Chrome Gets Into the Ad Blocking Business for Real

A few months back, Google announced it would be equipping an ad blocker—or something like an ad blocker, maybe more like an ad filter—into newer versions of Chrome. The new Chrome feature would filter out ads deemed overly intrusive to the user experience. At the time, Google suggested it would be rolling out the ad blocker/filter function in early 2018. That announcement came around the same time Google endorsed the Coalition for Better Ads’ Better Ads Standards, which has been pushing to identity, and ideally eliminate, the most disruptive ad formats in use today. We’ve covered Better Ads Standards in some detail previously.

If anyone had any doubts that Google was serious about this move, now would be a good time to start believing, and also start planning for a world where Google has the power to make decisions about which ad formats Chrome users get to see. Various sources reported on Tuesday that the experimental new Canary version of Chrome for Android had arrived, and that it indeed had an ad blocking feature. People who want a preview of the next mass-market version of Chrome can check it out and offer feedback to Google—Canary is still under development.

Unless any of us thought Google was bluffing about taking action against intrusive ads, we knew something like this was coming. Seeing an experimental version of it so soon is a little disarming, regardless. Folks with a vested interest in ad experience ought to take a look at the preview and chime in.

There are pluses and minuses to Google getting into the ad blocking business, most of which are pretty clear. On the one hand, Better Ads Standards is almost certainly a step forward for the ad industry. It seems as though the standards were formulated only after extensive research—surveying 25,000 users internationally, trying to find some consensus on what constitutes a bad ad experience, and advising against relying on ad formats that deliver bad experiences. Research found users don’t like formats such as autoplay video with sound, prestitials that can’t be closed out immediately, full-screen scrollovers on mobile, and ads with flashing backgrounds. That should surprise pretty much no one in 2017. Those types of ads discourage users from spending more time on the site, going deeper into content, sharing pages socially, and doing other things premium publishers want users to do.

And it’s easy enough to talk about improving ad experience, but tempting to maintain the status quo. If we want to see action and faster improvement, you need major players signing on. You can do worse than have Chrome, the browser with the largest market share among browsers at the moment, take a stand and put the pressure on everyone else.

On the other hand, many publishers are extremely wary of Google getting into ad blocking, suspecting ulterior motives. And that wariness wouldn’t be off base. Some people are suggesting Google might exploit its ability to filter ads in Chrome, and that it could start blocking ads from outside Google-owned channels. Obviously Google doesn’t have the best track record in remaining neutral and refraining from exploiting its share of the ad marketplace. Google’s capacity to squeeze out competitors in AdX basically gave the entire header bidding space its raison d’etre. It would be wise to keep tabs on Google’s development of Chrome through the rest of the year, and you probably don’t need me to remind you.

In short: Google means business about keeping intrusive ads out of the ecosystem, and it’s hard to predict exactly how this is going to play out, but it’s probably going to be major, and publishers need to look out for their best interest from a business perspective. Pressure from a behemoth of industry can do much in moving the needle in the right direction. The right direction means higher ad quality, which means better user experience, which means higher CPMs for publishers.

But a company usually needs a lot of clout, plus the ability to suck up revenue left on the table, to say no to a certain type of business. Smaller publishers are likely in for a rocky road. Those are publishers that understand ad quality is important for the vitality of the web, but who have difficulty saying no to crappy, disruptive ads. It’s hard to make sacrifices you expect you can recoup in 2018 when you’re worried about what you can afford to do in September 2017. While we all know the industry needs to play the long game, not every publisher has the stamina to make it to the end of this game. And that game is complicated when it seems as though Google has the ball and is running with it.