I find website ads annoying, so for many years I’ve used the Firefox Ad-Block add-on to block adverts on websites. Today I disabled it. Not that I was unhappy with it or anything like that. It has worked quite well over the years. But today I realized it is a filter bubble that might be impairing my ability to do my job well.
The prompt came in the form of an email from a person I’m connected with on LinkedIn. He sent me an email that simply said:
Which made me go huh? I’ve viewed Boundless books many times and have never seen an ad. And when I followed the link in the email to the Boundless textbook in question, I didn’t see any ads.
Then I remembered that I had Ad-Block running. I installed it a long time ago and often forget that it ticks along in the background. So I went in to disable it and, lo and behold guess what I saw?
Now, this isn’t a judgment against Boundless. They need to do what they need to do to pay the bills. But it hit me that blocking ads, while removing an annoyance from my personal view, was also blinding my ability to effectively analyze an open learning resource. I need to be able to do that. Knowing a site uses ad revenue to subsidize their free offerings is an important bit of information that I need to know in order to properly do my job. A filter bubble that I voluntarily put in place affected my ability to do my job, and I didn’t even realize it until this morning.
When I talk to people about “free” resources, I need to know that the “free” is ad subsidized. And I know a lot of educators that will not use a resource that is ad subsidized, especially if those ad’s are auto-magically generated based on content algorithms. Would a Psych instructor find the above ad for a counselling service inappropriate when used in a classroom setting? Some would.
At least that ad is tasteful. You’ve no doubt seen auto-generated ad’s based on article content on media sites that are highly inappropriate in the context they are presented in. A note about the previous link: I don’t think many of the examples on that page are “hilarious” as the title suggests. But it shows just how risky using ad-supported content in an educational setting can be.
Needless to say, I’ve disabled Ad Block. And have become just a bit more conscious of the voluntary filter bubbles I’ve put in place around me.