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Google Launches Offensive Against Annoying Ads

By John P. Mello Jr.
Feb 15, 2018 12:08 PM PT

Google's Chrome Web browser on Thursday began blocking some of the Net's most annoying types of ads.

Google Launches Offensive Against Annoying Ads

Chrome's built-in ad filter blocks ads based on standards devised by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group whose membership roster includes Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and The Washington Post.

The group was formed to do something to blunt consumers' bad experiences with advertising on the Web, said CBA spokesperson Brendan McCormick.

"A big symptom of that was ad blocking around the world where consumers were trying to get rid of these annoying ads," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The Web is an ecosystem composed of consumers, content producers, hosting providers, advertisers, Web designers and many others, noted Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, Google's vice president for Chrome, in an online post.

"It's important that we work to maintain a balance -- and if left unchecked, disruptive ads have the potential to derail the entire system," he wrote.

"We've already seen more and more people express their discontent with annoying ads by installing ad blockers, but blocking all ads can hurt sites or advertisers who aren't doing anything disruptive," Roy-Chowdhury pointed out.

"By focusing on filtering out disruptive ad experiences, we can help keep the entire ecosystem of the Web healthy, and give people a significantly better user experience than they have today," he added.

Surfer Interruptus

After extensive research involving 40,000 consumers worldwide, the coalition identified a dozen ad types that consumer found the most annoying.

"They're things that tend to interrupt content -- auto-playing video ads with sound, and pop-up ads, for example," CBA's McCormick said.

The ad types Chrome will block are divided into two groups: mobile and desktop.

Types of mobile ads that will be blocked:

  • Pop-up ads
  • Prestitial ads
  • Mobile pages with more than 30 percent ad density
  • Flashing animations
  • Poststitial ads that require a countdown to dismiss
  • Fullscreen scrollover ads
  • Large sticky ads
  • Ads that auto-play videos with sound

Desktop ad types blocked by Chrome:

  • Pop-up ads
  • Ads that auto-play videos with sound
  • Prestitial ads with a countdown
  • Large sticky ads

How It Works

Here's how Chrome ad blocking works: Sites are evaluated by examining a sample of pages from them. Depending on the number of violations of the Better Ads Standards that are found, the site will be given a status of Passing, Warning or Failing.

After a user lands on a page, Chrome's ad filter checks if that page belongs to a site that fails the Better Ads Standards. If so, the network requests on the page -- such as those for JavaScript or images -- are checked against a list of known ad-related URL patterns. If there is a match, Chrome will block the request, preventing the ad from displaying on the page.

When at least one network request has been blocked, Chrome will show the user a message indicating that ad blocking has occurred and provide an option to disable the setting by selecting "allow ads on this site."

For desktop users, the notification in Chrome's address bar will look similar to Chrome's existing pop-up blocker. Android users will see a message in a small infobar at the bottom of their screen and can tap on "details" to see more information and override the default setting.

Ad Blockers Not Going Away

By building ad blocking into Chrome, Google wants to enhance the consumer's experience with advertising, noted Josh Crandall, CEO of NetPop Research.

"They want to support an advertising experience that's beneficial to consumers," he told the E-Commerce Times. "If it's beneficial to consumers, it will ultimately be beneficial to advertisers."

Google's action is a "cleanup move," remarked Sean Blanchfield, CEO of PageFair.

"Chrome, as the majority browser, is going to block the worst of the worst of ads, which mostly low-quality websites tend to deal in," he told the E-Commerce Times.

While including ad blocking in Chrome may be an effort to slow down consumer adoption of ad blocking extensions, that may not happen, Blanchfield noted.

"People use ad blockers for all kinds of reasons," he said. "They're concerned about security and privacy, bandwidth and page performance. Google's move doesn't speak to any of those at all."

Safari, Firefox Will Follow

Now that Chrome, which has about 60 percent of the browser market, has built-in ad blocking, other browser makers will be taking notice, NetPop's Crandall noted.

"Google, as the leader in the browser space, is sending a signal to other browser makers and technology providers in the market, and they will take that into consideration," he said.

Other browser makers already have gone further than Google when it comes to building anti-tracking features into their software, Blanchfield added.

"Safari and Firefox will do, at a minimum, what Google has done to block annoying ads," he said, "but it's very unlikely that Google is going to block tracking, because Google's business model depends on it."

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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