re: Adblock Is Piracy

Linus is wrong.

Let’s just get that out of the way, now. Linus is wrong, but I’m going to argue I agree with his sentiment.

Piracy has a legal definition. He tried to backtrack, especially on the WAN show, that he didn’t mean legal piracy. He was referring to “yo ho” piracy. But the origins of “yo ho” piracy is clear theft, murder, rape, etc. Shit’s illegal, yo. But in technology, it’s not all that stuff. But there is a legal definition. And by having a legal definition, calling adblock piracy is making a legal claim, whether you like it or not.

While adblock is not, technically, illegal, at least in most places, it’s also not victimless. This is where I’m on board with Linus. By blocking ads, revenue is impacted, albeit in a very small way. In a way, it’s theft. For example, on youtube, in order to cover your revenue for the content creator, you have 2 options: Youtube Premium or allowing ads to play. If you do neither but still consume the content, then you have mot remitted your payment of either dollars or your eyes and time.

I use an ad blocker. I’m not against the use of ads, though. For ad supported services which I enjoy that offer ad removal for a few, I tend to pay that fee. But why do I use an ad blocker if I’m okay with ads?

I hate harmful ads, and I have no control over who serves them.

Modern website ads are served by an ad service provider and many of them execute code on my machine. Gone are the days when ads were simple links, images, or animations. There are website ads executing javascript. Malicious javascript tends to get get into these ad networks.

And here’s the kicker: not only do I have no choice in who is serving these potentially malicious ads, often the websites serving malicious ads didn’t consent to it either. So they have no choice in the matter.

I could just block those ads, right? Or perhaps just block ad networks, or ads on sites known to cause problems. Right?

Technology changes rapidly. Threat actors change their tactics frequently. Unless you are an expert in these matters, it’s literally impossible to keep up with this problem. So…I block ads. And I look for alternatives to supporting the creators of the content I enjoy.

Am I in the wrong? I’ll call this a giant gray area. I’m not blocking ads because I hate ads. I’m blocking ads to protect myself. I’m also fully aware that it has an impact, albeit a small one. Not only do I not hate ads just in general, in places where ads are more likely to be safer, I have clicked on some because the product or service looked interesting.

Linus is wrong to call it piracy. No one is taking the ad supported content and redistributing it without ads. It’s likely more closely related to a theft of service, but I don’t think this has ever been properly challenged. As Louis Rossmann points out, we’ve had some form of circumvention for ads for literally several decades (remember when TV ads intentionally boosted their volumes, and they were the ones to actually get in trouble? perhaps those devices were still bought as a means of protection). Linus is right that you shouldn’t fool yourself that you are doing something just and right by blocking ads. Blocking ads as a means of protection is still denying that commerce.

Ad blocking is harmful. There’s no use lying to yourself about this. But modern digital ads tend to be annoying at best, and actually harmful in the worst cases. To me, ad blocking is the lesser evil.

Maybe worth noting is Youtube creators get paid more by Youtube Premium views than ad impressions. I do subscribe to Youtube Premium.