The ethics of blocking

It was a bizarre thinking day for me yesterday, undoubtedly inspired by my look at the advertising blocking on the developer version of the Opera Browser.

Advertising has an interesting effect.

  • On television, it’s a chance to get up and get a snack or to use the washroom and for those of us who are early risers, infomercials are great background noise while working on something else
  • On radio, it’s a chance to see what’s on your other presets unless you have access to a station that doesn’t advertise
  • On the internet, it’s a chance to slow down your internet connection and tracking allows for personalized advertising for you

You’ll probably get the message that advertising has little effect on me. 

For the most part, I just ignore it and try to tune it out.  Internet advertising can be considerably different.  With skilled programmers, it really can be persistent – Flash and now HTML5 advertising is very intrusive and, at times, noisy.  And don’t forget those annoying popups looking for you to subscribe to a service by giving up your email address.

With all this, and the desire to speed up a slow internet connection, I can rationalize blocking that sort of content here.  It does indeed make things quicker.  For big downloads, I still have to do it overnight.

My thoughts then turned to schools.  Typically, schools have a nice supply of technology (I know that it’s never enough) and the biggest claims these days are lack of fast and reliable bandwidth.  So, what’s the harm of blocking advertising to the student desktop?  Most modern browsers support that sort of extension or the Opera browser could do it by design. 

You’d be able to claim:

  • faster bandwidth by not allowing the advertising
  • less distraction from the task on hand; students would be more focused on the content on their screen rather than the advertising

The counter argument is, of course, that you’d be once again biting the hand that feeds you.  Web sites often rely on the revenue generated by serving up the advertising.  It’s also an area that I think that school districts are missing out on.  A friend and I mused at one time as we complained about the lack of registration for Computer Science – why aren’t we creating advertising about the benefits and pushing it to the browsers in our local region.  It’s only a small step to think about advertising for kindergarten and secondary school registration.  All we would need is time and a budget.  Just as I’m about to schedule this, David Fife shared this post on Twitter.  It’s a nice reminder that the traditional doesn’t cut it.  Reaching Students and Parents Where They Are—And It Isn’t on Email

A key component to digital literacy is being able to read and understand information that appears as presented.  Should that also include the advertising and tracking material that comes to the student desktop at the price of decreased bandwidth?  It’s an interesting question to ponder.

2 thoughts on “The ethics of blocking

  1. YM says:

    With Youtube, Netflix and a host of other user-controlled content (far more than what we have with regular cable/satellite), people are clearly indicating what they think of advertising. If it removed all advertising, I believe many, such as myself, would pay a premium to do away with it in the content I am paying for. This is doubly so when the added advertising bloats the limited bandwidth I am paying for. I understand the revenue stream that may represent, but I’d like to believe that the pressure of enough people not wanting would change the revenue model somehow.

    Anyways, I am blissfully if not ignorantly content with:
    – Facebook Adblock (chrome extension)
    and especially
    – Pi-hole.net (a raspberry Pi set up on my home network)

    Like

  2. It’s that last critical thinking question that really started the wheels turning. My students are way faster than I am at knowing exactly where to click to make the ads go away when we’re watching something in class – they have no desire to see it. I am fascinated by the idea of creating school-specific ads for the pages our students are viewing. There are so many things I would rather have my students reminded of than the weird weight-loss trick (sigh). Lots to think about here. Thanks, as always.

    Like

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