Jim October 30, 2012 9:44 AM

While it obviously makes me think about my days pirating movies, it also makes me think about my use of adblockers today. By blocking ads in my browser, I’m removed from the hard currency impact, and essentially taking for free a product made for money. I can rationalize about how they make noise, cover things, and make the internet generally more annoying to use, but it is ultimately dishonest in the same way.

Ian Toltz October 30, 2012 10:14 AM

I had a fairly large diatribe here, but I realized it was very tangential. So rather than post that, I’ll just say that I enjoyed the talk, but I take exception with his comparison between skipping out on a tab and pirating music.

Jim October 30, 2012 10:45 AM


I take it the objection is that the food is a tangible object, and you are actively taking something physical. I share the objection, but I can’t think of a better example that could be used (the example would be need to be a general experience shared by the audience). It isn’t as though you could walk out of iTunes with music and not paying.

In the end, I think the comparison still works. Even though I can buy the raw ingredients and put them together myself, I go to a restaurant where someone skilled with cookery can prepare my food for me, a waiter makes sure I have access to that service, and someone washes my dishes for me. While the one-to-one/one-to-many relationship is different when comparing this to film piracy, when the balance sheets are done at the end of the day, the impact is all the same. Walking out of a restaurant without paying is also a good example because it is something we are all very well aware we can do, but chose not to.

mashiara October 30, 2012 11:01 AM

I kinda disagree on adblockers, ABP has by default enabled the “not obnoxius ads” -whitelist, and it’s easy to get on it provided you follow the rules…

So as long as the ads play nice they will appear on pages.

There is another point of view, and that is “stealing” of my precious bandwidth with huge images and/or video, especially mobile bandwidth is limited and the transfer quotas are nowhere near unlimited even on broadband if using consumer grade connection (I happen to at the moment pay through the nose for a business connection that I can utilize 100% if I feel like it and the relatively tiny bandwidth, 5/5Mbit, is quaranteed up to the peering links)

Then there’s the problem of questionable ad servers inadvertedly or on purpose serving malware.

No doubt using flashblock, noscript and other extensions for security is considered “stealing” too by some even if the effect of blocking the ads (flash ads are extra horrible especially since the flash extension is generaly buggy) is incidental.

mike October 30, 2012 11:10 AM

The fact that it is not tangible is a major difference and ruins the comparison for me.

The problem is comparing physical objects to information is bogus on the face of it. Any analogy to real objects is going to be biased toward whomever is making it.

other mike October 30, 2012 11:25 AM

But that’s exactly the point he’s trying to make – walking out on a meal is a bigger deal and you can see the direct impact on the people being affected. Pirating software or music is perceived as a smaller deal because it involves digital copies and the affected people are many steps down the road. This makes it much easier to rationalize the small acts of dishonesty.

Both are criminal acts. But lots and lots of people come up with rationalizations why piracy isn’t so bad and it’s not really hurting anybody. And individual acts of piracy probably don’t hurt much at all. But the cumulative effect of those frequent small acts by people who consider themselves honest have had a much bigger impact on the music industry than dine & dashers do on the restaurant business.

stvs October 30, 2012 12:55 PM

blocking ads in my browser … is ultimately dishonest in the same way

No. There is no legal or moral contract that obligates you, even implicitly, to look at ads or allow them to be displayed on your computer. Contrast this with the completely different legal and moral framework for copyright infringement.

ads_suck October 30, 2012 1:37 PM

@Jim: You’re wrong, stvs is right.

Those ads are using your bandwidth, your CPU cycles and wasting your time and your attention. All advertising is obnoxious, pernicious and unwelcome. It tries to persuade people to buy things they wouldn’t otherwise buy — its entire purpose is to influence you and change your decision-making process. No thanks.

I didn’t sign any contract with those advertisers, I have no moral obligation to torture myself viewing their ads. Especially not to use my CPU and bandwidth to view them. The internet has always been about clients accessing information in the most convenient way for them. It’s not television, the broadcasters do not get to control which images or scripts get fetched or executed on my own machine, to Hell with them.

If they can’t make money because too many of their visitors choose to block their obnoxious advertisements, then they should find a different business model, or go out of business.

Jim October 30, 2012 1:40 PM

There is no legal or moral contract that obligates you

Sure there is. Services like Google rely on ad revenue to operate, and I make heavy use of their services. It is immoral to take advantage of those services while blocking the ads that allow them to exist.

