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Google browser to block ads?

21 April 2017

I read something interesting today which claims that Google is working on providing an ad-blocking capability to its Chrome web-browser.

On the face of it you might think WTF?

Here is a BBC report on the matter.

Since Google earns the vast majority of its revenues from advertising, why on earth would they want to shoot themselves in the foot by allowing Chrome users to block those ads?

At the same time, AdBlock must be more than a little concerned because this is a company which has built its fortunes on providing ad blocking capabilities to a range of browsers by way of plug-ins and similar technology. If Google makes this an intrinsic feature of one of the world's most popular browsers, AdBlock's profits could take a severe hit.

But is all that it appears to be?

Well I'm picking that this is potentially a very, very smart move on the part of Google -- but one that could backfire horribly.

You see, although they are probably the single largest player, Google is not the only advertising network in town. There are many other smaller networks out there, as well as countless websites that handle their own ads. It's these smaller networks and unaffiliated sites that tend to produce the most annoying advertising "noise" on the web so Google probably figures that any ad-blocking would affect them the most.

Google claims that its blocking would be designed to filter out the "bad" ads and improve a user's overall browsing experience. I assume they mean that the company's own small banners and text ads do not have an adverse effect nearly as great as those awful interstitials and auto-playing video solicitations. This would mean that the ad-blocking could be shipped such that it effectively gives a huge whack to non-Google ads whilst allowing the company's own network to slip through unmolested.

This ad-blocking isn't completely new to Chrome, it (like many other browsers) does have some basic anti-ad functionality such as the ability to block unsolicited pop-up windows. However, the proposed changes take this to a whole new level by (it would seem) allowing blocking on the basis of other ad characteristics.

One of the ad types identified as being most irritating are the prestituals. These are ads that appear as an unavoidable overlay before the content you're actually trying to reach. Often you an still see the dimmed or blurred content behind these ads but they require you to wait for a timeout or click on the (often hard to find) "close" button before you can proceed. It is this type of ad that the changes to Chrome would apparently seek to block.

Which raises a very interesting situation that Google will have to be incredibly careful about...

Most of YouTube's advertising appears in the form of prestitial (pre-roll) ads that run before a video on the site. Surely, if Google is going to allow users to block the prestitial advertising served up by other sites and networks, they must also allow that blocking to work on YouTube.

If not then they will almost certainly fall foul of regulators (especially in the EU) who will come down on them like a tonne of bricks for unfairly leveraging their position in the market to commercial advantage. This would not be the first time that Google copped a massive fine for stepping out of line in this way.

So tread carefully Google. This move could be very well accepted and hugely beneficial -- or, if you're too greedy, it could bite you on the arse.

Now, one only has to recall just how Google's greed has screwed YouTube in so many other ways (as mentioned in a recent column here) to realise that they're probably going to let money-lust get the better of them again in this case.

[Stingray theme]Stand by for action.... court action![/Stingray theme]

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