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Whining Whiners and the Whines They Tell: Ad Blocker Edition

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Earlier this week a number of Yahoo Mail users took to social media and online forums to announce that, as a result of recent actions by the company, they were henceforth refusing to use the service. You might wonder what transgression would be so serious that it would cause users to abandon their preferred email platform. Was Yahoo secretly using child labor to run its cloud services? Did the company announce plans to open offices in North Korea? No, Yahoo’s sin was significantly worse—the company told users of its free webmail service that they had to stop using ad blockers to continue using its service.

For those who are uninitiated, ad-blockers are web browser plug-ins that do exactly what their name suggests—block online ads from displaying on a website. Users install these plug-ins because it allows them to view websites without the indignity of seeing ads. As you have surely surmised, this is truly an outrage. How dare a company expect its users to view ads on its free, ad-supported email service? This would be like a restaurant expecting its customers to pay the prices listed on its menu for the food they order. Or waiters expecting tips.

Sure, some corporate shills would probably point to the $49.5 billion in Internet advertising revenue generated in the United States last year as a reason not to block ads. They’d likely argue that without online ad revenue, these companies could never offer all of these free amazing web-based services. But who really wants free services anyway? The average person in the street will tell you that what they really want is to start spending more money on things that they used to get for free.  Or not get them at all. That’s especially true for low-income people.

Now some industry apologists might ask why users are even upset since Yahoo already offers a paid ad-free email service for individuals who do not want ads. But these people are clearly just logic-mongers who do not believe consumers should be able to free load.

The rest of the Internet should rise up against the increasing number of greedy websites like Hulu and The Washington Post who ungratefully ask that their users turn off ad-blockers so that they can afford to keep the lights on.

Just as shoplifters should come together to boycott retailers who hire security guards, so too must the ad-blocking community stand united.

Now this struggle will not be easy. So please go to itif.org and send us money. We will let you donate even if you use an ad blocker. After all, we have to pay the bills.

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About the author

Daniel Castro is vice president at ITIF. His research interests include health IT, data privacy, e-commerce, e-government, electronic voting, information security, and accessibility. Previously, Castro worked as an IT analyst at the Government Accountability Office where he audited IT security and management controls at various government agencies. He has a B.S. in foreign service from Georgetown University and an M.S. in information security technology and management from Carnegie Mellon University.