I am paying for those services by being exposed to ads. By blocking them, I am evading payment. This distance from hand-currency impact is exactly what the speaker was talking about.

Jim October 30, 2012 1:43 PM

I didn’t sign any contract with those advertisers

And this is where justification begins. If everyone blocked ads, then the WWW as we know it could not exist. By blocking ads, you are defecting from the social contract that supports this infrastructure.

Melt Fouse October 30, 2012 2:00 PM

Site creators have the ability to determine if content is blocked by things like NoScript and Adblock plus and they have the ability to alert the user to that fact (I’ve experienced it). If the product/service/software is solely reliant on the revenue made by those ads and they don’t want their content available without them, then they should stop people from accessing the site when they have NS and ABP active. Then the user can determine if the content they want to see is valuable enough to them to turn those things off, generate the ad revenue, and partake of the content. The indiscriminate use of ads and ad services is the problem, not those of us who chose to block them.

Jim October 30, 2012 2:16 PM

Site creators have the ability

And restaurant owners could post guards at the exit that require a receipt to exit. But rather than going to that trouble, most restaurants will rely on the customer to recognize the bill and pay it. The fact that you technically can bypass the system doesn’t make it moral it do so. If the cost of viewing an ad (be it annoyance, bandwidth, or CPU usage) is more than you are willing to expend, then cease use of services that present you with such ads and take your business to services that you find reasonable.

Look, I’ll agree that it’s a pretty minor grievance. As long as only a small population is doing this, it doesn’t have an appreciable impact on society at large. But it should be acknowledged that blocking ads violates a social contract and hurts a website provider in much the same way that pirating a movie hurts a film producer. We can rationalize it all we want (and there are many ways with which to do so), and it’s a very minor thing, but the fact of the matter remains.

Not really anonymous October 30, 2012 3:10 PM

There isn’t a general social contract to view ads. People run web servers providing information without having ads. There are agents retrieving web pages where it doesn’t really even make sense as they aren’t people. If particular web sites need people to view ads or patronize sponsors, the site can make that known explicitly.

As far as pirating goes the content industry struck first. Copyright should be on the order of 10 years not 70 years and increasing. The retroactive extension of copyright with the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was theft on a massive scale dwarfing all of the personal copying copyright violations. The same groups that impose ridiculous costs on society to protect their business model screw over the very artists they are supposedly representing. It makes it kind of hard to feel sorry for them.

Felt Mouse October 30, 2012 3:19 PM

Look, I’ll agree that it’s a pretty minor grievance.

As will I agree that this is a minor annoyance and yes the population that does this is so low that the discussion we are having is of no real value…but…

There seems to be at least one significant flaw (as there always is) with the analogy of the restaurant:
In most cases a restaurant diner is provided a cost of everything before they decide on what they purchase and the social contract is when they order from the server. I would argue that this is not what happens currently when a website immediately pushes ads out to a visitor. In a sense they are given a bill (social/actual contract) as soon as they enter the “premises” (the website) for all “items” (site content) on the menu, whether they wanted them or not. To argue “that is the way that websites are”, does not negate this but furthers my point that as a consumer, I must protect myself from unsolicited contracts the same as anyone would a “Prince of Nigeria” scam. (Yes, I realize that I am equating advertisers with scammers and all of the implications of that. 🙂 ) Essentially it comes down to the timing of when the contract is in place – even the social one.

Quickly on the “moral” issue – as is oft the case – I think we are discussing whether we are violating the “spirit” of the internet or the “law” of the internet. The vagueness of that discussion can be found on forums all over.

I must stop myself now before I become a hated ‘troll.’

PBIPhotobug October 30, 2012 3:51 PM

“Services like Google rely on ad revenue to operate”

That business model was a decision on THEIR part to leverage what they saw as a business opportunity. I have NO obligation to buy into Google’s ad-driven business model if I view the results as obnoxious and intrusive. If their business model can’t succeed with only a willing share of users then it’s an inadequate business model.

(Anyone who thinks ads are the only source of income for Google needs to research Google’s financial filings.)

The Internet existed before that ad-income decision because people and organizations would willingly pay infrastructure costs to get their information out in public view, and many of them will still do so, with or without ad revenue.

