Selections from the category of "provider expects people in general will make it worth their while, and you're behaving in a way where you won't", roughly ordered from my impression of least to most acceptable:

  • Taking free newspapers from distribution boxes to use in craft projects or for heating your house.

  • Accepting a swag t-shirt to get cotton to use for papermaking.

  • Going to a store without any intention of buying something, just to eat the free samples.

  • Bringing outside food into a movie theater or amusement park.

  • Interviewing somewhere you would definitely not want to work, just for the practice.

  • Using paywall circumvention software.

  • Independently decrypting cable or satellite TV.

  • Using GNU Parallel without citing it.

  • Running an ad blocker on your computer.

  • Fast-forwarding through sponsored sections on YouTube or a podcast.

  • Stopping to watch a street performer or listen to busker without paying.

  • Listening to NPR without contributing, when you could afford to.

  • Accompanying friends to a restaurant and only ordering water.

  • Buying PS3 consoles and building a supercomputer.

  • Buying a cheap printer and using third-party ink.

  • Fixing bugs in open source software without contributing your fixes back upstream.

  • Using Wikipedia without fixing errors you find.

  • Leaving an amusement park for lunch.

  • Using a web browser but changing the default search engine.

  • Reading ad supported stuff but never buying anything from the ads.

For example, Sony sold the PS3 below cost because they expected people would make make up for it through paying higher prices for games, but someone buying thousands of them to build a supercomputer breaks their business model. Or, Firefox is funded by selling the right to be the default browser (in the US they switched from Google to Yahoo in 2014 and then back to Google in 2017) and if you choose your own default search engine you're slightly weakening Firefox's negotiating position.

In some cases we make this sort of behavior illegal: you're not allowed to decrypt satellite TV, even though it's being transmitted unasked right at your house. In other cases it's not illegal, but people mostly don't do it through some combination of "I don't want to be a jerk" and "it's not worth it": no one harvests freesheets for the paper. And in other cases it's common and widely acceptable, but not so common that distribution stops being economically viable for the provider: I've never heard someone suggest it's wrong to change your browser's default search engine.

Overall you could call this category freeloading, in that you're benefiting without 'paying' your share, but this mostly seems appropriate for things in the middle, like bypassing newspaper paywalls or ignoring radio pledge drives.

People can also be wrong about their likely future decisions, enough that providers sometimes view these exchanges differently than you'd expect. Even someone who goes into an interview completely intending to use it as practice might end up realizing they're interested in the company, or later suggest the company to someone who would be a better fit.

There's also often some amount of price discrimination, where the provider makes money when people do the convenient thing (buying food inside) and a small number of frugal people will do less convenient things (going out to your car to eat a packed lunch).

I'm not sure how to think about this category of things in general: I'm torn between "the hole in your business model is not my problem" and "if enough people did it our options would be a lot worse". Often I'll think about it case-by-case, based on whether I think the status quo is good and how damaging I think the action would be. For example, I don't use an ad blocker because I think pushing sites to switch to paywalls makes the web worse, but I think it's fine when people don't contribute to Wikipedia unless they want to.

Other considerations? Better ways of thinking about this?

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For example, I don't use an ad blocker because I think pushing sites to switch to paywalls makes the web worse,

After reading the linked article, I got an impression that you see the quality of online content as constant. Like, depending on the way it is financed, there may be more or less of the content produced, but it would be the same kind of content. The only difference is that more is better.

I believe that the way the content is financed has a big impact on what is produced. The ads reward both good content and bad content, but they reward the bad content more. Both bad as in "toxoplasma of rage", and bad as in "boring text, exciting headline (sometimes contradicting the text)".

If one day someone creates a news website with a business model "headlines written by humans, text generated by GPT-3", such website would be unprofitable behind a paywall, but might be quite profitable with ads, if the admins are good at SEO.

Ten years ago, I had a small blog and I experimented with Google Adsense. It was depressing for me to see that the stupidest articles made more money. Well, relatively more; like 10 cents for a stupid article, versus 1 cent for a smart one. My most profitable article was a review of some movie in TV that I wrote so drunk that I even got names of half of the characters wrong. Made about as much money as all the programming tutorials I ever wrote combined.

That was when I realized that I had basically two options: (1) write the kind of content I can be okay with, and get paid 1 cent per article, so I might as well do it for free, or (2) start following the incentives and become the very thing I hate, but potentially make a decent profit. The winning strategy is to have a good SEO (i.e. keep redesigning the HTML code following Google's latest whims), use the popular keywords, write clickbait headlines (preferably multiple alternatives, and do the A/B testing), and don't think about it too much, just write a lot as fast as possible. Add some nice pictures, so the article looks nice when shared on social networks. Become friends with the right people and hyperlink each other's articles. Etc. So I have removed the ads and abandoned the idea of making money by writing stuff online. I didn't like the direction it was pushing me.

