The Wall Street Journal reports that Google intends to include an ad-blocking component in future versions of its popular Chrome web browser. The new feature reportedly will be enabled by default in both the desktop and mobile versions of the browser. The WSJ says the rumors come from sources "familiar with Google's plans." The paper says the blocking will be targeted at ads deemed "beneath a threshhold of consumer acceptability." While at first the notion that a major player in online advertising would offer features to disable ads in one of its most popular software products seems counter-intuitve, recent trends suggest the idea is not as strange as it sounds at first.
According to the WSJ's sources, the built-in ad-blocker would stop ads that do not conform to the specifications of the Coalition for Better Ads, which counts both Google and Facebook as members. According to this industry body, non-compliant content includes autoplaying video ads with sound, pop-ups, and ads with countdown timers. The WSJ goes on to report that Google may be considering blocking all ads, compliant and not, on pages that show even one non-compliant ad.
This move may be a result of the increasing numbers of users employing ad-blocking browser extensions like Adblock Plus and uBlock Origin. Desktop users have long been able to use ad-blocking extensions like these within Chrome to keep this type of content off their screen, but the mobile versions of the browser lack support for extensions. If integrated blocking of ads with particularly annoying delivery methods can prevent users from installing sofware that blocks all ads, compliant advertisers could stand to benefit.
Of course, Google has a large dog in this fight, as well. The company is one of the largest sellers of online advertising around, and it's paid Adblock Plus developer Eyeo to whitelist its ads for at least some period of time in the past. We expect there's no love lost between Eyeo and Google, and Mountain View would doubtless like to keep the considerable fees it pays the plugin developer to ensure its ads appear even to Adblock Plus-running users. Including a proprietary ad-blocking plugin that works on Google's terms would doubtless give a decent swath of Chrome users no reason to install Eyeo's product.
The problem with Google's approach is that it would create a huge conflict of interest. As the owner of one of the most popular browsers in the world, Google would stand to wield an enormous amount of power over the shape of the web advertising market by developing an ad-blocking plugin. If the company's AdSense products just so happen to comply with its own internal guidelines by default, Google could (intentionally or otherwise) favor the display of its own ad products over those of other ad networks.
Google's rumored move could also have a chilling effect on the revenue of sites that rely on advertising to keep the lights on. If the company implements the aggressive form of ad-blocking described above wherein one non-compliant ad would cause Google to block all ads on a page, it's not clear how a publisher would appeal the decision or return to good standing.
By creating a de facto standard for acceptable ads, Google could also limit the amount of money advertisers might be willing to funnel into traditional ad campaigns, leading to a rise in harder-to-track and impossible-to-block forms of content like sponsored native articles.
For our part, TR has always taken every reasonable measure to make sure advertisements with these objectionable techniques don't appear to readers on our site. Fewer users employing blanket bans on advertising is something that we'd like to see, but we're not sure that a Google-produced plugin is the best arbiter of what constitutes an acceptable ad. Either way, we'd encourage readers to whitelist TR in their ad blockers. You'll find we run ads that are already plenty acceptable by any standard.