How Google Chrome’s Latest Ad Blocker Is Changing The Web
Has The Web’s Largest Ad Company Become Advertising’s Biggest Traffic Cop?
As one of the world’s most popular search engines, Google’s main business is digital advertising, which accounted for over 86 percent of their total US $111bn revenue in 2017. It may seem counteractive then, that the company is leading the charge in bolstering ad-blocking on their web browser.
On February 15th Google’s Chrome browser, which is used by roughly 60 percent of desktop and mobile Internet users, launched a new built-in feature to block a selection of ads it imagines will be annoying to you.
For now, what is deemed as annoying includes video ads that autoplay with sound, pop-up ads with countdowns as well as “sticky ads” that permanently take up huge portions of the screen for as long as you remain on the site.
The boundaries of what is considered an annoying ad is set by the Coalition for Better Ads, a group consisting of some of the world’s largest advertisers, technology firms and other companies of which Google is a member.
Enforcing a New Minimum Standard in Online Advertising
While it may seem odd, the idea is perfectly straightforward: by aiming to make advertising more palatable to users and reform the ad industry from the inside, Google hopes that users will not be compelled to use drastic third-party ad-blocker options to eliminate all online ads and trackers from their screens.
Considering Chrome’s massive browser market share across desktop and mobile, the fact that advertisers and websites will be obliged to comply with these minimum standards is supposedly a win-win for all. By clearing away the most intrusive dross, the incentives for users to install third-party blockers should be reduced.
Adhering to the coalition’s standards, Google will evaluate the advertisements on websites and rate them as either acceptable or failing. Sites that have failed then have 30 days to improve their advertising have the new ads re-evaluated or else their ads will be blocked by Chrome.
Will One Company Dictate What We See?
Despite this their lofty goals, news of Chrome’s default ad-filtering feature has been met with an onslaught of criticism and wariness by experts. With this newfound power to determine what is considered an acceptable ad, Google will amass even overwhelming control over the digital ad industry.
Among the biggest concerns is the lack of control and choice over what users are able see on the web. Even though users still have a choice to disable the adblock setting on Chrome if they wish, Rich Kahn, the CEO of digital advertising company eZanga told CNBC that the Google’s move could potentially dictate the type of content websites are able to post and in turn, what content users are able to view.
Others such as Aral Balkan, developer of the Better tracker blocker for Safari argue that "the aim of Google releasing its own ad filter is to give people a false sense of security and, hopefully, to keep them from installing tracker blockers like uBlock Origin that actually protect people from surveillance by the likes of Google and Facebook on the web."
No matter the underlying motive, there is cause for concern that Google could potentially use this newfound power to their own advantage as they have in the past. In 2017, according to the Economist, Google was fined US $2.9bn by The European Commission for giving its price-comparison shopping service preferential treatment in search results over rival offerings.
All being said, there is no denying that at the very least for now, consumers still gain a much needed respite from pesky ads plaguing the Web.