Google’s built-in ad blocker for Chrome finally launched in browser versions on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Google’s own Chrome OS. It is available on mobile as well. The adblocker was announced in June 2017 as a measure designed to improve the advertising ecosystem and user experience. In this update, we will explain the main functionality of the new feature and outline the differences of the Chrome tool from full-scale ad blockers.
An Ad Blocker or An Ad Filter?
The new Chrome feature takes a selective approach to blocking ads, focusing on several ad formats deemed particularly annoying and inconsiderate of user experience. The list of intrusive ad formats up for blocking is based on Better Ads Standards—the outcome of research on consumer opinion that involved more than 25,000 users in North America and Europe. It was conducted by the Coalition for Better Ads which includes Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Large ad platforms like AppNexus, Criteo, and Taboola are represented.
To collect the research, the Coalition developed a methodology to survey multiple participants about their preferences related to various ad experiences and formats (55 types altogether). Feedback parameters even include the perceived level of distraction. As part of the research, participants completed a comparative ranking of ad experiences, based on personal choice. The resulting publication documents the 12 least preferred ad formats on desktop and mobile, including pop-ups, prestitial ads that cover the entire screen, autoplay videos with sound, large sticky ads, etc. The research (and general common sense) determined that excessive usage of these kinds of ad types will annoy prospective customers. Since Chrome’s new upgrade is based on this research, you can expect that using these kinds of ads will increase the likelihood of Chrome filtering out your ads.
According to Rahul Roy Chowdury, VP of Chrome browser:
“These ads are designed to be disruptive and often stand in the way of people using their browsers for their intended purpose—connecting them to content and information. It’s clear that annoying ads degrade what we all love about the web.”
Despite the most annoying ad types being blocked, it’s still uncertain whether Google will allow exceptions besides pre-roll video ads on YouTube and under what, if any, conditions.
How Does Chrome Ad Filter Work?
With it’s 56% market share, Chrome is intended to become an enforcement tool, instilling good behaviors among publishers and advertisers alike. However, blocking intrusive ads on sites is not going to be an immediate action on Chrome’s part. Sites will undergo evaluation against the Better Ads Standards, with the results provided to site owners through the Ad Experience Report in Google’s Search Console. If the website is assigned “warning status,” it means that some of the ads running on it are in violation of aforementioned Better Ads Standards and will need to be addressed. After implementing changes, the website can submit for re-evaluation. In case the website doesn’t comply and fails to improve its ad experience within 30 days of being notified, all ads on it will be filtered by Chrome, until the owner makes the necessary changes and yet another re-evaluation occurs.
Chrome users will be notified of any ads filtered on the sites that don’t adhere to Better Ads Standards, with the possibility to deactivate the filtering feature. Chris Bentzel, Engineering Manager for Chromium project is optimistic about the future results of ad filtering:
“As of February 12, 42% of sites which were failing the Better Ads Standards have resolved their issues and are now passing. This is the outcome we are were hoping for —that sites would take steps to fix intrusive ads experiences themselves and benefit all web users.”
Ultimately, Chrome is going to remove ads on all failing sites, including ads served through Google’s own ad platforms AdSense and Doubleclick, urging site owners to reconsider their monetization and improve user experience.
Google won’t suffer much, though.
According to Wired.com, citing Google’s spokesperson, of the 100,000 most popular sites in North America and Europe, less than 1% violate the guidelines Google uses to decide whether to filter ads on a site.
For now, it is unlikely that Chrome users will notice many (any?) changes across a large number of sites, since most of the mainstream portals and media outlets aren’t using intrusive ad formats excessively and Chrome’s ad filter doesn’t take any immediate action.
