Google yesterday confirmed plans to block ads by default on its Chrome browser by 2018, albeit in a so far “limited” manner - or least that's how it's angling it.
According to the announcement, the update to Chrome will block all ads on sites not conforming to the Coalition for Better Ads standards, which would include ad experiences that rank lowest across a range of user experience factors, such as pop-ups, takeovers and autoplay audio ads.
In the words of Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy, it’s a crackdown on the types of ads that “blare music unexpectedly, or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page”.
In addition, and much like what certain publishers are doing already, Google will enable publishers to participate in a programme called Funding Choices, which would detect users of third-party ad blockers and prompt them to disable the software or pay for a pass that removes all ads from the site with the new Google Contributor - from which the ad tech would take a 10% cut.
Those users will, however, have to have opted into Google Contributor and be signed into Chrome in order to be presented with the option; if they’re not and are using an ad blocker, they won’t be able to access the site, while on the other hand, if there is no ad blocker installed on their device, they’ll be able to access the site as normal.
Despite scepticism over the motivations behind the plan when it was made last month, the impact isn’t likely to be as heavy-handed as first thought, at least not to larger publishers. So far, information suggests most publishers won’t really be affected as long as their ads are conforming to a modicum of user experience outlines, and they will be able to prepare sites in advance with an ‘Ad Experience Report’, containing screenshots and video of examples of ads not meeting standards.
Where it might hurt, however, is with smaller publishers who have less leverage on the type of ads they choose to accept in order to monetise their content, although that effect is not something Google has acknowledged, standing by the line that these changes will "ensure all content creators, big and small", can continue to have a sustainable way to fund their work.
With great power…
When Google announced the plan in April, concerns arose around the monopoly Google would inherit on the digital advertising industry, with some - such consumer experience company Rainbow’s chief revenue officer, James Collier - calling for these kinds of measures to be conducted externally.
“To ensure that publishers aren’t ultimately the ones that lose out, the value exchange between user experience and ad revenue is a delicate balance that should really be handled by a third party that doesn’t have a revenue stake of its own,” Collier told PerformanceIN.
Meanwhile, other commentators suggested Google would use the move to ramp up its own CPM rates, while it has countered these to an extent with claims that its own ads will fall under the same scrutiny as those of competing ad servers.
An additional concern, sparked by the details of Google’s announcement yesterday, comes with users who have been using third-party tools but are forced to sign in to Chrome taking issue with the associated data-sharing implications of being logged into Google every time they browse the web.
While concerns are valid, however, and casting aside the company's sound bites of “building a better web” for the everyday user, the most reasonable explanation for Google integrating its own ad blocking system is to muscle out third-party ad-blocking companies which block ads more or less indiscriminately - including Google’s own impressions - and return this power over revenue back into the ad tech’s hands.
In the US alone, eMarketer estimates a quarter of users filter their ads and it expects three in 10 to block ads by the end of 2018, while the use of ad blockers are growing “explosively” in Asia, especially driven by mobile.
The most popular, and most notorious of these, is eyeo’s AdBlock Plus - an anti-ad software company that offers a controversial whitelisting service which allows certain companies to slip through the net if they pay the fee. Up until recently, even Google was coughing up to allow its ads to be served to Adblock Plus’s users.
Reached for comment, AdBlock Plus told PerformanceIN that the announcement from Google confirms the “seismic impact” that consumer tools like ad blockers have had on a billion dollar ad industry, but played down the impact this would have on its business, instead pointing towards its compatibility on other browsers and recent acquisition of micro-donation platform Flattr.
“We're focusing on tools that work across browsers as well standalone mobile browsers that let users filter as much or as little as they like, as well as the multi-stakeholder Acceptable Ads Committee to define independent standards for better ads.
“We also see the need to give users alternative options to directly fund websites and content creators without relying on advertising, which is why we work on Flattr, a zero-click payment system that works across all browsers on any website."
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