This month, Google announced plans to implement ad blocking features into Chrome, the world’s most popular web browser. This comes as part of Google’s promise to build “a better web for everyone”, following a surge in ad blocker technology being used by people all over the world.
On the face of things, this makes a lot of sense. People are sick of ads, publishers aren’t getting the message and its in Google’s interest to reassure people that ads can be delivered in a user-friendly manner.
However, the tech giant’s plans to adding its own ad blocker system into Chrome browser is raising a few eyebrows.
Google takes ad blocking into its own hands
The concern with Google taking control over ad blocking on the world’s most popular web browser is pretty obvious. Google is an advertising powerhouse and this instantly puts it in a compromised position. The notion of Google blocking competitors’ ads while allowing its own to show raises some serious ethical questions.
If Google uses its 50%+ browser share to ship a product that blocks rivals’ ads but not Google’s own, my antitrust eyebrows go up.
— James Grimmelmann (@grimmelm) April 20, 2017
Google faces a stack of antitrust charges – most notably a seven-year case held against it by the EU for “distorting internet search results” in its own favour. Reports now suggest Google could face a $9 billion fine as the court case wraps up over the coming months.
And this is just one of three antitrust cases brought against Google by the EU. In April, the search giant agreed to pay out 7.8 million over an antitrust case in Russia for forcing phone makers to preload Android sets with Google apps.
None of this seems to deter the tech firm’s world domination plans, though.
Getting back to ad blocking, though, Google is known to pay the likes of AdBlock Plus to whitelist its ads, meaning they’re not blocked. However, these relationships could turn sour as Google will allow publishers to charge users for using third-party ad blockers.
This is a *crazy* amount of power Google is seizing over nearly all the funding that goes into our journalism and online content creation. pic.twitter.com/LpO1riP0An
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) June 2, 2017
Unsurprisingly, this little detail is raising yet more eyebrows among publishers – and users should probably be paying attention as well.
How will Chrome ad blocking work?
Google’s ad blocking system will be turned on by default, meaning users need to specifically change their settings to remove them. Latest estimates say Chrome has a massive 58% of the web browser market share all to itself, so these settings will become the default for the majority of internet users.
In fairness to Google, it’s not the only tech firm implementing ad blocking features into its web browser. The problem is Apple, Microsoft and its other competitors aren’t advertising giants themselves.
Meanwhile, Google and its closest advertising rival – who account for 99% of all digital ad growth – have a concerning amount of control over advertising standards. And it’s these standards Google will be using to decide which ads are blocked by Chrome.
Chances are you already know what kind of ads will be targeted because Google has been talking about them for years. However, you can get confirmation by visiting the Coalition for Better Ads (which Google and Facebook both happen to be members of).
Here’s a quick summary:
- Popup ads
- Auto-playing video ads with sound
- Prestitial ads (before content loads)
- Postitial ads (after content loads)
- Large sticky ads
- Mobile: ad density higher than 30%
- Mobile: full-screen ads
- Mobile: flashing animated ads
This doesn’t necessarily mean all ads in these categories will be blocked by Chrome, but these are considered the most frustrating ad experiences by the Coalition for Better Ads.
Are publishers right to be concerned?
The ad blocker problem does need a solution and Google’s approach will almost certainly improve the online experience for web users on the whole. There’s no denying that. However, this isn’t what publishers and other members of the online community are worried about.
The concern is Google shouldn’t be the one taking this problem on, due to a serious conflict of interest. The search giant has made a habit over the years of taking on user problems and turning them into opportunities for it to tighten its grip on the advertising industry and the general web. We’re now taking design advice from Google, signing up to AMP programs and securing our sites with HTTPS because Google tells us to.
Meanwhile, the tech firm is doing everything it can to muscle out the competition and we’re now left in a position where Google’s word may as well be the law when it comes to industry practices. This is a problem. We should be ditching the popups because we want to improve the experience for our users, not because Google is pressuring us.
So, yes, there is reason to be concerned about Google taking ad blocking into its own hands, but this is simply the latest move it has made to seize added control over industries it already dominates.