There are other business models all over the Internet, which is what makes it so great. I have no obligation to support the business decisions of every company I interact with. If I don’t like a company’s business model I am free to resist it. I drive Chevy, not Ford. I use Apple’s OSs, not Microsoft’s. I shoot Canon, not Nikon. They have to convince me it’s to my direct benefit to participate, as Apple and Canon have done. I pay for things I want to use including ‘things’ such as music files.

But ads are not ‘things’ I want to purchase; ads are auxiliary information that is shoved at me without my request – often with deliberate violation of my privacy – as a one-sided additional revenue-stream business model.

The viewpoint that the Internet can’t exist without ads is marketing BS from companies who have deliberately chosen an ad-driven business model instead of other business models.

I pay my ISP for information highway access and that’s the end of my obligation if I so chose.

JB October 30, 2012 3:59 PM

@Not “…retroactive extension of copyright with the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was theft on a massive scale…”

This is so true, and it’s not even that it’s hard to feel sorry for them, I actively despise them (as an entity).
When you aim to bankrupt people to set an example for others and campaign to make criminal what should be a civil offence then you’ve crossed the line of acceptable behaviour and need to be removed for the good of society.

Alex October 30, 2012 4:10 PM

To avoid the tangible/intangible comparison, what if music piracy was compared to sneaking into a movie/concert?

Vile October 30, 2012 5:30 PM

@Pro-copyright guys: make note that it is impossible to create something “new” without relying on existing things.
So if you read the book on wrote something with that book influence – you are stealing.
And for the society that became what it became thanks to that “stealing” (i’m talking about progress here), to make information flow a crime is a very good idea. hooray stone age!
@Alex, as long as movie/concert has unlimited number of seats, don’t see any issue there. Do you think that people who came into movie theatre and sitting on the stairs should be kicked out?

But copyright thing in a whole even much more grave. As it stands now it is a legal monopoly. You can’t substitute The Beatles with Queen (although both are quite good). That means if copyright is not violated, and there would be a way to enforce it – information flow will come to stop (by huge prices due to monopolistic nature). Btw, that is what State also tries to do – to control information flow, to keep its citizens obedient and in check.
IMO, it is in humanity (not society though) interest to quash the copyright/patent/information control in its current form and come up with another reward method for authors/producers.

P.S. It is very easy to win over “piracy” – offer your things easy to access and cheap enough to match peoples expectations on how much it should cost.

P.P.S. I, personally, would pay up to $50/month to have access to library of all the music in the world (no exceptions). + same for the video content and half of it for all the books (they usually take longer to read – overall value is lower). And I’m pretty well prepared to pay that for the rest of my life. Bet i’m not the only one, but it is still a dream.

Doug October 30, 2012 6:31 PM

As I understand the process, sites don’t make money from the display of ads but by site visitors clicking the ads. If that is true, then my use of ad block does not ‘cost’ the sites anything since I N-E-V-E-R click ads. If I want something, I go looking for it. If a site displays ads, I just ignore them.

For the sites I want to support, I pay directly to the site ( and for instance).

I get the whole ‘need money to do stuff’ thing and I’m happy to pay for products; I refuse to give up bandwidth just to appear like I’m helping out.

John David Galt October 30, 2012 6:39 PM

@Jim: Blocking ads is no more “stealing” than is going to the kitchen for a beer during the commercials while watching a ball game on TV. Nobody has a right to my attention unless they’re expressly paying me for it.

As far as copyright infringement, that was once a moral issue but the content industry has long since given up any claim to the high ground. Between publishers cheating the performers and song writers (using legislation that changes the meaning of contracts already written), endless unjustifiable extensions of term, and their current campaign to take away from everyone the freedom to control one’s own computer, they have made themselves public enemies. I will never again buy anything Hollywood produces until they learn to keep their hands to themselves.

RH October 30, 2012 6:41 PM

I wonder if the pro-piracy argument could be made that piracy demolished an old business model with a new technology that improved the world. The examples with eating at a restaurant aren’t quite the same, because that’s not a business model under assault.

Personally, I was MUCH more pro-piracy years ago when the businesses were clinging to their dying model. Now days I find myself more anti-piracy, as we grow into the new digital music world.

Godel October 30, 2012 7:11 PM

BTW, I saw that a click-through for a sponsored search response on Google for something like “car insurance” in the US would cost the advertising company something like $50-$60. Ouch! This is probably a good reason not to click through unless you mean it, inflation wise.

