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    AdBlock: The ethical side of terms of use
    Posted: 2013-08-28 14:05:03


    Bypassing advertisements is nothing new, from using VCRs to speed through commercials on recorded programs, to throwing out the flyers that come in a Sunday Paper, most people have at some point skipped an ad. The limit to ad skipping before has been technology, but there are now browser plugins that seamlessly and effortlessly remove most ads from the internet. Is that legal?

    AdBlock is a program you add to your browser to remove ads from the internet. To better understand what AdBlock does, follow this thought experiment. You receive a free Sunday paper every weekend, paid for primarily by advertisements in the paper. AdBlock is like a little robot who goes through your Sunday paper and snips out all the ads. If it’s your copy of the paper, and your robot, who has the right to stop you?



    Well, that’s where the analogy starts to break down, because online, it’s common place for websites to tell you what you can and can’t do with their content. Generally referred to as ‘terms of service’, websites have all sorts of rules they generally want you to agree to as part of using their site.

    As it turns out, only a few websites have terms of use that specify that you can’t remove ads from their websites. The Chicago Sun-Times’s terms of service asks that:
    "As a user of the Property, you agree that you will not … cover or obscure any banner or other advertisement on the Property"

    Most major newspapers however do not mention removing ads in their terms of service. Major content providers like YouTube also do not forbid the technology in their terms of service.

    Further muddying the water is the fact that most websites that rely heavily on advertisements use ‘browse wrap’ terms of service instead of making their users verify that they have accepted the terms of service. It’s difficult to argue in court that a user has agreed to this sort of ‘browse wrap’ agreement, since most of the time, the link to the terms of service is very small, and not often visible when a user first visits the web page.

    So where does this leave AdBlock? For the most part it seems to be a useful and legal service. As adoption of the technology increases, it’s effects on the landscape of the internet are unknown. In the past, when technologies like VCRs and PVRs have allowed ad skipping, the content producers tended to target the creators of the technology, instead of individual consumers. But with advertising giants like Google now making agreements with AdBlock to bypass the filter this seems less and less likely.

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