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Google says its Chrome ad blocker will lead to better ads, but some see a self-serving ploy

(Mark Lennihan/AP)

Google will soon deploy a built-in ad blocker in its Chrome Web browser that the company says will help curb the Web's most intrusive ads while keeping the Internet's foundational business model — people clicking on ads — intact. But some say the move to limit certain kinds of advertisements using one of the world's most popular browsers may unfairly serve Google's business interests at the cost of competing advertisers.

Google says it has identified the most obnoxious types of ads in partnership with the Coalition for Better Ads, an independent group made up of trade associations and media companies, including The Washington Post, and will start blocking those ads early next year. The kinds of advertisements that will see the Google Chrome stiff-arm include pop-ups, auto-playing videos with sound and big, “sticky” ads that are pinned to the page no matter where people scroll.

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It's “far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the Web — like the kind that blare music unexpectedly, or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's senior vice president for ads and commerce, in a blog post last week. Rather than rely on full-fledged ad blockers, which may deny publishers and advertisers a way to make money, Chrome's ad filter is designed to work as a business-friendly alternative, letting reasonable ads through but blocking the worst offenders, Ramaswamy said.

However, some may question Google's intention, since it is such a powerful player in online advertising, said Andrew Frank, a research vice president at consulting and research firm Gartner. One concern is that the company could use its power as a popular Web browser to limit the kinds of ad offerings its competitors offer.

“There are obviously multiple narratives you could tell about Google’s motivations,” Frank said. “Is Google, which has a very large stake in advertising, the right entity to be policing ad blocking? I think you could certainly say there is a conflict in that.”

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Google is expected to command nearly 41 percent of the $83 billion Internet advertising market in the United States this year, according to estimates by the research firm eMarketer. Facebook, another top player, will claim just under half of that, about 20 percent. And, Google dominates Web browsing, too. According to StatCounter, the Chrome browser has accounted for more than 50 percent of the global market every month this year.

News of Google's plan to create a new ad filter first surfaced in the Wall Street Journal earlier this spring. At the time, Jonathan Mendez, the chief executive of ad-tech firm Yieldbot, said he believes that Google's long-term strategy is to squeeze more dollars into its search- and text-based advertising business.

“I understand they want to be a good citizen on the Web. But at the end of the day, they’re a public company,” Mendez told Digiday in April. “If they’re reducing the types of ads that can be shown, the type they want to block is the stuff they don’t do anyway.”

When asked to comment on its new ad filter, Google referred to its blog announcement.

Google's move could also put a squeeze on smaller publishers and ad companies with fewer resources. While Google's ad filtering standards are being sold as a way to improve the ad experience for all parties involved, having to reformulate ad products to meet the ad filter's standards may be a financial burden to some businesses, said eMarketer analyst Nicole Perrin.

“Smaller publishers may have a harder time with the transition,” she said, but for the ad industry overall, Google's plan will likely be welcomed.