Cleaning Up the Internet

Why is the world’s biggest advertising company building an ad blocker?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Why is the world’s biggest advertising company building an ad blocker?

My Reading Room

Google recently announced plans to roll out an ad blocker integrated into its Chrome web browser, due for release sometime in early 2018. Google says that it won’t block all ads, but will instead target those deemed ‘annoying’ as defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, which include pop-ups, ads that auto-play sound, ads that force users to sit through a countdown before loading the desired page, and a few more.

Google hopes that websites will drop these annoying ad formats altogether, improving browsing experience for everyone. “We look forward to working with the Coalition as they develop marketplace guidelines for supporting the Better Ads Standards, and are committed to working closely with the entire industry to roll out these changes in a way that makes sense for users and the broader ad ecosystem,” said Google Senior Vice President Sridhar Ramaswamy.

The tricky issue here is, while Google sounds like it has good intentions when it comes to blocking ads, it’s also the world’s largest advertising company, with parent Alphabet reporting a massive US$79.4 billion (S$103.5 billion) in advertising revenue in 2016. Number two on that list? Silicon Valley rivals Facebook, with a distant US$26.9 billion (S$37.1 billion). In fact, those two companies accounted for 89 percent of all digital ad revenue growth in the United States last year, and 77 percent of total ad spending. As for the Coalition for Better Ads? The ostensibly third party group lists both Google and Facebook as founding members.

So why would a company that makes that much money from adverts, block adverts? Simply put, Google won’t be blocking its own adverts. Consider this: if you’re an advertiser, what’s the one sure way to know Chrome won’t be blocking your ad for being annoying?

Buy your advertising straight from Google. And with Chrome dominating browser market share with a whopping 44.5 percent, Google has enough clout to do this.

There’s another good reason for Google to want to block ads. One of the biggest thorns in Google’s side is third party ad blockers like AdBlock Plus, which has the ability to block all ads - including Google’s. So, Google clearly hopes that with its new feature, users won’t feel the need to use third party ad blockers anymore.

It’s hard to argue against Google trying to make the Internet a better place, but at the end of the day, Google has a huge financial s take in regulating which adverts you get to see and which get blocked.