Google to Block Intrusive Ads on Chrome

Advertising has always been some sort of a necessary evil, especially on the web. (For a deep dive on its history, in case you are interested, you can read Tim Wu's The Attention Merchants.) Ads are how most media companies make money, but at the same time they must walk the tight rope of not wanting to overwhelm their readers with ads that can range from mildly annoying to downright intrusive.

Thus when Apple announced support for ad blocking on iPhones and iPads (with iOS 9), it seemed to be a move to present its users with a clean non-invasive web browsing experience, thereby saving data costs and extending battery life, and also to strike Google where it hurts. But what happens when Google, a browser maker, a member of ad quality monitoring group called Coalition for Better Ads (which also includes Facebook, News Corp and Thomson Reuters among others) and an advertising giant, decides to implement built-in ad blocking on Chrome?

That's exactly what the search behemoth appears to be planning, if a latest report by The Wall Street Journal is to be believed. "The ad-blocking feature, which could be switched on by default within Chrome, would filter out certain online ad types deemed to provide bad experiences for users as they move around the web," the report said, adding "[u]nacceptable ad types would be those recently defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that released a list of ad standards in March. According to those standards, ad formats such as pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and "prestitial" ads with countdown timers are deemed to be "beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability."

In addition, Google "may choose to block all advertising that appears on sites with offending ads, instead of the individual offending ads themselves," thus requiring website owners to ensure that all of their ads are "acceptable" or else risk having them completely blocked in the browser. The new move, if indeed true, runs counter to Google's business model, which makes most of its revenues by selling ads. But with ad blocking on the rise (just look at the sheer number of ad blockers on Chrome Web Store) and new browsers (like Brave) stepping up to replace bad ads with acceptable ads, the idea isn't exactly far-fetched as it sounds.

After all, why give an opportunity to outsiders to make money from sneaking in good ads when Google can stop infuriating ads from happening altogether? And that's exactly what's a little troubling, the power it wields as a browser developer, a member of an ads governing body and the owner of the web's largest advertising platform. Does this mean all of Google's ads will be automatically deemed "acceptable"? Who oversees what ads can be blocked? Will Google participate in those discussions? Unless and until these potential "antitrust" issues are sorted out, implementing blocking of intrusive ads on Chrome, while a welcome step, will be contentious.