As the largest advertising platform in the world, Alphabet Inc.’s Google has a duty to support the digital advertising industry and the users whose actions and data help grow their profits. On the face of it, rumours this week of Google creating an ad blocker for their browser, Google Chrome, seems an altruistic move to help clean up and improve user experience online.
The benefits of an owned ad blocker could give Google copious industry advantages. There have been many concerns raised by experts already, ranging from the relatively absurd – Google wanting to remove all display ads – to the reasonable – Google trying to improve Chrome and increase browser share. Yet the real question is whether this could result in another case of Google marking its own homework.
It wasn’t until February this year that YouTube allowed the Media Rating Council to audit their ad metrics. If Google were to own the ad blocking technology, then it could give them an unfair advantage into what can and can’t be let through.
The timing is also interesting, coming just weeks after intense scrutiny worldwide for serving ads alongside inappropriate content. Technological progress would be better served in improving the identification process for video content, which would go some way to appeasing these recent controversies.
At the start of this year, Pagefair revealed that an estimated 11% of global internet users have an ad blocker installed on a device. There is a clear need for a spring clean of Display advertising, but even with Adblock Plus – one of the most popular blockers in the UK – it’s possible for advertisers to pay a fee to pass ads through. This is something Google already does; their reliance on the open web, rather than an app ecosystem, means that this ‘tax’ is a necessity to ensure all their formats are seen.
In the coming weeks, we are sure to find out more. Google will likely announce more details around how the classification will work and what control the Coalition for Better Ads – an independent body to define what ads should and shouldn’t be accepted online – will have. Plus it’ll be interesting to see whether it will be automatically updated to Chrome browsers.
Many more questions will be asked, but if the rumours are true and it creates the necessary move into cleaner, clearer ads online, then that’s positive for consumers and brands alike – just as long as it doesn’t block the competition.