SuttaCentral

Ad-block and the second precept

So I use a network wide ad-blocker at home. This means that when I use various services that rely on advertising to make money, I am bypassing the ads that they deliver to me.

So for example, if I use the Guardian newspaper app (I don’t have a subscription, so I am not entitled to an ad free experience), I get a blank space where there would normally be an advertisement. This greatly increases my enjoyment of the internet - I get more of what I’ve come for (articles) and less of the extraneous bits (ads) that I don’t want to see.

Now if I’m bypassing the adverts then someone must be loosing out right? I assume that they would very much prefer that I didn’t subvert their business model by using the ad blocker. My justification had always been that it’s my network, I pay for the bandwidth coming into my house and I can do what I like with it. If anything the companies are stealing my bandwidth by embedding advertising into their pages, so I’m entitled to strip them out.

But I’m now thinking that they are offering one thing on the condition that I also take something else, and I’m subverting their original offering.

So my questions are:

When I use an ad-blocker am I stealing?

Is there anything in the suttas that might be used to understand this modern phenomena from an ethical point of view?

Is there a problem with this ‘cherry-picking’ approach to the world when it comes to practice?

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One solution to ad-blockers would be more paid content. If enough people were willing to pay for the Guadian’s news and other articles, the paper wouldn’t need to sell space to advertisers.

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Here’s the Vinaya rule on taking what is not given

‘If a monk, intending to steal, takes from a village or from the wilderness what has not been given to him—the sort of theft for which kings, having caught a thief, would beat, imprison, or banish him, saying, “You’re a bandit, you’re a fool, you’ve gone astray, you’re a thief”—he too is expelled and excluded from the community.’”

What has not been given: what has not been given, what has not been let go of, what has not been relinquished; what is guarded, what is protected, what is regarded as “mine;” what belongs to someone else. This is called “what has not been given.”

IMHO:-
No government rules (as yet!) forcing you to view advertising…
The entire web content is freely offerred - you are simply not taking what you don’t want to consume (ie ads).
Now, if you were illegally hacking their systems, it would be different…but you’re not.
:pray: :pray: :pray:

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Websites make money if someone clicks on the advertisement and then goes on to immediately buy the product. This is only a tiny minority of all people who see the ad. So using an adblocker and not buying things through click-through ads lead to the same result for the advertiser. As the Buddha praised restraint, I think it is in line with the early Buddhist ethos not to buy what is advertised to us—or to at least exercise sufficient caution. In this way, my adblocker supports my restraint.

And what, mendicants, is the effort to restrain? When a mendicant sees a sight with their eyes, they don’t get caught up in the features and details. If the faculty of sight were left unrestrained, bad unskillful qualities of desire and aversion would become overwhelming. For this reason, they practice restraint, protecting the faculty of sight, and achieving its restraint. Restraint

What I’ve seen multiple times is that people seem to “force” contemporary situations through the five precept framework. The five precepts were never meant to cover all ethical situations, especially not in our more complex society. As someone who practices the five precepts, I only apply them to clear-cut situations. Intentionally taking a book from the book shop without paying—that’s stealing. Streaming a movie through a questionable website is not (though it might be contrary to the eight principles). For activities that fall outside the scope of the five precepts, there’s always the Buddha’s advice to Rahula:

If, while checking in this way, you know: ‘This act with the body that I want to do leads to hurting myself, hurting others, or hurting both. It’s unskillful, with suffering as its outcome and result.’ To the best of your ability, Rāhula, you should not do such a deed. But if, while checking in this way, you know: ‘This act with the body that I want to do doesn’t lead to hurting myself, hurting others, or hurting both. It’s skillful, with happiness as its outcome and result.’ Then, Rāhula, you should do such a deed. Advice to Rāhula at Ambalaṭṭhika

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You’d be bypassing the ads regardless by just ignoring them so I don’t see why it’s a problem to block them.

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The trouble that I see here is that we are cutting off the adverts before they reach the eyes with ad-blockers. So can that really help with sense restraint?

Very nice!

Maybe, but I think you might be overestimating my abilities in mindfulness and sense restraint :wink: Looking at it the other way, if that was really the case why would I bother with an ad-blocker? I think advertising works because it subliminally influences us and generates desires. I know with my own little bit of mindfulness that I can go from not having heard of something to ‘needing’ it very quickly.

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It is entirely possible for content providers to place all content behind a pay-wall, yet many do not. This is a deliberate conscious choice, in what is given, and what is not. It might be due in some cases of compliance with local law and social responsibilities, as an exchange for tax favor or other material benefits.

Advertising is endless tickling and fuel for craving. I don’t think abstinence or avoidance is wrong, or akusala at all. Blocking seems to lead towards a renunciate spiritual life.

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The way I understand sense restraint is twofold:

a) Restraining our internal reactions to external stimuli
b) Limiting the external stimuli to which we expose ourselves

Even though (a) is the real task (“sense restraint proper”), there is definitely a role for (b). A major advantage of the renunciant life is the relative seclusion from society’s stimuli and hyperstimuli, allowing those gone forth to work on (a), so that eventually even hyperstimuli will be greeted with equanimity.

