Google is well known for its invasive data mining policies. The firm makes the majority of its revenue ($79 billion / 88% of its total annual revenue) from advertising. To achieve those results it collects vast amounts of user data to better target adverts. Almost unbelievably, last year Google and Facebook were responsible for 99% of all US digital marketing revenue growth.
Considering the ease with which data mining is accomplished by both those firms, it is no wonder that more and more businesses are spending their advertising budget with them. After all, a well-targeted advert leads to sales, and if Google and Facebook provide conversions at higher rates – then it seems inevitable that businesses will decide to advertise with them.
What about firms that advertise with competing firms? Well, now Google has devised a way to crush much of its competition. And not only is it likely to work – but it could radically change many people’s daily Internet experience.
Google’s Ad blocker
Last week, Google announced that by next year Google Chrome – the most popular web browser in the US – will be introducing an ad blocker. The news was met with a massive wave of approval. Certainly, glancing quickly, it would appear to be something to celebrate. However, when we delve a little deeper into Google’s plan, we discovers one of the most nefarious ploys the digital magnate has ever concocted (queue the Mr. Burns finger twiddling).
You see, when the Chrome ad blocker is unleashed next year – it will block adverts – but on the whole only adverts being served by its competitors. This will allow Google to further monopolize a market that it already has a stranglehold on: making it intensely difficult for third party advertisers to compete.
How to Filter Adverts
So, how exactly is Google planning to filter adverts? According to Google’s blog post the firm plans to eradicate “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”.
Google’s Senior Vice President of Ads and Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, believes that it is those “frustrating experiences” that give consumers the impetus to block all advertisements. For Ramaswamy, this is detrimental to the Internet as a whole because (as he says in the opening line of the blog):
“The vast majority of online content creators fund their work with advertising.”
To See or Not to See
Google, however, not only wishes to ensure that consumers only see marketing that it profits from – but also wants to ensure that everyone has to see those adverts (or pay a fee to do away with them). According to Google, the filtering process will be fair and will be carried out within the standards approved by the Coalition for Better Ads.
The problem is that Google is a member of that coalition. According to Mark Patterson, professor of law at the University of Fordham, being able to police adverts gives Google far too much power: “this is dictating what sort of ads will be permitted if you use Chrome.”
In fact, Patterson goes as far as to say that the Coalition for Better Ads is “a cartel orchestrated by Google,” which (in his opinion) will give Google the freedom to selectively block adverts without fear of regulation:
“It’s hard to see a court getting really agitated about Google trying to eliminate annoying ads. Annoying ads are annoying. Any effort to get rid of them could be seen as a good thing.”
Davina Harwood, senior manager at UK-based digital marketing firm CLD, concurs with Patterson’s opinion. She has also expressed concerns about Google uniquely powerful position,
“Google has been plotting its response to the threat of ad blockers for some time so an attempt to future-proof ad revenues is not wholly unexpected.
Whilst this move can be defended in the name of customer experience and protecting publisher revenues, it gives Google unprecedented control of the online advertising landscape. Regulations may be based on advisory from the Coalition for Better Ads, but ultimately it puts the world’s largest ad company in control of ad standards.”
Two Birds – One Stone
It is not just competing advertisers that Google has in its cross hairs, either. In addition, Google intends to eliminate the threat of third party ad blockers (which block Google’s annoying adverts as well as everybody else’s). By doing so, the advertising giant will not only control what adverts are served to the majority of US internet users – but will also guarantee that it makes revenue from those adverts whether they are viewed or not.
The plan? To make consumers pay a fee for using third-party ad blockers that successfully block Google-approved ads. This will be achieved using a system called “funding choices” that will allow publishers to gain a revenue stream from consumers that select to avoid their adverts.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will just be a case of giving up Chrome in favor of Firefox, either. Using a third party ad blocker on a third party browser will still result in a popup that tells the user to whitelist the page in question.
Failure to disable the ad blocker will mean the internet user can’t gain access to the content. Any user that insists on seeing a website without adverts will need to download and install Chrome and then use the Google Contributors platform in order to pay to not see adverts on the site.
Because Chrome’s advert filter will make some adverts disappear, people may be tempted to move over to Chrome. At least that way, consumers who hate ads can rid themselves of some annoying marketing, without having to bother with whitelisting pages. A danger in terms of security, of course, is that consumers will need to hand over their credit card details to Google in order to pay their micro-contributions.
Ads or Cash
Ad block users that prefer to see their favorite websites without the ads will have two options: a) pay Google to reimburse that website for a loss of advertising revenue, or b) agree to see the adverts that help to keep the website in business. As such, for firms that advertise using Google the funding choices system will be a winner.
For third party advertising companies (and the firms they represent), on the other hand, it will be costly. With Chrome using its filter to block its competitors adverts – businesses will likely be forced to advertise using Google – or accept the simple fate that their adverts aren’t making impressions.
The Fight Will Go On
The good news, is that there may be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel for fans of ad blockers. Open source ad block developers such as those at uBlock are not going to stop attempting to block ads for their users. In addition, ad block developers are not concerned that the Chrome advert filter will be able to compete with their more powerful and comprehensive tools.
Although it will likely be a cat and mouse game, ad blockers will continue to develop software that bypasses Google’s ability to spot people using ad blockers. Ben Williams, head of operations and communications at Eyeo GmbH (which developed Adblock Plus) remains calm and convinced that Google’s native filter “won’t affect Adblock Plus uptake on Chrome.”
Opinions are the writer’s own.
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