Ad Blockers and the Four Currencies


The ad-blocking wars can be best explained by looking at the underlying psychological "currencies" that users are "spending" by watching ads.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


I think you’re coming at this from a solid direction. (Of course, I think the Four Currencies theory is a good one to apply to a wide variety of situations.)

What if the solution is opt-in ads? Advertisements that you are willingly choosing to watch in exchange for some kind of real (or perceived) reward?


It might.

The main challenge with advertising is that value only enters the system when someone actually buys something, and thanks to the Law of Sh*tty clickthroughs we’ve seen a lot of erosion in the conversion power of ads, both short-term and long-term.


I still maintain that clickthroughs are a very poor way to measure the effectiveness of advertising. Other media, such as TV and Radio, are not required to prove their advertising generates direct sales. In fact often the point isn’t about sales directly so much as brand awareness, which indirectly generates a sale for the particular company when the customer decides they want a type of product that they sell. Clickthroughs are a bonus to online advertising, not the entire point of it.

The problem is that as ads get longer, louder, larger, and generally more invasive in other ways, they become part of what’s making people feel good about turning them off. They are literally driving people to block them, and sabotaging content with this idea of “native advertising,” which turns people off a site altogether.

Some of this is that advertising is usually a bad primary revenue model, and should be used to offset costs or supplement revenues. Online news should generally be supplemental or paywalled, for instance.

A lot of more ethical sites run advertisements to the general population, but display a non-aggressive donation message underneath for when ad-blockers are used, requesting donations to support their services, and offering to turn off the ads by default if you donate to support their service. This offers a third transaction option with higher negative integrity score than using an ad-blocker, (but a positive money cost) and doesn’t attack users who use the ad-blocker but don’t donate.

edit: had a dyslexic moment and called “native advertising” “nature advertising”. Fixed.


As a child I dealt with blinking, flashing advertisemnents.

Then I dealt with ads that popped up in new windows.

Then I dealt with ads that made noises.

Then I got a nasty bit of malware on my system from a malicious ad that required me to format and reinstall my computer. This caused me to lose a fair number of pictures, documents and other things I hadn’t backed up at the time. After that experience you literally could not pay me to browse the internet without ABP, NoScript and Ghostery on. I will not trust the safety of my computer to websites hoping to make a fraction of a cent off of my visit and throwing whatever ad they get to their users. :confused: They’ve salted the earth for me. I will actually spend time and go out of my way to ensure I never have to see a single advertisement after the sheer amount of BS they have put me through.

Unless an ad puts some nasty junk on your computer and you have to spend Time fixing it yourself, or Time and Money by sending it to a computer repair shop. As with happened to my parents a few years back.


A very good point, Matt. A similar point is made over at ZPG, “Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful.”


Indeed, an excellent point! Another commenter pointed out that on mobile wasteful video ads eat into your data bandwidth, which can actually end up costing you money in overage charges, as well.


I’m glad someone else already commented on the $M is 0 as well.

I don’t expect ad networks to be completely free of malware but I do expect a much better response when problems do happen. Page Fair claims the cost due to ad blocking to be at $22 billlion. But the question is where is all that money to take responsibility and legitimize the paradigm? Even just 10% of that set aside to help pay for services to clean up a malware ad campaign would go a long ways. Instead, the ad network value their own legitimacy at $0 when it comes time to pay for malware removal. It is just an empty apology, a statement that the ad network is taking steps to stop it from happening yet again and the cost is passed on to the end users.

If you want to go to a real world example of a child not eating by ads being blocked, then maybe we should take that example to the logical conclusion. For this example, let us say there is a community seeking to have a city block a bill board from being put up. The bill board company seeks community support by saying their company gives back to the community and without the bill board the children that are fed by their community out reach will not get food.

From how the ad company puts their stance, it seems really simple. But what if I told you this is more like Sohpie’s Choice where it just a matter of which child fails to get food instead of a clear win-win if the bill board returns. What information would it take for you to side with the community to keep the bill board from going up?

(1) What if I told you the location the bill board is supposed to go previously had a bill board that fell onto a highway and caused a multi-car accident?

