An update to the mobile Facebook app on Android dropped a little bomb on me the other day. It told me they were about to push video ads that would play without my permission. There was a "learn more" link that I clicked through to learn that they would download these ads over my mobile data connection unless I twiddled the option in my preferences. I learned that despite expressing that preference, Facebook would download ads while I was on WiFi and play them back later while I was mobile. After twiddling the option, they asked for my opinion. I left feedback to the effect that evoking impotent rage among subscribers was not good business. (There's a possible work-around to getting ads shoved down your throat. See below.)
I'm old school. I first saw the Internet in 1986, just before Al Gore invented it by helping to pass the legislation that created NSFNET. When I first saw the WWW in the summer of 1993, I knew it would change everything. The fact it bridged all the other information protocols and services into a simple, uniform interface meant that ordinary users wouldn't have to telnet to an Archie server to search for a file accessible only by FTP. Gopher was obsolete. UUCP would be shortly. After playing with xmosaic a bit, I realized that the new protocols were far more powerful than the old ones I was used to. Moreover, the tools to create pages in the new medium were in principle available to anyone. I dreamed of a future in which democracy would reign in a flattened hierarchy that allowed anyone to produce information as well as consume it.
I got disabused of many of my idealistic notions over the coming years. The idea that the Web would change everything was true beyond my wildest imaginings, but I didn't see all that commercialism coming. In the face of the cold light of reality, I learned to accept advertising as a mechanism for funding a lot of the utility and content on the Web. Even so, I hated a the way that companies tried to push ads in front of the content. When Google came along, I was primed to love their less intrusive approach to advertising. (I also loved it that they seemed to share a lot of my idealism about the Web.)
Despite the disillusionments, I retain my general optimism down to the present day But it’s tempered by 28 years of experience of the web and of life in general. Nonetheless, my attitudes and prejudices toward the Internet are inescapably wound up with my early dreams of a golden peer to peer nirvana, and some of my prejudices have refused to yield. I still hate having ads or content shoved down my throat. Videos that play without my permission still annoy the hell out of me. I stopped watching television because of the incessant bombardment by manipulative ads. If someone wants me to sit through the same sort of experience on my desktop or my phone, I can always close the window. I have choice, dammit! My policy is to stop using a service or resource that tries this sort of thing. Formally, the only exception to this rule is when I seriously can't avoid dealing with the product or service. In reality, I keep using sites I like a lot, albeit with a measure of disgruntlement. I'm about to find out if Facebook qualifies under that exception.
I don't idly threaten to stop using Facebook, I know how deeply addicted I am to the service. But I log off the minute I see a video ad on the desktop. I'm cheating because so far, Facebook on my phone hasn't shown me any ads, so I can stay in touch despite my microscopic protest on the desktop. (This may work because I never connect to WiFi with my Nexus 5, or maybe they listened to my feedback.) So I haven't cut the bonds that tie me to Facebook, but I've loosened them a little. I'm spending a little more time on services I used to frequent quite a lot. Slashdot and Ars Technica are pretty fun to browse. I'm also using Google+ a bit more.
Aggregate me, spy on me, sell my eyeballs to the highest bidder, I'll tolerate all of that. Shove video ads down my throat and I'll revolt. Wow, is all that other stuff really acceptable too?