There are options other than either ads or everything behind a paywall. There is the freemium model used by Substack (get some content for free, pay for the rest); there is also Patreon; or selling merchandise or selling with referral links. On the other hand, there is now so much adsense-stuffed content produced that if you don't sacrifice to Moloch, you don't have a chance. During the time you write an article, some guy working at a clickbait factory will write hundreds; at the end of the day, he will get the minimum wage, you - nothing.

Is the ordering intended to reflect your personal opinions, or the opinions of people around you/society as a whole, or some objective view? Because I'm having a hard time correlating the order to anything in my wold model.

For me it's a spectrum from "not really wrong and shouldn't be seen in moral terms" to "not really wrong and shouldn't be seen in moral terms."

It's my attempt to order them based on how I think most people view them, though perhaps my model of most people's opinions isn't very good here

My guess is most people wouldn't have a problem with bringing in outside food except in an "if I can't do it, you shouldn't be able to either" sense.

I feel like there's a category difference for business models where they expect everyone to act in a certain way, but make money from the exceptions.

Ads is one example. Publishers and advertisers know that the vast majority of people won't click on any particular ad, so not clicking on an ad doesn't seem like freeloading to me. However installing an ad blocker so that you don't even see the ads, or seeing a product advertised that you want and going to their website directly without clicking on the ad both feel much more like freeloading.

The implicit contract with the reader isn't "click ads", I think it's more like, "see the ads and click if one is relevant and timely". You aren't breaking the contract if you don't click on an irrelevant ad. You are breaking it if you never even see the ads.

See also: freemium software.

What would be an equivalent of an ad blocker in freemium software? Automatically detect and disable all "buy" buttons? That actually sounds like a possibly useful tool, if you have kids.

What would be your opinion on a tool that detects ads and disables the entire web page? Like, some kind of proxy server which would just return "error 499 contains ads" instead of the page. You are not reading the product anymore, and you are not incentivizing the publisher to move behind a paywall -- from your perspective, they are already there. Would this still qualify in your opinion as freeloading?

Assuming that subliminal advertising works (for example in form of words strategically hidden in text), what about a tool that detects and underlines such words (and thus, hypothetically, reduces their hypnotic power). Also freeloading?

An artificial intelligence that reviews a free service and warns me "I predict with 95% probability that within five years this service will switch to a paid-only model", so that I avoid using the service, and thus avoid the possible future where I get so used to it that I would rather start paying than give it up.

Sticking fingers in your ears while an extra annoying unskippable ad is playing on YouTube.

An app that detects advertising for various financial services, and add a text saying "probably a scam" below the advertisement (without hiding any part of the ad). Is the answer different if it is a machine learning app that actually very precisely predicts the probability of the product being an actual scam?

You see an ad for an interesting book and decide to buy it... but then you realize that you know another shop where the books are 30% cheaper. Yet, without having seen the ad from the expensive shop, you wouldn't have spontaneously decided to buy the book.

Using the bathroom during the ads on TV.

Completing a mind-self-control curse that makes you 100% resistant to advertising. Or just using classical self-control, but you happen to be a rare individual who has almost perfect self-control.

Interesting exercise. This made me think long and hard - maybe too long. I would order the list somewhat differently, and I wonder what other people's orderings are. Here is mine:

Things where there exists a clear legal rule against the activity that was arrived by a lawful process (even if many people remain unhappy with it or if it is not effectively enforceable):

  • Using paywall circumvention software.
  • Using GNU Parallel [in derived software] without citing it.
  • Independently decrypting cable or satellite TV.

 

Things that assume people are nice to reduce cost and benefit from it 

  • Taking free newspapers to use in craft projects or for heating your house.
  • Accepting a swag t-shirt to get cotton to use for papermaking.
  • Going to a store without any intention of buying something, just to eat the free samples.
  • Interviewing somewhere you would definitely not want to work, just for the practice.
  • Running an ad blocker on your computer.

 

The category I was thinking about the longest - on and off since this was posted, which led to this response taking so long. 

  • Bringing outside food into a movie theater or amusement park.

I think most countries have laws that allow a host to make rules for their property and expel people not complying with them. My intuition gives mixed results. On the one hand, there is a clear law and custom. Thus I should place this in the top category. On the other hand, the scope this applies to seems to be much larger than it used to be. Whole amusement parks are now private property. My intuition says that places that look and feel like public places - parks, places where many people gather - should follow rules for public places. Thus I wouldn't bring food to a movie theater or restaurant and follow stricter rules in a hotel but would bring food to an amusement part or concert.  

 

Things that are voluntary and no negative externality results from it

  • Fixing bugs in open source software without contributing your fixes back upstream.
  • Listening to NPR without contributing, when you could afford to.
  • Using Wikipedia without fixing errors you find.
  • Stopping to watch a street performer or listen to busker without paying.

 

Driven by commercial incentives

  • Accompanying friends to a restaurant and only ordering water.
  • Reading ad supported stuff but never buying anything from the ads.
  • Fast-forwarding through sponsored sections on YouTube or a podcast.
  • Buying PS3 consoles and building a supercomputer.
  • Buying a cheap printer and using third-party ink.
  • Using a web browser but changing the default search engine.
  • Leaving an amusement park for lunch.

