote CEO Phil Libin was more interested in talking about how browser ad blocking would push more money to platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Since ad blockers currently don’t work in those walled services, they might receive more of marketers’ spending budget. But others pointed out that once Facebook and Twitter update their apps to use the latest iOS 9 Web display features, ad blockers will work there too.

A few blog posts pondering the issue also made the rounds on Twitter. One, written by the blog pioneer Dave Winer, scolded publishers for inundating their readers with unwanted content. “There are honest ways to make huge money on the Internet,” Winer said. “I think the message you’re getting from your readers is that advertising is dishonest.”

Another, penned by Adobe principal designer Khoi Vinh, highlighted his ironic introduction to the issue. He went to read a New York Times story on Apple allowing ad blocking in iOS 9, but was stopped by the presence of an ad that wouldn’t go away. Vinh recorded the experience. “[A]s I try to move down the page, the Salesforce banner consistently and infuriatingly forces it back to the top, over and over again,” Vinh said. “Perfect.”

After seeing the video, New York Times reporter Mike Isaac agreed that ads that hurt the user experience are dumb. “[I]t would be awesome to see publishers — much like my own! — stealing very talented advertising engineers away from tech companies,” he tweeted.

It’s clear the debate is just getting started. Next step: Get it on the political agenda.

This article originally appeared on

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