The most common business models on the internet are:

  • ad-supported free services (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • freemium (reddit, Hulu, apps with in-app purchases, etc.)
  • donation (Wikipedia, NPR, etc.)
  • subscription (The Economist, Netflix, WSJ, NYTimes, etc.).

The first type of business, the Google model, have been tremendously successful over the last 15 years or so. The users don’t have pay anything, and advertisers have a wealth of information to use to find better ways of serving ads. The obvious downside is that your activity is the product that is sold to the ad companies that partner with Google or Facebook. That information is also low-hanging fruit for government surveillance.

Obviously, people want convenient services for free, but companies like Google and Facebook have enormous data centers and expensive engineers to pay for. So we have ads, it’s a reasonable tradeoff. I want free stuff too, but I understand that it will mean ads targeted at me, well-informed by my online activity. Many people don’t understand this tradeoff, and just think Google and Facebook magically work and keep their information private. The obvious solution if you want your online information private is to pay for services that don’t have to sell your information to advertisers. Another is to buy your own servers and host things yourself, and learn enough about cryptography to be able to keep it secure. Either way, it will cost money, since you are no longer benefiting from those ad-based subsidies.

Personally, I hate almost all ads, but I understand why they are there, because I’m using Gmail, GovTrack, Twitter, etc. using up server resources without paying for it. For a long time, I’ve been using the Adblock plus browser plugin, and it blocks ads so I don’t have to look at them. About three months ago I changed my mind though, and it had to do with the reason I think voting is important.

Why we should all vote

My thought process was as follows:

  1. My individual vote will almost certainly not change the outcome of an election.
  2. I am equivalent to all citizens in terms of rights and responsibilities.
  3. Most of the population needs to vote in order for the policies and politicians to approximately represent us voters.

So, it’s pretty clear that (3) is an extreme hypothetical, but it’s an important ideal to use when deciding how to behave as a civilized human (Kant called this the Categorical Imperative). From (2), I can conclude that if I am going to decide to do something, I need to consistently apply my reasoning to the whole population. Finally, if I use (1) to justify not voting, it follows by (2) that each citizen should not bother voting. If every citizen then decided not to vote, democracy wouldn’t work. Therefore, I will vote, an encourage others to follow suit.

So what does voting have to do with Adblock?

Why we should all uninstall adblock

The reason I see a related issue behind adblock and voting is that services like Gmail, Facebook and GovTrack require that most of their users see those ads, and occasionally follow them. And each individual user decides that they don’t want to look at ads, and that their own attempt to block ads aren’t going to bankrupt the companies behind them.

The thought process behind it is very similiar:

  1. My individual installation of adblock will almost certainly not bankrupt the company behind the site I’m using.
  2. I am equivalent to all users of the software service who are using it free of charge.
  3. Most of the userbase needs to see and interact with ads in order for the company to make money and continue existing.

The similarity should be clear now. I personally don’t want ads, but I understand that if all Gmail and Facebook users blocked ads, Google and Facebook would have to change their services to a subscription model, and users would have to pay money to use them.

Conclusion

Either uninstall adblock (or whatever is used to block ads), or start paying. I was pleased to hear that Google is offering an alternative to ads where you pay a small monthly fee to have a totally ad-free Google experience. If you are on the internet, you are paying for electricity and the connection itself, so you can pay for the services you use. Otherwise, live with ads.

NOTE: My site doesn’t have ads, nor does it cost to read it, it’s closer to a donation model, I pay a small fee to host the site, and I don’t expect people to pay me for it. However, it’s static content, so most of the computational work happens on the client site (handled by your browser). I do have a bitcoin donation address.

Washington state has two contradictory initiatives on the ballot this year.

Initiative 591 (I-591) would prevent background checks for gun purchases except when required by the federal government.

Initiative 594 (I-594) would ensure background checks for all gun purchases, including those conducted online and at gun shows.

Source: FiveThirtyEight

This kind of thing shouldn’t even be let onto the ballot. There should be something akin to a compiler that can weed out laws that are

  1. Contradictory to one another
  2. Contradictory to existing law

The first requirement is easy, the second requirement is harder, I mentioned it here.

Of course, Courts do serve this role, but only after laws are passed and people contest it. I think there is still room for cleaning the process up a bit and weeding out mutually contradictory laws that show up on the same ballot!

There is a promising measure on the Oregon ballot this year, Measure 90.

If Measure 90 passes, it would replace the primary election system that is currently in place. Right now, voters must register with a political party first, and then vote for candidates in that party in the primary elections. The winners for the primary for each party then go on to the general election.

One huge problem with this approach is that voters must commit to a single party for the primary election. This means that it is not possible to vote for a senator in one party and a governor in a different party. I’ve written before that I don’t think political parties are anything more than loosely organized tribal groups.

This also limits the ability for smaller parties (Independent, Green Party, Libertarian, etc.) to elect candidates, because in the primaries, voters must register with a party first. So if that person wants to vote for a few Democrats and a Green, or a few Republicans and a Libertarian, they would have to choose only one party and neglect the others. This tends to support the dominant parties, Republicans and Democrats, since they are the most numerous. There is a rational way to calculate the most effective tradeoff, but there is a better way.

Having to choose a party, and then choose a representative adds more layers between the citizen and the laws that ultimately passed. Right now, us citizens don’t vote directly on most laws, we elect representatives to do that for us. And without open primaries, we also cede even more power to the existing parties, instead, we should ignore parties and just vote for the representatives directly.

This is a great opportunity for Oregon residents to strip out an unnecessary layer of indirection from the election process, if you care about ending the Democratic/Republican-dominated primary elections, vote yes on Measure 90.