According to media reports, Google is considering building a native ad blocker in its web browser, Chrome. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news on Thursday, claims the new feature will be available on both mobile and desktop versions of Chrome. It could be switched on by default and filter out ads deemed to provide bad experiences.
According to reports, it is not yet clear whether the ad blocker will only stop ads deemed bad or all the ads running on the webpage. The Wall Street Journal says that Google will be ready to make an announcement in the coming weeks. In 2016, Google took down 1.7 billion ads that violated its advertising policies, more than double the amount of bad ads it took down in 2015 as per its own Better Ads Report for 2016.
It might be strange to see Google, which itself depends so much on digital advertising revenues to take such a drastic step. Considering that Chrome makes up nearly 53 per cent of the overall browser market globally and that Google is estimated to earn around USD 72.69 billion in ad revenues in 2017 (Source: eMarketer), it would seem like the internet giant might be shooting itself in the foot. However, this could turn out to be quite a canny move.
For one, the use of ad blockers has been consistently increasing YoY across the globe. According to a PageFair report released in January 2017, usage of ad blockers increased 30 per cent in 2016 with nearly 62 per cent of ad blocker usage seen on mobile. With the most popular ad formats in use now widely considered to be intrusive and uninteresting, it is not surprising why the use of ad blocking software is going up. Neither is it a surprise that advertisers are running helter-skelter to find a solution.
Google, like most publishers, has never been a big fan of ad blockers and Google executives in the past have spoken out against software like Adblock. However, realizing the growing clout that such softwares are now gaining, it did not stop Google from paying Adblock to whitelist the ads it powers, a business model used by Adblock that itself has come under some criticism.
However, now with its own native software, Google will have complete say on which ads it allows. Also, with Chrome being the dominant browser in the world, the vast majority of users would not need to go to third party software thus effectively reducing Google’s dependency on such software too.
To be fair to Google, it has been taking steps to curb ads. It says that it took two important steps last year; expanding its policies to better protect users from misleading and predatory offers, and beefing up its technology to spot and disable bad ads even faster.
So, how does an ad blocking software on the most popular browser impact digital advertising? This remains to be seen with reports stating that Google might scrap the idea itself too. But if it does go ahead then it will create quite a significant ripple in the digital advertising industry, though it might force publishers and advertisers to create better quality ads and more strictly adhere to industry standards. This is of benefit to both advertiser and the audience.
The Wall Street Journal says unacceptable ad types would be those defined by the industry body, Coalition for Better Ads, which lists autoplaying video ads with sound, pop-ups, etc. as those that “fall beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability”. According to the coalition, a total of six desktop web ad experiences and 12 mobile web ad experiences fall in this category.
But what will stop Google from blocking ads that are not powered by it? Or, charging to allow these ads to pass through the filter. Prima facie, it does seem to give more power to the already formidable giant, but it does not seem likely that Google will try to jeopardize its position as well as the currently delicate position digital advertising finds itself in by attempting such measures. But if Google does implement its own ‘whitelisting’ standards, independent of industry bodies, it might just lead to more confusion about which standards to adhere to.