WordPress supplies a versatile and useful product that is user-friendly (if I can manage it, believe me, it is user-friendly), inexpensive, and well-serviced. It also seems to be diligent about supplying regular information, which is especially important to me. So many companies, and especially the government, regularly surprise me with unpleasant, disrupting, or costly changes in what they provide that I only learn about by accident, or when they start causing me trouble.
A few months back, for example, Direct TV gave me no-charge charge access to HBO, just a couple of months after I had canceled it. There was no notice about this, and as a result, we didn’t watch the network at all for some time, since we didn’t know we were receiving the signal. It was puzzling that the access to HBO just appeared, and when it had hung around a few months, I decided to look at the bill, which we paid automatically. Now, I discovered, we were being charged for HBO, which I had just canceled.
When I called Direct TV, the representative apologized, took off the charge, credited me with a past months charge before I had realized what had happened, and removed HBO. He also gave me a long explanation about why this had happened, which boils down to this: when your service is interrupted (as it was several months ago; I was late with a bill payment), it is my responsibility to tell Direct TV what channels I was getting before the interruption, or it might just slip in premium channels without telling me when it reconnects my service. Is this written anywhere? No, it isn’t.
I no longer trust Direct TV.
I don’t trust the Transportation Security Administration, either. Last week, in the middle of a trip that involved several flights, I set off the gate alarm, as is my custom (I have a metal hip), and prepared for the ceremonial wanding. But this time, it wasn’t a wanding; oh no no no! It was a bona fide, full-body, rough massage feel-up that included a sprightly hello to my throat, rear-end, and naughty bits. In many cities, such stimulation would have cost me a pretty penny, though only if it were not performed by a large, heavy, middle-aged guy named Carl, as mine was. Yes, in rapid response to the underwear bomber, whose attempted act of terrorism was more than a year ago, TSA has now instituted new pat-down procedures designed to determine, among other things, what’s in your BVDs. There was no advance notice of this to flyers, of course, until I was actually at the feel-up point of no return, having made my meeting schedule and bought my non-refundable ticket. In fact, the new procedures had been instituted mid-day, after I had taken a flight including the usual game of Wand Me.
Now, back on the ground, I learn that some readers of my WordPress blog see a string of Google Ads in the text, ads triggered by key words and automatically generated. Apparently this has been going on for a year. Stupid me: I assumed that the web pages I saw on my PC screen and laptop (and the pages my wife and son see as well) were the same screens everyone saw. Nothing I had ever read from WordPress suggested otherwise. But a kind and alert reader mentioned in a comment that a recent post of mine including criticism of the President was accompanied, on his screen, with ads for “offensive but humorous” Obama T-shirts.
A blog is a personal and professional expression, the way I represent myself to the world, and part of my cyber-identity. I would never knowingly allow ads for offensive T-shirts, or any T-shirts, on Ethics Alarms.
After a bit of research, I encountered a page that you have to search for on the WordPress website, that explained everything…sort of:
“At WordPress.com, we sometimes display discreet AdSense advertisements on your blog to help pay the bills. This keeps free features free! No Ads is a paid upgrade that costs $29.97 per blog, per year. The ad code tries very hard to not intrude or show ads to logged-in readers, which means only a very small percentage of your page views will actually contain ads. To eliminate ads on your blog entirely, you can purchase the No-Ads Upgrade. The upgrade is especially attractive and useful to business blogs in order to eliminate any possibility of competitors’ ads displaying on their domains.
The No-Ads Upgrade is per blog. You can purchase the upgrade from the Upgrades panel of your dashboard.”
What does WordPress mean that the “ad code tries very hard” not to show ads to logged-in readers? Does it show ads to logged-in readers or not? If I were a suspicious sort, I might suspect that it tries so hard because it doesn’t want me to know what my own blog looks like after it has been defaced with offensive T-shirt ads. WordPress goes out of its way to provide a gazillion blog designs and graphic options to ensure that one’s blog looks just like you want it to look, except for the little detail of the ads it slips onto my posts for selected viewers.
Wrong. Deceptive. Unfair. Inconsiderate. Disrespectful. Irresponsible. Unprofessional.
This is a bait and switch, a breach of trust, and a double-cross, as well as being potentially damaging to me personally and professionally. Readers of Ethics Alarms undoubtedly assume that I know about the ads; after all, my name is on it; so is the name of my company. They may even assume that I choose the ads, approve their content, and profit from them. I don’t, and I was never given an opportunity to do any of these things.
If WordPress wanted to do this, it had the absolute obligation to make sure that I knew about it, and approved it. Oh, I’m sure something about the ads was buried in the tiny, endless, boring print of the “Agreement” I clicked on: that just makes what they have done legal, but it is still 10,000 miles and then some from being fair or right. And nothing in that agreement said that racist T-shirt ads were part of the bargain…I’m pretty certain of that.
WordPress also had an obligation to give me a chance to 1) control the kinds of ads, if any, that I felt were appropriate for an ethics website 2) know about specific ads before they appeared on a post, and 3) see what my own blog looks like with the ads. I still don’t know.
I do know this, however:
- I apologize to any reader of Ethics Alarms who has encountered these unauthorized ads.
- I take full responsibility for allowing this to occur. It is my blog, and I should know how it operates, and what appears on it.
- I will pay the $30 to make sure no Obama T-shirt ads, or any ads, appear again.
And I no longer trust WordPress.