What’s the moral difference between ad blocking and piracy?

On 16 September Marco Arment, developer of Tumblr, Instapaper and Overcast, released a new iPhone and iPad app called Peace. It quickly shot to the top of the paid app charts, but Arment began to have moral qualms about the app, and its unexpected success, and two days after its release, he pulled it from the app store.

Why the qualms? For the full story, check out episode 136 of Arment’s excellent Accidental Tech Podcast and this blog post, but here’s my potted account: Peace is an ad blocker. It allows users to view webpages without advertisements. Similar software has been available for Macs and PCs for years (I use it to block some ads on my laptop), but Apple has only just made ad blockers possible on mobile devices, and Peace was one of a bunch of new apps to take advantage of this possibility. Although ad blockers help web surfers to avoid the considerable annoyance (and aesthetic unpleasantness) of webpage ads, they also come at a cost to content providers, potentially reducing their advertising revenue. According to Arment, the ethics of ad blocking is ‘complicated’, and although he still believes ad blockers should exist, and continues to use them, he thinks their downsides are serious enough that he wasn’t comfortable with being at the forefront of the ad blocking movement himself.

In explaining his reasons for withdrawing the app, Arment drew a parallel between ad blocking and piracy. He doesn’t claim that the analogy is perfect (in fact, he explicitly disavows this), and nor does he take it to be a knock-down objection to ad-blocking (presumably he believes that piracy is also morally complicated). But he does think there’s something to the comparison.

Like Arment, I think there are considerable moral similarities between ad blocking and piracy. But, also like Arment, ad blocking seems to me, intuitively, to be somewhat less morally problematic. This raises an obvious question: what’s the moral difference?

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Plausibility and Same-Sex Marriage

In philosophical discussions, we bring up the notion of plausibility a lot.  “That’s implausible” is a common form of objection, while the converse “That’s plausible” is a common way of offering a sort of cautious sympathy with an argument or claim.  But what exactly do we mean when we claim something is plausible or implausible, and what implications do such claims have?  This question was, for me, most recently prompted by a recent pair of blog posts by Justin Weinberg over at Daily Nous on same-sex marriage.  In the posts and discussion, Weinberg appears sympathetic to an interesting pedagogical principle: instructors may legitimately exclude, discount or dismiss from discussion positions they take to be implausible.*  Further, opposition same-sex marriage is taken to be such an implausible position and thus excludable/discountable/dismissable from classroom debate.  Is this a legitimate line of thought?  I’m inclined against it, and will try to explain why in this post.**  Continue reading

Twitter, Apps, and Depression

The Samaritans have launched a controversial new app that alerts Twitter users when someone they ‘follow’ on the site tweets something that may indicate suicidal thoughts.

To use the app, named ‘Samaritan Radar’, Twitter members must visit the Samaritans’ website, and choose to activate the app on their device. Having entered one’s twitter details on to the site to authorize the app, Samaritan Radar then scans the Twitter users that one ‘follows’, and uses an algorithm to identify phrases in tweets that suggest that the tweeter may be distressed. For example, the algorithm might identify tweets that involve phrases like “help me”, “I feel so alone” or “nobody cares about me”. If such a tweet is identified, an email will be sent to the user who signed up to Samaritan Radar asking whether the tweet should be a cause for concern; if so, the app will then offer advice on what to do next. Continue reading

Sometimes justice wears a mask: blogging, anonymity and the open society

After the Times exposed the identity of the police blogger "Night Jack" he has been disciplined by the police force. The blog (now deleted) had won the Orwell Price for political writing and often expressed critical views related to the police and the justice system. In a court ruling Mr Justice Eady claimed that blogging was "essentially a public rather than a private activity" and that it was in the public interest to know who originated opinions and arguments. Do we have a right to anonymity on the net? And is it truly in the public interest to know who every blogger is?

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Philosophers’ Carnival LXXVIII

Welcome to the 78th Philosophers’ Carnival!

The Philosophers’ Carnival this week goes practical.  We tried to find the best philosophical blog posts from the last couple of weeks, with the emphasis on accessibility to a wide audience.  Thanks to everyone who nominated.  The pick of the bunch is below.

Applied Ethics

David Hunter argues that open-mindedness,
not ‘tolerance’ is the appropriate attitude towards different methodologies in
. In the comments (worth reading), Mark Cutter argues that moral
philosophy should not have primacy in bioethical discourse.

Does the United States really not engage in torture?  As Jessica Wolfendale argues, it depends what you mean by ‘torture’.


Enigman asks whether lying is always wrong, citing
the familiar paradox of the placebo effect.

Does the focus on the economy in political
debate lead to a fragmentation of citizenry? Joseph Orosco draws on Singer, and
Aristotle to question whether money makes us mean and lonely.

Kant famously objected to actions that
arise from inclination rather than duty. Aaron Weingott argues that this is a
form of psychological egoism

Richard Chappell considers whether society ought to compensate people for turning them evil.


Aaron Kenna questions whether there is such
a thing as ‘society’
, or are all groups merely collections of individuals?

Kevin Schutte gives a thoughtful commentary on Thomas Nagel’s
recent paper on the place of Intelligent Design in the classroom, arguing that
Nagel’s definition of evolution and of science are idiosyncratic.

Sage Canada reflects on the consequences of
economic rationalism and the banality of evil


Over at one of our affiliated blogs, Robin Hanson and his respondents consider the hidden agendas in politics and elsewhere.

The next carnival takes place here on 6th October.


Compiled by Dominic Wilkinson and Rebecca Roache

Practical Ethics News to host Philosophers’ Carnival

Practical Ethics News will host the next Philosophers’ Carnival on 22nd September.  If you know of a particularly good philosophy blog post, please consider nominating it for inclusion via this link.  Posts need not be on the topic of practical ethics, although they should be accessible to a popular audience.  Posts relating to current affairs are especially welcome.