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Is choice for the webmaster not also important?

PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2009 10:18 pm
by flashstorm
Let me just start by saying that I'm not exactly savvy when it comes to server-browser relationships on the net, so I don't know the technical aspects of what I'm discussing/suggesting. Also note that I myself am not a webmaster, but am a No-Script and ABP user with whitelisted. With that being said, here I go.

The whole noscript snafu has got me thinking about the ethical implications of ad blockers. Throughout the whole discussion the phrase "user choice" and "user experience", but rarely is the webmaster's choice or the webmaster's experience. I mean, say if I was running a grocers, and someone was taking my inventory without paying, I would most certainly have it in my power to eject the person from my store. (and of course seek legal consequences, but that extends the analogy too far).

However, if a surfer with adblock comes and views a webmaster's site (say mine, even though I don't have one) that is ad supported, they can still access my content without "paying for it". In effect, they are using my content in a way I did not intend it to be used. However, I understand that it is rather difficult for the server-end to detect if a client is using a ad-blocker.

Hence, I would like to suggest that the developpers of ABP make it somehow available to webmasters a method of "denying" access to a website at a webmaster's request. As per implimentation, could it not be something as simple as a webmaster adding a command to their page that ABP can detect and display a plain-text "cannot view this page by request of webmaster" instead of the page. This can even be extended to allowing a site to be shown if the site is whitelisted, and communicating this fact and instructions on how to whitelist a site on the plain-text info page.

Some of you may be asking "well, why should ABP have to be the one responsible for this?" It is my understanding that ABP was founded with an originally-ethical idea in mind - that people should not have to lookat ads if they don't wish to. This ethical background has continued with the development of the project, evidence of which can be seen in the creator's latest blog post concerning what should and should not be done by FF add-ons (in relation to no-script, but alot of general remarks were also made). While many of these ethical implications relate to user-choice, webmaster-choice should also be taken into account. I respect the user's right not to have to look at ads if they don't want. But I also respect the webmaster's right to use their content in whatever respectful ways they see fit, and to deny the access to such content if their ways are unfairly circumvented. Out of good faith, and as a sign of their equal and strong ethics, I think that ABP should impliment this feature.

Finally, to those who say that it's pointless because users will just find a way to bypass the restrictions, I say that then the fault and ethical problems lies no longer with ABP, who offered their best effort, but rather with the user, who chose to crack the now-locked door to the store.

Thanks for reading this long post.

PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2009 11:10 pm
by mrbene
Ethics? Bah.

I'd say the main difference between the "store" analogy that you've used and the actual implementation of the site that you've described is that there's a checkout counter in the store. The equivalent on the web would be to protect your content via a log-in page. Pretty simple, and establishes a relationship with your 'customers', opening up heaps of other opportunities for revenue (some sensible, some sketchy).

There used to be a method that sortof identified that ABP was installed. This was exploited to do what you're talking about, but generally by sites that provided a very negative experience to people with ABP installed. So the "good faith" thing has already been proven to result in ABP users being targeted for attacks ("attacks" at least in terms of "very strong, negative language").

Mind you, I outlined a few methods for delivery ads (or different content) to ABP users not too long ago. If you want to stop ABP users from view the site altogether (IE, 'ejecting'):

- You can honeypot, crawl the DOM with inline JavaScript and then use document.write to eliminate your content if the honeypot URLs haven’t rendered. You’ll end up with false positives (anyone on slow connections), and if your site is popular, the honeypot URLs will likely end up whitelisted. Not particularly effective – search forums for “Jack Lewis”. I think that went all the way to blocking all Firefox users.

In terms of continuing to serve ads to users with ABP

- You can serve ads from your own domain, which, if your site isn’t particularly popular, will result in the majority of subscriptions ignoring you.

- You can encode the images you want to serve into the HTML directly, so that there aren’t additional requests. This makes the files really heavy, and can generally be blocked with element hiding. You’ll also have no idea what portion of ads are blocked.

Finally, if you do want to server ads and allow ABP users access to the site

- You can ask your users to whitelist your site. You can make this a very easy process by providing a subscription so the user can just click on a link and get the whole set of your domains, if you have more than one that work together.

PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2009 11:41 pm
by flashstorm
I have trouble being able to accept any of your proposed solutions. It seems unfair to have to reject dialup users (which there still are, such as my father) as well as forcing users who don't want to see ads to have to. The fourth one really isn't a solution, because it still leave the webmaster's hands tied. And I also figured that bad things would happen if webmasters could change their content based on the presence of ABP, which is my proposed solution would be a locally-kept plain text HTML file that would be displayed, rather than the original page, whenever ABP spotted the command.

PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2009 11:53 pm
by Lyx
His detailed argumentation may not be error-free, but his main point is valid. One can argue all day long about technical details, if blocking users is efficient, and even if when the web is full of abusive ads, if then there even is any reasonable alternative to adblocking...... but all those arguments change absolutely nothing about a very simple thing: Adblock allows users to precisely block types of content, because content identifies itself (usually). Content creators however cannot precisely block types of users, because adblock doesn't identify itself.

