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Google's Chrome browser starts blocking 'disruptive' ads

Google's Chrome browser starts blocking 'disruptive' ads
From CBC - February 15, 2018

On Thursday, Google will begin using its Chrome browser to eradicate ads it deems annoying or otherwise detrimental to users. It just so happens that many of Google's own most lucrative ads will sail through its new filters.

The move, which Google first floated back in June, is ostensibly aimed at making online advertising more tolerable by flagging sites that run annoying ads such as ones that auto-play video with sound. And it's using a big hammer: Chrome will start blocking all adsincluding Google's ownon offending sites if they do not reform themselves.

'Chrome filtering is notfavouringour own business, ourads or our platforms, or anyone else's.' - Scott Spencer, Google

There's some irony here, given that Google's aim is partly to convince people to turn off their own ad-blocking software. These popular browser add-ons deprive publishers (and Google) of revenue by preventing ads from displaying.

Google vice president Rahul Roy-Chowdhury wrote in a blog post that the company aims to keep the web healthy by "filtering out disruptive ad experiences."

But the company's motives and methods are both under attack. Along with Facebook, Google dominates the online-advertising market; together they accounted for over 63 per cent of the $83 billion US ($104 billion Cdn) spent on U.S. digital ads last year, according to eMarketer. Google is also virtually synonymous with online search, and Chrome is the most popular browser on the web, with a roughly 60 per cent market share .

So to critics, Google's move looks less like a neighbourhood cleanup than an assertion of dominance.

Google's effort focuses on 12 ad formats criticized by a group called the Coalition for Better Ads, whose members include Google, Facebook, News Corp. and the News Media Alliance, which represents 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. Among those blackballed formats are pop-ups, large ads that hover above the page and ads that flash with bright background colours.

Voluntarystandards

But those standards were intended to be voluntary, said Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy for the newspaper alliance that helped create them. Instead, he said, Google is turning the standards into de facto law.

Critics also note that the standards conspicuously exempt one of Google's most significant forms of advertisingso-called pre-roll video ads, which run before videos on Google's YouTube.

Scott Spencer, Google's director of product management, said via email that the coalition is looking into video ad formats, including pre-roll ads. Any new standards will be incorporated "when the research is complete," he said.

"Chrome filtering is not favouring our own business, our ads or our platforms, or anyone else's," he said.

Accusations of self-dealing have long haunted Google. Last June, European Union regulators hit it with a 2.4 billion euro ($3.7 billion Cdn) fine for unfairly directing search results to its own shopping listings, from which it gets a direct cut of revenue. A similar Federal Trade Commission probe of Google ended in 2013 with a settlement and no fine.

More recently, the News Media Alliance has urged Congress to look at how Google pressures media outlets to put stories in its "Accelerated Mobile Pages" format, which also tightly restricts ad formats and provides Google a new source of revenue in exchange for giving publishers favoured treatment in search results.

Hamilton Spectator fails standards

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