I saw a blogger write that only about 2% of visitors to his web site have NoScript and Adblock turned on, so this is unlikely to make a big impact on their income. Does anyone else have other figures?

tuzbkk October 31, 2012 12:48 AM

Why is this discussion about blocking Ads?

What about blocking cookies?

For those who are pro ads: pro ads means pro cookies. Pro cookies means pro monitoring and anti-privacy.

By removing cookies you are exercising your right of “Liberty.”
By allowing cookies you are waving your 4th Amendment Rights.

David October 31, 2012 1:15 AM

The term “ad blocker” is really a misnomer, and advertisers on the web get it wrong for the same reason.

The web is a “pull” technology, not a “push” technology. Ad blockers work by refusing to pull the ads, which in effect prevents them from being viewed, but there was no guarantee that they were ever going to be viewed in the first place. Just like there is no guarantee that I’ll sit through every commercial during a TV show, or read every page (and advertisement) in a newspaper or magazine.

Advertising has always been a bit of a gamble. Back in the day, you could buy a newspaper for a dime. If you threw away the classified (or the sports, etc) section without reading it, the advertisers lost the gamble. You however, did no wrong.

Is it my fault that websites and their sponsors misunderstand the nature of the web? It’s their assumption that I will blindly issue an “http get” for every piece of data that they want me to. By selectively choosing which pieces of data that I want to retrieve, I control the experience – not them.

Autolykos October 31, 2012 9:26 AM

@John Galt: I completely agree that you should not close a deal if you can’t accept the terms. And not buy the product if nobody offers a deal with acceptable terms.
Once that fact is established for a specific work (e.g. because it isn’t available without DRM or you don’t think it is worth the price asked), pirating it does not, technically, do any damage. Still, I’m not quite sure if that logic isn’t flawed somewhere (it definitely is once you start fooling yourself into “would not buy anyway”, but that slightly misses the point here).

@Goedel: So for any ad where I like Google more than the advertiser, I should click it and then close the window?

Me October 31, 2012 10:18 AM


I think a more apt comparison would be sneaking into the movies. You haven’t deprived them of anything of value (assuming there were empty seats), but gained something for yourself. This, to me, is the physical world equivalent of internet piracy. I think it is up to you as to if you feel that, for instance, seeing two movies on one ticket makes you a ‘bad’ person or not.

Civil Libertarian October 31, 2012 11:54 AM

I don’t have much to add to the good points made about the right to not view ads, except the observation that I have ABP set to explicitly permit ‘sponsored links’ on (though I never click them) because I appreciate their business model. On the other hand, on the rare occasion that I need to resort to searching via Google (usually for images) ABP does its thing and blocks their ad network.

Clive Robinson October 31, 2012 1:17 PM

Whilst Dan Ariely is digging into those individuals he thinks are commiting some kind of social crime and failing to come up with a sensible analagy to justify his point, on the other side of the fence are big corporates being somewhat more than Orwellian in nature…

For instance a user who has quite legitimatly purchased books from Amazon, wakes up to discover that Amazon have decided quite extra judiciously and outside of their original sales agreement to steel the books from the user, without explanation, appology or compensation.

Oh and this is not the first time Amazon has behaved as Judge, Jury and Executioner on people who have made purchases from them. Last time due to the fuss created on the Internet (including on this blog) Amazon gave the effected individuals a nominal valued gift voucher. However it appears that they have not mended their ways,,0

Due to other behaviour by Amazon to myself and others (for instance taking ~200USD of an individuals money and after repeatedly failing to deliver the goods, not returning the money but only giving a credit note is of no use to an individual if they still refuse to actualy deliver any goods to the individual becuase they still have the money not the individual) I now regard Amazon as criminals and refuse to have anything to do with them.

David Thornley October 31, 2012 11:16 PM

Let’s look at the analogy.

When I go to a restaurant, I use a table that they can’t use for anything else. I take time from people. I consume food the restaurant has paid for. I have consumed limited resources, and by eating at the restaurant have imposed costs on the restaurant.

When I download a book on cheating illegitimately, I cost the publisher and author nothing. The cost of the transaction is borne by the place I downloaded it from and me. In addition, assuming that an additional copy of the book has value, I’ve created an object of value, and the world is just a touch wealthier.