Not to create a misunderstanding here: I am NOT arguing that sites should block adblock users. I consider the majority of ads invasive, useless, stupid and abusive. My opinion of them is so low, that i'd say it would be better for everyone if all the effort which is put into ads, would instead be put in creating fair, useful and honest reviews, as well as topic-relevant and useful linking. Ads in the conventional sense are absolutely pointless and useless - and by the way also one of the biggest waste-machines worldwide. Still, all those arguments against ads change nothing about the simple fact, that here, the user is given the option to say "no", while the site owner isn't given that option. It is not a mutual agreement in that regard.

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 3:34 am
by Luthair
Should Television stations also be able to require viewers watch and listen to commercials?

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 4:00 am
by mrbene
Is the problem that you're looking to understand a solution to encapsulated by this statement: How to ensure that the webmaster have the capability of enforcing specific requirements on the web visitors?

I do not agree that the content provider / webmaster doesn't have the ability to say "No" to people who don't view ads.

An easy solution is to require log-in, and have server side code that validates that some portion of the ad code is delivered along with pages to the users. If they don't view the ads but do view the content, give them a warning, or take whatever action is desired.

Technically this could be done against IP + User Agent combination, but that would have a (small) chance of collision.

The way the internet works means that an HTML file that is not protected by authentication is available to anyone. Authentication can be by username/password, or could be by web browser type, or other aspect. But if none of that is done, then the expectation should be that it will be accessed without the ads at least some of the time.

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 7:23 am
by p2u
@ flashstorm

And what if you look at the issue from another angle? Webmasters want to make money; that's all right. BUT: most of the time, they don't even check server permissions. Besides, they implement client application usage on the web that is inherently unsafe. When you get infected online, it is 99,9% through 'ad channels', coming from third parties. Blocking scripts and ads is not just a matter of trying to take away a webmasters earnings, you know. There is surely a security factor involved in all this. And NOBODY will guarantee our safety online. As long as that is the case, I have a right to do what's best for my computer. What do you say to that?


PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 7:45 am
by Wladimir Palant
I wrote a few recommendations for webmasters a while ago: ... mendations

Yes, doing that requires a lot more effort. But it will also make sure that your ads are both more affective and not perceived as an annoyance.

Generally, I do think that considering webmasters wishes wouldn't be a bad thing (see for example But I am also most certain that the user should be making the final decision - anything else would just lead to abuse, we have seen it before.

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 11:52 am
by Lyx
There is another aspect, which i just noticed. Typical reasons why a user may dislike ad-usage on a page:

1. Privacy & Security concerns
2. Interferes with normal page content (positioning, popups, etc)
3. Not interested in any ads at all
4. The intensity and quantity is so high, that it is distractive and feels invasive

Now, i would argue that if you substract point 1., it isnt that the majority of adblocking users dislike ANY ads - not even the users to which point 3. applies. Rather, i think that for most users, it is really a combination of 2. and 4., with varrying levels of tolerance. In other words: I think the majority of adblocking users wouldn't mind ads, as long as they are - in terms of quantity, placement and intensity - at levels with which the user is comfortable.

Now, intensity may be difficult to measure with a computer, but quantity, positioning and behaviour is something, which the browser knows already!

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 12:05 pm
by Wladimir Palant
Lyx wrote:Now, intensity may be difficult to measure with a computer, but quantity, positioning and behaviour is something, which the browser knows already!

But unfortunately it doesn't know that when Adblock Plus is deciding whether something needs to be blocked - at this point it is often just a script which could turn out to do anything and there is no way to tell.

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 2:23 pm
by LorenzoC
If one day ADBlock can't block ads, I would switch to one of the other ways to get the same result, which usually involve the use of a local proxy.

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 2:52 pm
by Ares2
Wladimir Palant wrote:I wrote a few recommendations for webmasters a while ago: ... mendations

Just an idea that came to my mind: Maybe we should expand these thoughts to some kind of guidelines for "acceptable advertisement"? And then think of a way to not block them "by default" (e.g. with the first option in the subscription tab). Do you think this approach would be useful and worth some additional thoughts/work?

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 3:20 pm
by Wladimir Palant
Ares2, yes, this already came up before and I think that it is the way to go for the future. The idea was to categorize filters on the server side so that the user can choose how much he wants to block without having to make a decision for each individual ad. But that means much work to create the server application first - and to maintain the database then.

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 3:39 pm
by Ares2
Now that really sounds great but I didn't even thought this far. I was just thinking about some "rules" for webmaster so they can make sure their ads won't be blocked by let's call it EasyList "default". Like

* Only first party hosted ads
* Only text ads and static images
* Visibly tagged as advertisement
* Not interfering with the site content

And maybe give them some advice to make their ads not accidentally get blocked by general hiding rules.

And for those people who absolutely cannot stand ANY kind of advertisement, there should still be a possibility to block them (maybe with a supplemental subscription?), but this would never be the default.

PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 3:58 pm
by Wladimir Palant
Would be fine as a temporary solution - but I would like to see the general solution eventually :)