The lobbying group behind targeted Internet advertising has called on Mozilla to stop giving away AdBlocker calling the add-on “potentially illegal”. The law says otherwise.
Last week I did something I swore I would never do: I downloaded the add-on “Ad-Blocker” to block advertising from reaching me when I surf the net. This was monumental for me. I have long preached to privacy advocates and alarmists that their message about cookies, tracking and behaviour advertising is paternalistic in nature at best, and by refusing to acknowledge our ability to respond to targeted advertising ignore basic human autonomy at worst. I have always taken umbrage in their argument that I can’t control my own ability to not click a banner ad. I can honestly say I have never purposely clicked a banner ad. The whole system is quite frankly wasted on me. So why did I download Ad Blocker? I honestly don’t know. Part out of morbid curiosity and partly out of getting tired of being shovelled products for the middle-aged man. I am not quite ready for the onslaught of hair replacement products, although I probably could use them. Almost seamlessly the add-on changed my whole browsing experience. My Facebook page looks empty. Naked even. The link ads on my Gmail have disappeared. No more targeted advertising for me.
Blocking the incessant ads in your browser is potentially illegal?!? Mr Rothenburg is a lobbyist by nature, so I can forgive him for advancing the argument, albeit not based in any sort of fact. To back his argument up, he links to a CNET article from 2007 with a quote from John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society: “If ad-blockers become so common that they slice away at publishers' revenues, I absolutely would expect to see litigation in this area."
That was 2007.
Respectfully I disagree with Mr Rothenburg’s contention that the consumer is not free to limit the type of speech that comes unsolicited into our browsers: commercial speech. Content providers have always litigated against technologies that circumvent commercial speech. The industry tried to shut down the VCR on the premise that it allowed the consumer to fast-forward past commercials on recorded broadcasts. The court in Sony v Universal about Betamax refused this claim. In the present day the court has also protected the rights of consumers to skip over intrusive ads. An appeals court in the ninth district refused to overturn a district court judge’s ruling deny FOX Broadcasting an injunction against a company called DISH, producers of a product that skipped past commercials in a television show. The product called “Hopper” allows its owners to “skip” or “hop” over commercials during programs that DISH transmits over its network.
Fox Broadcasting, Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s NBC and CBS Corp. (CBS) sued Dish last year in California, claiming that the ad-skipping feature would diminish their revenue from advertising. Dish sued the broadcast networks in New York seeking a declaration that its ad-skipping service doesn’t infringe copyrights.
Technology has always responded to the excesses of Internet advertisements. Remember never ending pop-up ads?
It is for the advertisement industry to react and adapt to the changes technology brings, not the other way around.