It’s not a matter that there’s more psychological distance between act and effect, it’s that there is no direct harmful effect. Any argument against piracy that fails to take this into account is actually counterproductive, as it gives false reasons why piracy is wrong. Similarly, giving made-up reasons why marijuana is bad will make the drug user think it must be OK, since if there were good reasons the person trying to discourage illegal drug use would use them.

In reality, it’s more like viewing a website without the ads. One of Kant’s forms of the categorical imperative was to ask what would happen if everybody did a certain action – what effect would it have on the world. Obviously, if everybody illegitimately downloaded digital products and nobody paid, there would be none. (There is wiggle room, though, as if everybody had an illegitimate copy of a few things and spent money on the rest there would be no impact. I have come up with no moral reason to stop piracy altogether.)

The same is true with web ads: if everybody blocked them, a whole lot of very useful sites would either go away or have to charge money, and having to charge money would cause a great change in the web. There would have to be an infrastructure to facilitate the micropayments. Web surfers would have to wonder if they wanted to pay cash to go to a new site, not necessarily knowing how much it would cost or how useful it would be, and they’d go to far fewer sites. (On the other hand, running any script an advertiser throws at your browser is dangerous; there was one incident where the New York Times site was infecting computers through malicious paid-for advertising. This is why I run NoScript and not AdBlock Plus.)

And, of course, there’s similar wiggle room. We can skip lots of ads without causing problems, and if they paid per click-through rather than impression, there’s no difference between blocking the ad and not clicking on it, except that blocking it saves the site a little bit of valuable bandwidth.

The interesting moral issue is that it is possible to be a free rider sometimes and do no damage. I can’t do so much as swipe a free mint from a restaurant I don’t pay for eating at without doing damage. I can download a considerable amount of material illicitly and cause no harm to the copyright holder; indeed, many people pirate as a “try before buy” exercise, and likely spend more money on copyrighted music or books or games or whatever than they would if they couldn’t pirate.

I’m not sure where the security angle comes in; I suppose it’s that you generally need less security from the public if they’d actually hurt you by doing whatever the security exists to stop.

jb November 1, 2012 12:58 AM

A better tangible-object analogy for filesharing is plate-sharing at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. You’re not really taking more food than you are entitled to, because they already promised you infinite food, but you are denying them the potential revenue from a second diner.

David Thornley November 1, 2012 12:13 PM

@jb, no, I don’t think that’s a better analogy. When I go to an all-you-can-eat place, I’m eating food the restaurant paid for, in the raw ingredients, the preparation, and the display. That’s a direct cost that doesn’t exist in file-sharing. If I share a plate, I’m doubling the direct cost to the restaurant. If I share an illicitly downloaded music file, I’m doing no direct harm to anybody.

So far, the best physical analogy I’ve seen is sneaking into a movie theater that isn’t full.

Mark November 1, 2012 3:00 PM

Copyright shouldn’t be more than 10 or 20 years. I strongly disagree with Micky Mouse having more influence in Washington than the rest of us. A print author has to keep working to eat so why the focus on enforcing music & movie copyrights to keep some people rich for up to 70 years and counting after the people who originally made the content died. Also when I rent a movie and it won’t play because of something the studio had done to it, they stole from me. Don’t say things like Netflix are the answer, the same jerks who’ve made me think twice before buying a movie usually keep their content off of streaming services too.

cdmiller November 1, 2012 3:18 PM

@David Thornley

“assuming that an additional copy of the book has value”

Therein is the crux of the file sharing matter. Value may go down as supply increases. Value may go down as production and distribution costs decrease. With digital data we have products with all of these potentially value decreasing properties.

vasiliy pupkin November 2, 2012 12:47 PM

Direct losses/spending v. lost gains.
I guess direct losses are easy to calculate in any case (determined), but calculation of lost gains is tricky (probabalistic). For latter there is no strict figures – only assumptions which could not be confirmed by facts – just accepted or rejected conventionally.
Let say you create software and spent money in a process, you defintely have direct losses which you are expecting to compensate at least (step1), but you want to get profit as well (step2).
Then piracy on step1 is morally unacceptable – that is just stealing, but on step2 – it morally depends on balance (size matter!) of profits already gained and potetial lost gains as result of piracy. The more profits already gained, the less moral restrictions for piracy. The moral trigger (set aside legal issues) is setting up by each person by evaluation of that balance.

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