Google is on the verge of what could be a major shift to the business model of online advertising.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Google is planning to offer an ad-blocking feature for its Chrome browser on mobile and desktop. The feature could be turned on by default and remove ads deemed unacceptable as defined by the Coalition for Better Ads.
This is a big deal, particularly since Google already has nearly 50 percent market share for U.S. internet browser use and 40 percent of the digital advertising market. Here is some food for thought:
Google, FB already eating up most of digital advertising. Now it's handing users tools to let google eat the resthttps://t.co/xU9iIUuJuc
— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) April 20, 2017
Google putting an ad-blocker into Chrome would change literally the entire internet https://t.co/KPVRcaccew
— David Pierce (@pierce) April 20, 2017
Makes sense for Google to position itself as the standard setter for what is acceptable and what isn't, in online advertising https://t.co/Ric19giRSt
— Felix Salmon (@felixsalmon) April 20, 2017
Google will certainly face some antitrust issues if it rolls this feature out. If the company can decide what ads are “acceptable,” one could argue that Google has an unfair advantage in the online advertising market.
Google has never deserved antitrust action more than they will the day they decide to block everybody else’s ads https://t.co/rzDVYhh6Xu
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) April 20, 2017
But why would Google want to block advertising when it makes billions from online ads already ($60 billion last year)? WSJ reports that the move is “defensive,” with Google hoping to push out blocking tools offered by third parties. Ad blocker usage was up 30 percent in 2016.
There are still many unknowns as to how Google would implement something like this and how exactly it would work. For example, the WSJ reported that Google could go as far as blocking all ads on offensive pages themselves, versus blocking specific ads.
Scott Moore is CEO of AdLightning, a new Seattle startup that scans digital publishing outlets for disruptive ads that slow down and hurt their sites.
Moore supports Google’s attempt to get rid of “nefarious” ads that have malware, or auto-play video or redirect users to mobile app stores, for example. A recent report from AdLightning found that 28 percent of ads have severe quality issues; when an ad is oversized or using too much CPU, it can significantly slow the load time of a webpage, causing people to visit the site less often.
Here’s a page from the report that shows “how bad ads happen” (click to enlarge):
Moore also said it makes sense for Google to offer its own ad-blocking solution when people are already using third-party software.
“They’ll have more control over how that feature works,” he told GeekWire.
Moore said that as far as how this will change the game for online advertisers and publishers, it depends on what rubric Google decides to follow for blocking specific ads.
“The question is, where do they draw the line?” he said.
Moore would be surprised if Google decided to block all ads, which is what popular third-party plugins like Adblock Plus offer.
“It could bring digital publishers to their knees, but I don’t see Google having an interest in doing that,” he noted. “I do think they have an interest in making the user experience better by getting rid of some of these unpleasant forms of ads, and that’s good for the whole industry.”
Others are more worried about what this could mean for Google’s growing dominance online. An engineer at Seattle Advertising compared Google to Baidu, China’s version of Google.
“Google wants to do what Baidu is doing — they want to control everything,” he said. “With Baidu, whoever pays more gets to the top. It’s a completely unfair system.”
He added that the feature would give Google control over the ad-blocking market, noting that it would “instantly become the most widely-used solution out there.”