The Wall Street Journal reported last night that Google is planning to include ad-blocking functionality directly into Chrome, the most popular desktop web browser in the world. The company is apparently still ironing out the details, and could decide not to go through with it.
The list of unacceptable types of advertising that Chrome would block is based on an industry list that includes pop-ups, auto-playing videos, and interstitial ads that appear in front of content upon loading a page (Google already lowers the search rank of sites that use that last tactic). The company is still deciding between what to do when a page is loaded — block all of the ads or just the specific ones that violate those guidelines.
On the one hand, this is nice for consumers because advertising has grown pushy and invasive, and it bogs down your web-browsing experience. And it’s creepy, as advertisers track your habits around the web.
But allowing Google to become an explicit gatekeeper of what is acceptable formatting for the web is a concerning development. The company itself already pays the makers of the popular Adblock Plus browser extension to let its ads pass through the filter. Ad-blocking, once a tool of convenience, is now turning into an extortion racket.
The main problem with Google screening ads across the web is that Google is heavily reliant on advertising, specifically ads in its search results, and its programmatic AdSense platform. Its business is almost entirely advertising. Last year, according to Alphabet’s financial reports, Google brought in $89.4 billion in revenue, $79.3 billion of which was from advertising. That’s 88 percent of its business, and now Google wants to control what competitors in the space can do as well.
Advertising sucks. Nobody is debating this. But letting one monolithic company control, at a software level, whether or not its competitors even have a chance is absurd. In the end, it comes down to whether or not you trust Google to act responsibly (hint: you shouldn’t).