February website boycott

[Update 1/3/2015: This boycott is now over. During February I blocked nine domains altogether, averaging one every three days. Scroll down to see the list. I am now in theory unblocking all of those domains, although I reserve the right not to disclose the fact if I’ve decided to keep any of them permanently blocked.]

Autoplay audiovisual ads are a problem.

Online advertising per se isn’t going away, but the current environment — in which advertisers think they can get away with anything — is not acceptable. As a society we need to work out an informal contract between the advertisers and the consumers of the Internet. We need an arrangement that says: you may advertise, up to a point, but you may not cross this line.

One pillar of that arrangement must be our right to reasonable control over the number of stimuli that demand the attention of our senses. When I’m reading something online — or more rarely, listening to something — a random blast of noise (from either the same or a different browser tab) interferes with my ability to do so. I am forced to stop what I’m doing and take whatever measure is necessary to get rid of the offending advertisement. This is not an acceptable burden.

Imagine a world in which, whenever you turn the page in a newspaper, the radio automatically switches on. Or, the moment you’ve been listening to the radio for five minutes, the television automatically wakes up. But we don’t have to imagine that world — we are living it, and we want out.

So I’ve decided that I need to take some kind of action. Therefore, for the month of February 2015, I will boycott all websites on which an autoplay audiovisual advertisement appears, subject to certain qualifications, and I will name the offending sites in a list at the end of this post (to be updated as needed). Details follow.

  • First, I’m obviously well aware that online advertising is outsourced, and that individual websites are not responsible for the advertisements that appear. But … this is about not doing deals with the Devil. If the entity you outsourced your advertising space to did not offer you a choice as to whether autoplay audiovisual ads are acceptable, then we need to put pressure on them somehow.
  • Because I want to focus on the most egregious cases, some autoplay ads will be exempt. Advertisements will generally be exempt if they play within a feature video space on that web page (e.g. videos watched on Youtube or news reports consisting of a video followed by an article). But an exemption to the exemption is that even advertisements that play within a feature video space will trigger the boycott if the Pause button is unavailable or doesn’t function correctly while the advertisement plays.
  • At the end of February I will unblock all sites — unless I decide I’m better off without yours, which is my call. However, the list of offending sites at the end of this post will remain, unless I think of a reason to remove any.
  • The tool I’ll be using is the Minimal Site Block extension for Firefox. This could use a friendlier interface (you have to use wildcards, you have to include the “http”, and it’s unintuitive that you don’t need to press a button to update the blocked list), but it works, and is a good option if you want to manage your own boycott.

Obviously this is experimental. Hence the one month limit. Other people may have insights into better ways of taking action (whether a refinement of this boycott or a completely different approach), and one of my goals is to help start that conversation.

List of offenders so far:

  • www.science20.com
  • abcnews.go.com [absent Pause button: see bullet point 2]
  • www.newstatesman.com
  • www.latimes.com
  • www.dose.com
  • www.slate.com [will certainly unblock this one at the end of February]
  • www.mirror.co.uk
  • www.ibtimes.co.uk [not actually a 3rd party advertisement, but a video unrelated to the main article]
  • junkee.com

You are welcome to add your thoughts.

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