The next version of Chrome browser is coming with a built-in ad blocker. Ad blockers developed by independent vendors are made to enable consumers to block ads. In contrast, Google’s Chrome-based ad-blocking feature will allow most adds to pass through it. Google says that it is prepared to block only “ads that are the most annoying for the consumers.” Reportedly, Google worked with an organization called “Coalition for Better Ads” to determine 12 categories of “annoying ads,” and these ads will be automatically blocked by Chrome when they appear on publishers’ sites. This goes for both desktop and mobile.
Sounds good, right? Eventually, bad stuff will be blocked before a customer gets a chance to see it. However, upon closer look at Chrome’s built-in ad blocker, many things seem to be wrong.
Three questions remain
- The Chrome-based ad-blocking feature only helps Chrome users. People using Firefox, Bing, Opera or other browsers will keep seeing bad advertising.
- Mobile apps will keep showing bad ads. This is because these ads are not displayed in Chrome but directly in the app.
- This is probably the most important question raised here: “Who is the judge?” Who decides if a certain ad campaign falls into a “bad category” and, consequently, will be banned for a Chrome user? And how is this decided?
I bet it is Google who decides it for you, exactly like they do in Google’s other product, “Doubleclick For Publishers” (DFP). They do so by filtering out any ad campaign that Google considers improper. No explanation is given, so publishers and the entire media supply chain remain blind and dependent on DFP machine-learning algorithms and on their training sets.
Does transparency of the media supply chain count? Not for Google
DFP makes its blocking decisions in real time, and we all know that machines can be wrong. And typically, they do get it wrong all of the time, at least to some degree. Nobody has ever seen the number of false-positive or false-negative blocking decisions made by DFP. With multi-billions of daily DFP transactions, quite certainly thousands of quality campaigns have fallen into improper categories, and vice versa, causing hundreds of millions dollars in losses for publishers – but they are completely unaware of this.
Nowadays, the entire advertising industry is literally screaming “transparency.” At the same time, Google’s DFP decision-making process, which can deeply affect publishers’ revenues, remains completely non-transparent. Having said that, it is hard to expect any transparency from the upcoming Chrome-based ad blocker.
Will your revenues remain intact?
For years, Google has had its own criteria for which ads the company considers “good” and “improper advertising.” For instance, AdWords does not allow ads for “short-term loans,” “recreational drugs” and “tobacco products,” among many other totally banned products and services.
Now, let’s assume that you are a news publisher delivering financial insight, and loan ads are your primary revenue driver. With Chrome’s market penetration of nearly 60%, are you ready to lose the lion’s share of your revenue when the new Chrome arrives? How will any Google-controlled customer ever see your website?
Will Google replace “annoying loan ads” on your site by their AdWords or Doubleclick alternatives? It’s an interesting idea to play with, but they probably won’t. However, your web visitors’ whole user experience will still be harmed due to empty ad slots on your pages, which will probably show some scary “THIS AD WAS BLOCKED” red image.
Hopefully, the new Chrome won’t do a completely different rendering of your website in case it decides to ban some ads. If, by chance, they go this route, your entire web layout may dramatically change. Your site may appear in Chrome looking far different from its original design. (This is a nice way of saying that “your site with some banned ads may appear totally broken to your visitors.”)
If by now you feel confused and worried, then you are not alone. Most publishing and media executives feel exactly this way about the new Chrome ad-blocking feature. The Big Browser is watching you, and tomorrow he will have complete control over what ads your users see on your web pages. Google could not care less about your revenues, but you should.