In the world where one, who’s perfectly sane, would never steal the cheapest thing from a grocery store but is very likely to pirate digital goods, it’s hard to imagine a replacement for ads. Yet, ad blockers are getting mainstream1 and some reaction is the matter of time.

Taking advantage of them leads to using content without a payback. It is a serious ethical concern and no wonder Marco Arment decided to pull Peace off the App Store. As he writes:

while they [content blockers] do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.

This is noble, but I doubt an average user is as thoughtful. It might sound like an outburst about all ya evil people out there but it isn’t. I think the problem is on the other side. The tech industry doesn’t educate customers.

It is easy to understand prices as a client of a grocery. You have to immediately pay for a product. There is no way you could take it away for free in return for preaching the store to neighbours.

In tech the definitions of ‘price’, ‘payment’, ‘product’, and ‘client’ are vague. As there exist many ways to monetize without an immediate payment, companies plant the fallacy of giving something for ‘free’. Questions like where does company X get money from are often extremely baffling. Asking someone why Facebook paid 1 billion for Snapchat often causes a deep breath. Techonomics is extremely convoluted. An ordinary user has a very little understanding of it.

Recently, a striking example of such unawarness was the response for announcement of Tweetbot 42. There were hundreds of tweets expressing the disappointment that existing customers have to pay for the new version. The authors of such messages clearly underestimate the amount of work put into this product and the value of it in their everyday life.

Therefore installing an ad blocker is often an incidental challenge against the status quo. In response ad vendors and publishers have to educate viewers.

There is a long way until words on the screen are valued equivalently to those on paper and work behind an app is appreciated as much as an effort behind a physical tool. Content blockers, however, might help to demystify the real ‘price’ of ‘free’ content. Undoubtedly, everyone would benefit from it.

  1. While Apple’s reasons for adding content blockers to iOS 9 are probably purely economical (i.e. Apple News) the side effect is very interesting. 

  2. Tweetbot 4 costs approximetely as much as a 2 cups of coffee at Starbucks