Google Chrome Browser to Start Blocking Bad-Mannered Web Advertising

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Chrome browser for desktop and mobile devices will be adjusted to block ill-behaving ads while allowing users who want ads to get them.

Starting on February 15, 2018, your Chrome browser will start blocking ads that don’t meet the standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads. The idea is to improve the browsing experience of web users by getting rid of the worst of the annoyances that they generally object to. 

These annoyances include ads that provide auto-playing video with audio, ads that block the site you’re trying to reach and ads that cover large areas of the screen. 

There are additional ad types being blocked on mobile devices where users have less screen and less control over the experience. By doing this Google is hoping to bring about a less aggressive advertising environment, and one where people won’t mind seeing advertising. 

But Google is also doing itself and other advertisers a long-term favor. But discouraging the worst of the ads, Google also may make it less likely for people to start using software that blocks all ads. 

Ad blocking software is being used by a growing number of web users who get tired of the excesses of some advertisers. Considering that Google sells an enormous number of ads on the internet through its AdSense and DoubleClick ad networks, ad blockers are a problem. 

Internet advertising is a two-edged sword. On one side, the web depends on advertising for the financial support it needs to provide content that’s free to users. Without it, more of the things you want to see on the web would require payment in some manner. 

However, web advertisers have taken advantage of their position on the web by forcing themselves on users in a way that wouldn’t be permitted in any other medium. They are noisy, which becomes an issue when using the internet in the office, they slow down access, they intrude on your work or on your enjoyment. It’s no surprise that people want to use ad lockers. 

What Google is trying to do is discourage the use of such ads by putting pressure on the sites that host them. To accomplish this, Google will evaluate sites for violation of the Better Ads Standards and compile an Ad Experience Report, which site owners can use to clean up their ad experience. 

In its description of how this will work, Google says this will all happen on the network level. As your browser requests a page, Chrome will check to see if the site is on the list of those that don’t meet standards. If it is, you will be shown a page explaining that the ads are blocked because of advertising practices, and it will provide the option of allowing the ads to be seen anyway. The choice is preserved on a per-site basis, so if you allow ads on a particular site, the choice is good only for that site. 

Exactly how Google’s ad filtering works in practice remains to be seen, but according to numbers provided by the company, 42 percent of the sites that had been failing the standards when Google’s plans were first announced are now passing. 

The goal here is to encourage the industry to shift away from intrusive, objectionable ads that have tended to discourage people from using the web. While the standards are only for the single Coalition for Better Ads, two of the biggest forces in online advertising, Google and Facebook, are members. 

The sites that are going to be affected the most are the ones we associate with clickbait, sites that promise interesting stories, but which are populated mostly by advertising, and on which the content takes a back seat. Facebook is already waging its own war against clickbait in its crackdown on fake news and related activities. 

What’s not clear is whether the rest of the browser industry will follow suit. Mozilla has its own ad-blocking process for Firefox that’s different from what is planned for Chrome, for example. 

However, Google wields enormous power. Current estimates are that more than 50 percent of all browsing sessions are done using Chrome, which means the folks using obnoxious ads will start losing a huge portion of their audience. So far, according to Google’s numbers, it’s working. 

But the question remains whether the purveyors of objectionable ads will develop technology to detect what browser is being used and serve different forms of ads according to the browser. Or will advertisers find a way to defeat Google’s filtering as they are attempting to defeat ad blocking now? 

If advertisers decide that the results they get from cooperating with Google are good enough, then we can expect to see a web experience that’s more pleasant and more productive. But we could also see an ad-filtering arms race that only encourages greater use of ad blockers. 

Google clearly wants to see the internet browsing become friendlier and safer. In addition to its ad filtering project, the company is also planning to start labeling sites that don’t use encryption as unsecure. The idea there is to encourage site operators to use Secure Sockets Layer. 

For companies that have websites that accept advertising, Google’s plans are a positive move, assuming that the idea is to present the information that’s on the site. For companies that use the internet, the changes will improve productivity. Even though there are complaints that Google is putting its judgment in place of site owners, the fact is that the site owners haven’t necessarily done a lot to help. 

Quite frankly, after one too many loud videos blasting unbidden from a web page while I was trying to work, Google’s plans can’t happen soon enough.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...