On September 29, 2015, Techdirt posted “You Can Now Turn Off Ads On Techdirt,” explaining all the reasons why they were granting readers the power to not see ads. Perhaps most telling was this line: “We’re going to allow you to decide how you best want to support this site and trust you to figure out the best way, rather than forcing the choice upon you.” But note who still holds the power, or agency, in this non-negotiation: it’s the publisher, not the reader.
I don’t understand the conclusion that the publisher holds the agency here. This seems like the user has all the agency. And that’s the whole point.
The user gets to decide their ad preference: show or hide. This agency is empowering and that resonates with users. Adblocking is getting more and more popular.
Ad blocking at this stage is mostly prophylaxis. But it is also a demonstration of unprecedented individual agency in the online world, and a shift in power dynamics, from the supply side to the demand side. Before ad blocking, individuals had little choice about taking or leaving what websites gave them. Now they can selectively choose what they allow websites to put in their browsers, which are people’s main vehicles for traveling online. They also have their first crude instrument for expressing demand.
‘Crude instrument’ is the key phrase here. Adtech tools are more advanced than adblocking tools. I’m afraid the arms race we’re starting might not ever see a switch in that balance. The advertisers will always have guns, and us as users will be stuck with clubs.
The only hope out of this imbalanced arms race is for the adtech bubble to burst, draining the funding for the advertisers side of the arms race. This assumes that there is a bubble though, something I personally aren’t knowledgeable enough to know.
Searls ends a hopeful note:
After that, we’ll remember the adblock war as just another milestone in the short history of the internet. Post-war reconstruction, in this case, will begin with productive means of engagement, especially around maximizing agency on the demand side of the marketplace, and adjustments in supply to meet new and better-equipped forms of demand.