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Thomas Claburn
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Google's Greatest Act Of Charity

Google has been recognized for a number of positive environmental and public policy initiatives to benefit people around the world. But its most under-appreciated act of charity is the fact that it serves ad-haters.

Google has been recognized for a number of positive environmental and public policy initiatives to benefit people around the world. But its most under-appreciated act of charity is the fact that it serves ad-haters.I don't know who generates all of Google's pay-per-click advertising revenue, but it's not me. I can't think of the last product I purchased as a result of an online ad. I can't think of the last time I clicked on an online ad.

That's only partially because I use Firefox and AdBlock Plus at home and at work. I usually don't bother blocking specific ad providers unless they're serving something that's really annoying. The main reason I don't click on online ads is that ads are inherently untrustworthy and they're not relevant to my interests.

If I let Google know more about my interests, I might see more relevant ads. Maybe, in a moment of weakness, I might buy something as a result of such an ad. But I work hard to avoid that by not using search personalization.

Google worries about people like me. In the Form 10-Q it just filed, Google lists ad blocking among the potential risks to its revenue. "Technologies may be developed that can block the display of our ads," the filing says. "Most of our revenues are derived from fees paid to us by advertisers in connection with the display of ads on Web pages. As a result, ad-blocking technology could, in the future, adversely affect our operating results."

I'm not sure why Google frames this as a possible future. The technology is here now. Late last year, Forrester published a report that found 81% of high-speed Internet users employ pop-up blockers and spam filters. The report, "Consumers Love To Hate Advertising," describes how I feel, and how many others feel, apparently.

Advertisers invariably react to ad blocking by trying to figure out ways to prevent it or by trying to make advertising more engaging. Neither strategy works, at least as far as I'm concerned.

If there's anything that's likely to make me dig in my heels and refuse to ever do business with a company or purchase its goods, it's advertising designed to avoid being blocked.

And the idea that advertising can be made more appealing presupposes that the viewer is open to persuasion to begin with. While I can't claim to be immune to branding messages, I do consciously resist them. No amount of McDonald's advertising, for example, is going to make me hunger for a Happy Meal. And I know I'm not alone in this.

Maybe resistance is futile and I'm being manipulated subconsciously to prefer Apple computers, Peet's coffee, TiVo, and Jet Blue over competing brands. But I like to think there's rational thought behind my brand affinities that's not based on the number of ad impressions I've been exposed to.

Whatever the case, I'm grateful that anti-ad heretics aren't excommunicated from the Internet. I can only imagine how irksome it would be if I had to pay a few cents for access to every ad-free Web page I viewed. So thanks, Google, for all the free information. I owe you one.

(Does that sound too much like an ad for Google?)

P.S.: I'd click on an ad or two to help out, but that would be click fraud.

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