(2) What if I told you this isn’t the first time the bill board has fallen onto the highway and the company has already claimed they would take steps to make sure it didn’t happen again?

(3) What if I told you the bill board company offered nothing in compensation to the victims?

(4) What if I told you the bill board company claimed it couldn’t compensate the victims because it didn’t know who they are. However, the same company promoted that the billboard had cameras to collect the make, model and license plate numbers of all the cars to go by so they could produce aggregate data of those that saw it?

(5) What if I told you as the resulting of the cost to some of the victims of yet another billboard accident that some of the victims had children that had to go without food?

How many facts of the case need to be provided before the simplified story that bill boards feed children just is no longer enough to legitimize this business practice?

We have seen repeated misuse of ad networks. Both Google and Yahoo have made the news for having their ad networks used for “malvertising campaigns” but neither have been reported as paying victims to assist in the cost of clean up. Yahoo’s June/July 2015 malvertising was the largest ever to date and still wasn’t large enough to justify taking responsibility for reaching out to the impacted users. So if the ad networks themselves put a $0 value on how legitimate they are, who am I to argue with that?

At some point, if you are going to demand the “right” way to access your content requires doing it in the high-crime ghetto district of the city, you should expect either someone will offer a way to move the content to a safe area to consume or people will just abandon accessing it. Ad networks have proven themselves to be part of the ghetto of the internet and should expect to be blocked.

As far as not taking responsibility because there is no way to know who was impacted, that is just an offensive slap in the face for people that have been victims of these malware distribution systems. We are told in the privacy policies of these networks that we should have no expectation they will honor Do Not Track. We also know from reverse engineering the javascript and adobe flash from different ad networks that they track us even when the browser cookies have been cleared. Just take a look at for the types of tricks these networks use to track.

When ad networks have been acting for so long like they hold all the cards and can set all the terms in their favor, the writing should have been on the wall that people would take any chance they get to block them. It is the only reasonable response to an ad network’s privacy policy that says if you don’t agree to the terms then don’t use the service.

Some might say that malware shouldn’t be a factor to people blocking ads on iOS. They will eventually be proven wrong. The recent vulnerability of iOS “effective. Power” and Android Stagefright show that short specially crafted messages to either smartphone system can have negative effects. Given enough time, the impact of these type of vulnerabilities will increase.

Both computers and smartphones are devices we have grown increasingly dependent on. Having problems with performance/reliability issues due to malware has a real world cost. Having our data held by ransomware also has a real world cost. That cost may not be $22 billion, but it also isn’t $0. An industry “worth” $22 billiion that has $0 of responsibility will have it’s worth re-evaluated to match the value of how responsible it is.


Isn’t that why the video ads are always in 144p? (Or at least they used to.)


I, as user, hate ADs, but as website owner my revenue is depend on them. IMHO, most of the peoples that talk about “taking food from child mouth” are just lazy to do something else. They know how to work in that way, they receive money by this and when someone do not want to participate in this money-earning activity - they start whining. It’s easy to do, do not require any qualification and also give flame to the internet and theme. But in the end they will find something else to do, or they will find new work, or they will die. It’s evolution and internet will evolve. I hope at least.


If you’re being charged by the megabyte, (which some networks do here- I can’t speak for the USA however) then it really doesn’t matter what resolution videos are in, all of your bandwidth is precious. I can understand people getting frustrated with video ads on mobile devices, the only services that should do that are video streaming services, where you’re expecting to use large amounts of data anyway.


I think as long as we have a social model that values advertising, there will be advertising on the internet. Community-supported sites that are ad free might become an increasing thing, but as long as we have a system where money is needed for non-luxury commodities, we’re going to end up having commercial websites, and we’re going to end up having advertising.


This is the kind of ad that appears on a site I usually go (it’s in Portuguese but you get the point):

This is the anti-adblock message (it’s a Crash Bandicoot fansite btw):

The link leads to the anti-adblock page.

This is proper advertisement imo (the ad appears at the top of the page so you always see it but it’s never quite intrusive).


Recently there’s been news about the AdBlock extension announcing that it’s adopting the “Acceptable Ads” policy.
I also got a notification from the extension. Maybe it’ll reduce the death spiral?