Beating the Ad Filter
There are many more ad formats including banners and native ads are beyond the scope of Chrome’s ad filter. Most likely, we will come across many emerging hybrid formats that intend to bypass automatic filtering. Apparently, in-banner videos might still deliver the same annoying experience as autoplay ads and stay unfiltered, at least for some time. Also, chances are high that some of the 12 filtered ad types may still be used by certain advertisers with minimal adjustments like: removing sound from autoplay or adding a “skip” button to a prestitial ad on the web, which technically doesn’t make them less annoying. The situation is reminiscent of the painfully familiar cat-and-mouse game played in the Infosec industry between security researchers and malware authors.
Ad Tech Ad Filter: Genuine User Concern or An Attempt to Safeguard Revenue Streams?
The truth is: Google’s limited ad filtering feature isn’t going to change the web as much as it has been rumored.
Google’s intent is clearly two-fold, given that the company’s background and main source of income is advertising. Their manifested intent “to improve user’s life by forcing marketers to compete for their attention using more attractive ads” stems from the advancing threat of full-scale ad blockers that have gained popularity as consumer satisfaction with online advertising tanks. Rahul Roy Chowdury, VP of Chrome browser chimes in:
“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. 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.”
By removing some of the aggressive ads, Google may convince a certain percentage of users not to install third-party ad blockers that may block more ads, including those by Google itself. However, a crackdown on the small percentage of overly intrusive ad experiences seems to be a weak trade off for serving the users with “applicable” ads.
Moreover, extensive customer tracking is going to be baked into the advertising, so both Google and other platforms, like Facebook, will be able to do predictive behavioral targeting. The ads will continue to follow users across the web, based on their habits derived from collected data. Even though Chrome does ad filtering based on some collectively outlined standards, this move has received some critiques already, with some going as far as labeling it “self-serving.” Whether it’s true or not, it is clear that introducing Chrome filtering is also a measure to help preserve Google’s source of income within a realm where Chrome is a crucial component.
Is Real Ad Blocking Possible?
The Coalition for Better Ads is taking a preemptive strike aimed at the “worst” marketers who may spoil it for everyone in the business but does so in a way that isn’t tackling a real problem. The pains of the users go far beyond the 12 most annoying ad experiences. However, rather than systematically re-evaluating ad tech practices, the intent of the ad filter and major ad tech companies is more about curing a few immediate symptoms to keep the revenue flowing.
The whole ad filtering effort is based on an intentionally simplistic assumption that users aren’t having problems with the rest of ad types, or their indirect consequences, like slow page load time, weaponized malverts, and the persistent cryptomining that’s made headlines lately. Other consequences of ad tech more generally include poor targeting, excessive ad frequency, and generally misleading ads for low quality products.
A real ad blocking product has to be user-centric at its foundation and emphasize user control over the environment as one of the key values.
At StopAd, we take pride in being able to fulfill the expectations of our customers, by adhering to three main values, which we discuss in our Open Letter to Google. We firmly believe that our users should be able to decide for themselves, whether they want to block all or just a few ads and do so using a straightforward and reliable product.
Continuous communication with the customers and a choice of ad blocking and anti-tracking features make StopAd what it is—an uncompromised tool that is trusted and simple to operate. It is one of the main reasons why on February 15th, StopAd successfully debuted as Product of the Day on producthunt.com—the same day the Chrome ad filter was released. Today, 5 days after launch, StopAd received the #2 Product of the Week badge on Product Hunt.
It seems that the only real driver of change in the advertising ecosystem are the users en masse, whose reaction is the true benchmark for websites and content value. Marketers shouldn’t underestimate users’ judgement. At StopAd, we witness a particular trend that highlights the importance of user choice.
Consider the ongoing staging of advertising (dollars) as heroes of the “free web” and ad blockers as killers of the same. In reality, we see that in a large sample of StopAd users, 31% are actually disabling ad blocking functionality for certain websites they want to support. This topic comes up quite often during our communication with our users, and it is clear that high quality content and sites are less endangered than we’re lead to believe by advertisers.
Users are making a conscious choice in favor of a more quality experience, and we’re here to help them.