Last Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal published a story about Google’s plans to include an ad blocker in a future version of its Chrome browser. The news is likely a shocker to everyone up to and including advertisers, publishers and everyday folks who browse the web. Why would Google want to block ads? Isn’t its business model based on delivering advertising and cashing in on a portion of the revenue then distributing some of it to websites that display the ads? This might sound even more shocking, but including an ad blocker in Chrome might actually prove to be quite an advantage to the company.
Before to getting into the juicy stuff, I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t first mention that the Wall Street Journal story cites as its source as “people familiar with the company”. For all we know, that could mean that it came from the rumor mill. It could very well be a veritable story, but whenever anonymous sources are used, it would be prudent to take the story with a tiny grain of salt no matter who is reporting it.
The news is that Google is planning to include ad blocking software in an upcoming version of Chrome and it will have an announcement within some weeks. That’s the allegation everything hinges on. The rest is speculation based on that allegation.
So, Why Would Google Do This?
OK, so Google is doing something that looks counter-productive. What gives?
Scratch a little bit under the surface and mull it over for a few minutes, and the answer begins to take shape. It’s a gambit against annoying ads. When ad blockers first appeared, their primary focus was on eliminating those flashy ads that would constantly pop up all over your screen without a moment’s notice. Back in the late 90s, these ads were in style and they usually left you gasping for air as you were constantly closing windows just to get to the page you wanted. This terrifying practice has largely ceased and now ad blockers are blocking relentlessly.
What Google wants to do with its ad blocker (most likely) is establish a red line through which annoying ads will not cross. These are the ads no one tolerates. Seeing a little ad here and there splashed on a web page isn’t the kind of thing that gets people riled up, so there’s no immense demand to eliminate them.
The idea here is to make sure that websites comply with the “Better Ads Standards” from the Coalition for Better Ads. If Google can block the overtly annoying stuff out on its own, it has eliminated some of the future demand for other common ad blockers like Adblock. Currently, Google pays Adblock for exemptions to its ads. That’s a very unproductive way for a company that commands a huge chunk of the browsing market to proceed. By including its own ad blocker, over time, Google can (in theory) reduce its capital losses due to fee payments and even strong-arm the ad blocking market into a state of lethargic submission.
Remember, however, that we have no way of knowing what Google’s actual plans are. It’s just very plausible that this is their angle because it’s difficult to muster up any other conceivable reason for why a company would invest resources in a plan to create a new product of this nature and include it by default in another product of theirs.
Beyond The Plans
Regarding this speculation, a lot of “what ifs” emerge. What if, for example, Google would use this as leverage against other advertising networks (such as Yahoo Ads and Infolinks), charging them for entry into its exemption list? That would be a conflict of interest, wouldn’t it?
Well, Adblock already does this, so the fee payments would just shift over to Google. The difference is that companies may end up paying slightly smaller fees because unlike Adblock, Google Chrome’s ad blocker won’t run on every major browser.
Another (more legitimate) worry is that Google will simply block video ads on any video service that isn’t YouTube. Although the likelihood of this is questionable, there are many reasons to believe that this might happen in the future. In that case, video ads may become a constant battleground since it is easy to just switch up advertising methods to circumvent the ad blocker. Getting into that kind of battle would be resource-intensive for Google, which probably would be more focused on developing its products to make them more enticing to users and publishers. It’s not a game they might want to play over the long run.
Do you see any other concerns regarding this new move by Google? Let’s talk about it in a comment!