The Register misses the point on NoScript fiasco

The Register's latest article on the NoScript fiasco misses the point.

I was going to write this as a comment to the article, but the site's registration process is just too 90s to endure. 🙂

In case you haven't heard about this tempest in a teacup, the Firefox add-ons Adblock Plus (which blocks Internet ads) and NoScript (which blocks JavaScript) had been engaging in a back-and-forth battle for a while, as NoScript tried various means to display ads on its update page, and Adblock Plus (ABP) blocked them. This culminated with a version of NoScript that silently modified ABP so that it would show NoScript's ads by default.

When the ABP people reported this, it created a big stink, and NoScript quickly backpedaled, removing this functionality in an updated version.

The Register attributes the whole uproar to prototypical antisocial/passive-aggressive nerd behavior, saying the two sides should have talked their differences through instead of airing them in public. It also poo-pooed the importance of the incident, stating that ABP and NoScript "only" have about 50 million downloads each (although I'm sure The Register would love to have that many readers 🙂 ).

This really misses the point, because it fails to realize that NoScript crossed a big line when it modified ABP. We have a name for programs that maliciously modify other programs for their makers' profit: malware. And NS's behavior did in fact violate the ToS of the Mozilla Foundation. This is what the uproar was about, and it was much deserved. There was no display of "nerd rage" until NoScript's tactics crossed over into malware territory.

To me, this is a great example of self-correction in the software community. As long as NoScript's tricks were limited to modifying its landing page, ABP users could be annoyed at seeing unwanted ads, but there wasn't any reason for outrage. When NS's behavior slipped over to the dark side, however, the reaction was swift and effective.

The Register's articles are usually witty, often insightful, and sometimes funny, but this article unfortunately falls short of the mark on all three.

4 comments to The Register misses the point on NoScript fiasco

  • It sounds like both of these problems are designed to modify web pages in order to reduce profit for the websites’ owners (who would see that as malicious indeed). How close do they come to being malware at their most fundamental level?

  • @Durf

    The main difference is that ABP blocks some content at the user’s request, while NoScript was modifying another program without the user’s consent or knowledge. While content publishers might consider ABP to be malicious, it doesn’t count as malware, any more than a spam filter would, or a program that skips over commercials on a Tivo.

  • Zac

    Slightly offtopic comment:

    TV programs exist to sell advertising, therefore the likes of Tivo are a kind of negative device because in the end they will simply destroy the medium or the quality of programming will drastically decline. Its the same on the internet, various sites are making content to sell advertising, but if ABP is blocking the ads then it reduces their revenue and ability to make more quality content. Spam on the other hand is a different beast altogether.

  • @Zac

    I agree about ABP and Tivo. To the user, they’re all unwanted commercial communications in a sense, but I agree that spam is qualitatively different from ABP/Tivo.

    I think that disruptive ads are doomed (I see it as part of the ongoing process of creative destruction). Television producers will have to incorporate advertising into their programming (e.g. with “bugs” (those on-screen logo thingies), product placements, and “prizes” given to audience members), and Web content producers will have to start using less obnoxious ads.

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