Using GNU Parallel [in derived software] without citing it.

I don't think this violates the law? They say academic tradition requires citing, not the law: https://git.savannah.gnu.org/cgit/parallel.git/tree/doc/citation-notice-faq.txt

I thought you were referring to a misuse of the GPL but maybe I got this wrong. I didn't read up on this specific case. If it is academic tradition then I would put this under the voluntary section.

As GPL software it can't require you to cite, but it also is pushy about telling you that if you use it in academic work you should cite it (and makes you type "will cite" to get the notice to go away)

I'd certainly nitpick the ranking, but they all fall into the general pattern of "harmless and possibly beneficial if rare, harmless if universal".  It's related to the fundamental problem of business - average cost is generally much lower than marginal cost for a producer, and relative value to buyers differs greatly by very-hard-to-observe criteria, so maximizing profit means some form of price discrimination, where people pay different amounts - you need to sell enough expensive stuff to pay for fixed costs and get started, but then you want to get a little bit more for the cheap stuff you've already paid for.  And you don't care if you give some away for free in pursuit of that little extra, as long as it doesn't cut into your high-paying customers.

At its root, this conundrum is a tension between the intuition that everyone is equal and fungible, and anything OK for one person to do, is OK for everyone to do, versus the fact that different instances of the "same" thing have different costs to provide, and different consumers have different ability and willingness to pay.  

Once you notice this, you'll see it everywhere.  I'd change your "price discrimination" estimate from "there's also some amount of" to "most of this is explainable by".

One thing I think makes a big difference to me is whether I feel like the provider is taking a collaborative or adversarial stance.

  1. I don't usually skip ads on Youtube content but if the channel is often clickbaity/misrepresenting content then I will
  2. The printer/ink thing feels very out to get me. The alternative model of printer subscription (e.g. hp) feels alot more collaborative so I don't feel the need to ensure that every page I print is as filled with ink as possible so as to get the "best" deal.
  3. If the premium charged on foods in an amusement park/movie theatre feels excessive then I will feel less bad about eating my own food.
  1. Most or all of these vary by culture. In some places, it is expected that everyone will bring a non-dining friend to dinner, or not contribute to a wiki.

  2. Things exist because of reasons. In a counterfactual world where everyone did X, maybe Y wouldn't exist, but in reality very few people do X - usually because doing X is culturally frowned on, or requires more cash, brains, or neurodivergences than 67% of everyone.

Yep. It's perfectly consistent to say "I will do X even though, if everyone did X, bad things would happen because if enough people start doing X that it starts to become a problem, then I'll stop doing X".

I think there is a somewhat meaningful distinction whether the provider hopes or expects for it to be worthwhile.

I was a bit baffled by "Accompanying friends to a restaurant and only ordering water." Is this supposed to freeload on the friends or the restoraunt. If you are paying your food its not like you are burdening your friends. And if the eating friends went without you the extra seat would not really be usable by unrelated customers. And presumably you are making the meal more fun for your friends enabling the restaurant to provide a better value proposition. Is it because they give away the water for free instead of charging tap prices for it? Should we add "breathing oxygen" in that freeloading list too?

The movie theather bit is also super contingent how the theather is being run. If they forbid outside food its bad, but if they allow outside food then they are in the entertainment business only and not even partially in food business.

If you are paying your food its not like you are burdening your friends.

Sorry, this one wasn't phrased very well. I was attempting to describe something where someone goes to a restaurant and doesn't order anything at all except (free) water, including not ordering food. The restaurant now has seated your party at a larger table and provided service to you including giving you a glass which they'll need to wash after. If only a few people do this then it's not much of a problem, but you could imagine an extreme version where a group of people show up at a restaurant, order only water, and don't even spend any money. And then a slightly less extreme version we're only one of those people orders and pays for something.

In where I put this in the list, I was assuming one person tagging along with a larger group of people.

In some roadside shops there are norms that "WC is for customers only" which leads to behaviour like buying a candy bar you don't really want, to use the facilities.

I would imagine a restaurant would choose to not serve a recurring "water only" customer and even at first time visit I would imagine aggressively pushing the menu until telling to leave. And on the other hand some restaurant strategies might want to instill to people the habit of hanging out there, so in those times that they do get hungry they get to be the servers.

Bringing outside food into a movie theater or amusement park.

Eating your lunch immediately before going to the movie theater?

I would put that at the bottom of the list, similar to leaving the amusement park to eat lunch in your car.

Bringing outside food into a movie theater or amusement park.

Don't they make enough money off the ticket to be profitable?

I think movie theaters are only profitable because of food sales, although I assume this is a price discrimination thing where going to the theater and not buying food is still better for the theater than not going at all, it's just not good enough for them to survive (with their current business models) if everyone did that.

still better for the theater than not going at all

I think so, unless the show would otherwise be sold out?