Back on April 19, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google “is planning” to introduce an “ad blocking feature” for its Chrome browser. Since then, a rather conspicuous silence has prevailed. Google isn’t talking about it.
We asked AdBlockPlus’ Ben Williams to comment, and he responded by noting, “We can’t comment until they confirm/disconfirm it,” adding Google has not confirmed or denied this report. We put forth one possible scenario: Google thinks that given the rapid adoption of ad blockers, particularly AdBlockPlus, they would rather have their own in place that they can control and benefit from. And, Williams opined, “Could be. Really looking to hear what they have to say.”
Having just re-read an interesting book on Google, written by employee No. 59, I’m Feeling Lucky by Douglas Edwards, we think we have some limited insight here. Edwards mentions an old Microsoft habit of announcing “vaporware” products to intimidate competitors, noting that Google emulated the tactic on occasion. They could be doing that here.
But we think that’s unlikely. Having written for a couple of dailies myself, I am well aware you do not write a piece like Jack Marshall’s in the WSJ unless you have the story nailed, and that his source, “people familiar with the company’s plans,” means someone at the company who doesn’t want to be identified. So Google leaked this story to Marshall. But why?
Trying to psychoanalyze Google is always interesting. We don’t think in the history of advertising that any media outlet ever offered viewers or readers an option to delete ads for which they collected money.
The WSJ says the current thinking is to make the ad blocker a default position for the Chrome browser, and that it would block ads not in conformity with the standards of the Coalition for Better Ads, including blocking entire sites that are repeat offenders. That means that your Chrome browser would begin blocking annoying ads without your even opting for it. This is a very significant idea.
Consider this: According to NetMarketShare, Chrome has 59% of the browser market. The nearest competitor is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer with only 18%. Given the increasingly shrill attacks by the IAB and other entities against AdBlockPlus, what about almost 60% of Internet browsers blocking ads automatically? Add that to the estimated 86 million Americans expected to be using ad blockers this year, according to eMarketer, and you get a new universe where most browsers will have ad blocking installed.
Of course, an ad blocker installed on Chrome doesn’t just block Google ads; it would block any non-acceptable ads that are not whitelisted. Now, which company is in a position to include whitelisting deals in all its ad agreements? Google?
Let’s summarize this, then. In one stroke, Google would control 60% of the ad-blocking universe. We would also consider that Google would write ad-blocking software that would block competitors, like AdBlockPlus. If they do launch this ad-blocking software, they are very unlikely to let competitors’ software co-exist. Therefore, what precisely would this do to AdBlockPlus? Nothing good. It would mean that instead of Google paying millions to AdBlockPlus and its parent company Eyeo Gmbh, as they are doing now, some advertisers would be paying Google just to avoid Chrome blocking. This could be a more effective tactic against independent ad blockers than the fancy software Facebook has employed to keep the software off its ads. We shall see.
If you were at Google, you would do what they are doing now. Google is nothing but logical. We think Google has long passed its original diktat, “Don’t Be Evil.” Their new slogan should be, “Be Clever.”