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Contextual ads are those ads you see when you do a search on Google. The advertisers only pay if someone actually clicks on their ad. It seems "pashut" to me that clicking an ad if you know you're not going to buy anything from the site is tantamount to gezel. A friend of mine, however, claims that the advertiser is willing to pay the xyz amount in order to get you to his online store and have a chance at convincing you. Especially since the advertiser goes into this knowing that people may click ads but not buy.

Can anyone think of any sources to prove this one way or another?

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    Why is it obvious to you that clicking on a link is tantamount to stealing? What are you stealing and from whom? – WAF Dec 6 '12 at 22:53
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    Why are you clicking on it then? Presumably if you see something you like you will buy yes? That's all the publisher can hope for. No one is expecting a guaranteed buy. The halacha probably follows the expectation of the seller. He expects people who have an interest to click, but not people who click and then close it without looking. – Ariel Dec 6 '12 at 23:19
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    Just to be clear, are you speaking about Click fraud (were the entire intent is to cause loss), just bored clicking, or clicking because you have some interest in seeing the site but are not planning to buy? – Michoel Dec 6 '12 at 23:46
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    @ba the advertiser himself. The fact that the ad is there means he wants you to click on it in order to hopefully buy something. – Shraga Dec 8 '12 at 19:00
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    So then you can click on it even if you aren't! He wants to click on it in order to hopefully buy something – b a Dec 9 '12 at 2:52
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It is similar to a door-to-door salesmen knocking on your private property. He will knock and attempt to entice you to buy a magazine subscription, but you have no intention of buying. He however came on your private property (your computer which you own, the IP which you pay monthly for from your internet service provider, and the browser you downloaded) So at that point that the magazine salesman decides to "pop up" at your doorstep and even though you "browse" through a magazine with no intention of buying, he still came to you.

When you go on YouTube or type a search on Google or see a sidebar that bombards you with contextual ads, you have to watch the commercial in order to view the video. You are essentially paying to watch the YouTube video by watching the commercial. If you have an ad-blocker, you aren't essentially preventing the advertisement from running in background. The advertisement is still running, just prevented to be shown on your browser. Just like a door is preventing a salesman from just walking into your home.

1:1. Whenever a person steals property that is worth a p'rutah or more, he transgresses a negative commandment, as Exodus 20:13 states: "Do not steal." Lashes are not administered for the violation of this commandment, for one is obligated to give compensation. The Torah requires a thief to compensate the party from whom he stole, whether he be a Jew or a gentile, an adult or a minor. 1:2. The Torah prohibits stealing even the slightest amount. It is forbidden to steal as a jest, to steal with the intent to return, or to steal with the intent to pay. All is forbidden, lest one habituate oneself to such conduct

  • M. Maimonides, MT, The Laws of Thievery, G’neivah 1:1-2

With the question of intellectual property, purloined property must have a physical existense in order to be considered stolen.Parashat Mattot-Mase’i, Numbers 30:2 – 36:13 Digital material doesn't even exist so how can it be considered physical property? That's subjected to be debate though because if I was playing a video game (Grand Theft Auto) and bought digital drugs from a fictitious digital drug dealer, that doesn't make me an addict nor did I do any monetary transaction other than pay or borrow from a friend the video game itself.

You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day (Exodus 35:1-3)

--which extended to electronic devices. *Digital transactions are still "fired up" and a mixture of binary 1's and 0's forming a digital product that is transmitted on a digital highway between two points. So purchasing ficticious digital drugs may not be against the law nor cause harm to my physical well being (still frowned upon) but the act of turning on my computer or laptop on Sabbath is forbidden. That must imply that digital devices and it's software has a physical component, making digital products the worth of a p'rutah or more. You're paying for energy distribution in the form of a digital and electric transaction.

[> [Energy Principle 1. Energy is a quality that follows precise natural

laws.][3]]3

*

Digital music had to come from the intellectual property of the artist's mind. Furthermore, he didn't just create the music by imagining it to an MP3, he had to pay for it's recording, the recording software (also digital property created by someone which manifested into a physical reality, in which you have choice to purchase a digital copy of binary or get a physical disk sent to you.)

You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God; I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery.

  • Leviticus 19:11-13

But who is stealing from whom?

Is it the responsibility of the buyer to care for the sellers profits? Had the company purchased digital advertising at a flat rate rather than pay-per-click, it would eliminate the possibility of sabotage or uninterested buyers? If a user decides to use a pop-up blocker then it would further remove an unprofitable market, so chances are people who aren't interested in buying in the first place has the advertisements blocked to begin with.

There was a time I went to Target, and I'm pretty sure I only came to buy one item, then ended up buying a bunch of items I didn't really need. You should've seen the look on my face when the display read I had to pay $306.00 when I came to buy a lamp. I can't always determine the variables or the environment that will prevent me; or not, to buy something. It would be like someone renting a booth at a flea market then being mad at the traffic walking by for merely searching for the food court. So they stopped before eating to check out the wares. Is it wrong that they were thinking of eating a funnel cake? They may eat the funnel cake, come back, and actually buy it later. Or they may go home, get it online somewhere else. It's their choice. The booth owner is in sales, that's the way of sales. You compete with other companies.

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You ask for sources to help decide one way or another which is important since this is not a clear-cut situation.

The classical halachic case closest to this case that I can think of is the question of whether one can enter a shop to browse with no intention of buying (more precisely, knowing full well in advance one doesn't want to buy anything, e.g., to check prices).

It is an example of onaat devarim (hurting with words) and is forbidden (SA CM 228 based on Vayikra 25:17 lo tonu ish et amito and Baba Metzia 58b) to avoid disappointing the seller. It is of course fine to enter the shop, browse and leave if one didn't find something interesting, as long as there was a real possibility one could have bought something.

The rationale for the interdiction is not entirely defined. Halachipedia mentions that the Meiri gives two reasons for the prohibition: (1) other potential customers who observe one’s decision to refrain from purchasing the item would conclude that the item is overpriced and would consequently only buy it for less, causing the seller financial pain and (2) one’s decision to refrain from buying the item, having appeared to be interested, causes the seller to feel dejected.

R Meir Orlian mentions one is taking time from the seller that he could invest to serve other customers.

I think the analogy with clicking on contextual ads holds when building on the latter explanation. If one is sure one will not buy, then clicking is taking resources (money) away from the seller which he could have invested to sell to others. Advertisers will often buy a finite amount of ad impressions so one is taking away a finite resource knowing full well one will not buy. On the other side if there is a small but non nil chance one might buy then it is of course perfectly acceptable to click.

An important limitation of onaat devarim is that it applies primarily to Jews (Rama CM 228:1, one reason is that non-Jews don't have this sort of laws so we don't need to go beyond their law in our relations with them). This has very practical implications when clicking on ads from non-Jewish sellers and outside of Israel.

See here, here and there for relevant discussions of these sources. And please CYLOR if practically relevant.

  • First of all, you're mixing up ono'as devorim with genevas da'as, and genevas da'as applies to non Jews as well (kitzur 63:4). However, in this case, the 'owner' doesn't even know you're clicking on the ad. I think it's more of a matter of stealing money, as he's paying for the ads. However, since it's 100% legal to click on it according to most if not all countries, that might mean something in halachah – user613 May 12 '16 at 23:40

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