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Very nicely stated both.

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FWIW, this is not always (or even usually?) the case with advertising. With adds served up by google, the website owner gets paid per click. (at least that’s how it used to be.) Affiliate links are something different. This is a more nuanced system where for example, the website would have links in an article about a particular book, and when someone clicked on that link that was to Amazon, then they would get paid when the person buys.

There are also ad blockers that claim to be able to only block “invasive ads”. They then claim something to the effect of, “If websites would not display annoying ads we wouldn’t block them.” If a website is very careful, you may actually appreciate seeing the ads that are shown to you.

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Thanks for correcting my misunderstanding. :anjal:

I guess it depends! As a mendicant, there will probably be few if any relevant adds, even on “careful” websites (as a lay person, I have seen very few relevant ads in my life). On a related note, when I do need to buy something, I prefer to search for that thing on Ecosia and clicking on their ads. That way, at least part of the ad revenue goes toward planting trees. :evergreen_tree: :evergreen_tree: :evergreen_tree: In any case, I feel no ethical obligation to conform to the structures of “consumer capitalism”. On a larger scale, if ad income doesn’t work for an organization which does useful work (like the Guardian)… they should find other executives, another business model, someone to acquire them (like the Washington Post did)…

And, as @karl_lew mentioned below, donating to orgs such as the Guardian is a wonderful option (and a form of dana). :slightly_smiling_face:

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I support Guardian by just sending them money now and then. This is independent of the ads, which are quite annoying. I am paying for content, not for ads. I also don’t bother with ad-blockers, I just exercise sense restraint. It’s actually good practice–acknowledge the ad and let it pass. Ads have taught us all sense restraint. Ads are therefore wonderful. The funniest ones are the ones that advertise things I don’t want. :laughing:

Thank you world for all the wonderful ads. Keep them coming! An ad is just a gentle reminder and enumeration of things we don’t need. Ads are the sum of all wishes to be relinquished. :meditation:

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Different approaches, same result. :slightly_smiling_face: :thaibuddha: :blossom:

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Advertisers and content providers are aware of ad blockers and calculate them into their business models. Advertising rates are calculated using a variety of considerations. Lost revenue from ad blockers is figured into overhead and is treated as part of the cost of doing business. If no one used ad blockers there would be a lot more ads pushed out which takes up bandwidth. Content providers might have to pay for additional bandwidth which would offset any meager additional revenue they received from ad clicks.

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Absolutely not, not according to the law, to ethics, or to the Vinaya.

On the contrary, I would argue that each of us has a moral imperative to use ad-blockers.

The advertising industry, especially through its dominance of the internet, is bad for humanity. Its basic purpose is to fuel desire, which drives greed, consumption, and the destruction of the planet.

Ads themselves, quite apart from their effects, directly contribute to global warming, using roughly 10% of the energy on the internet. In 2016 the CO2 emissions of ads was estimated at 60 megatonnes. That’s 60,000,000,000kg of CO2.

Moreover, the advertising industry has led the way in creating a global surveillance network, collecting industrial quantities of data on everyone and selling it to the highest bidder. Apart from the obvious creep factor, this threatens democracy and human rights.

While sites will ask you to support their little venture by enabling ads, the reality is that for all the money in advertising (projected to top US$600B this year), the vast bulk ends up in the pockets of huge corporations. Google and Facebook between them make up 60% of internet ads in the US, with Google alone raking in over $30B in profit for ads. (Graphic below)

The corrosive effects of online advertising were understood by 1998:

In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed … the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.

That’s the words of Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page in their seminal paper for Stanford outlining their vision for Google.

Perhaps the greatest harm of online advertising, however, is that it is so retrograde and just plain bad. It encourages the worst of human nature. So long as companies rely on ads, there is no incentive to find a better way. The tech industry prides itself on being innovative. The whole shtick of neoliberalism is that capitalism provides for the efficient allocating of resources. But online advertising is neither efficient nor innovative.

From the time the Xanadu project started in 1960 there has been a dream of an interconnected web of information, with an ability to provide efficient payments for content creators. Instead, we have this firehose of shit: hostile, ugly, creepy, unusable. It treats all of us not as human beings, or even as customers, but as marks to be exploited and used.

Do the world a favor, get an ad-blocker. And while you’re at it, Privacy Badger.

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sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!

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Thanks for taking the time @sujato Much appreciated.

I hadn’t heard of Privacy Badger, so thank you. I have used the track this website, where you pick an alter ego and then it will open 100 links in your browser associated with that alter ego, effectively subverting ad tracking. The alter ego Doomsday Prepper was my favourite, but that is probably the new normal :wink:

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Nice, it’s both spiritually accurate and liable to get you on an NSA watchlist.

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How often have you clicked on an ad in the past and have you ever bought something after clicking? If never, your intent is pretty obvious to me.

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I’ve never really used Facebook so I don’t know what it’s like. Looking at the graphic for Facebook, it states that the majority of income comes from ads. How does that work? I thought that Facebook made most of its money from selling user information, habits, preferences and proclivities. I didn’t know that Facebook had ads.