A roll-out of industry-wide ad blocking would be a benefit for users who would see less disruptive ads, but would also put a significant amount of power in the hands of Google and Facebook.
Google is reportedly working on an ad blocker that would be included by default in its Chrome browser on desktop and mobile.
And Google is also part of the Coalition for Better Ads, which was reported by Ad Age to be discussing the introduction of industry-wide ad blocking. Facebook and Microsoft are also part of the coalition.
The coalition has created a guide to define the most disruptive ad experiences, which includes formats such as pop-up ads, autoplaying videos with sound, and flashing animated ads. According to Ad Age, the goal of rolling out industry-wide ad blocking would be to get rid of those undesirable formats.
Matt Maier, CEO of ad blocker company AdBlock, told Business Insider it could turn out to be a problem for his company because Google could choose to disable third party ad blockers, but he emphasised that nobody knew what the Coalition for Better Ads was actually doing.
In a blog post, however, AdBlock also said the move would be beneficial to users who would see less intrusive advertising.
“We believe that things [in online advertising] have gotten completely out of hand, which has led to the emergence of ad blocking,” Maier said.
“There are people out there who are voicing probably justifiable concerns about putting more power into the hands of fewer and fewer organisations. We happen to think that Google has good intentions, and from our experience, has done right by users, for the most part,” he said about the tech company’s role in the discussions.
“Obviously there’s an open question about what Google’s incentives are. You could certainly make the argument that they operate one of the largest ad networks in the world and that network is predicated on being able to track people,” Maier said.
Tracking is the bigger problem
Cliqz, the German privacy browser that bought anti-tracking plugin Ghostery in February, believes the discussions don’t solve the real problem of privacy and tracking.
CEO Jean-Paul Schmetz, who is also chief scientist for the publishing house Burda, told Business Insider in an interview that “the core of Google’s and Facebook’s business is to track people. The user needs to have the right whether they want to be identified by third parties or not.”
He believes that letting Google decide on the ads that get blocked and those that don’t in its Chrome browser brings up issues of governance, since Google is also the one serving ads.
“Whenever you look at the self-regulating bodies, you often have to look at who’s behind them to understand which bias they will have,” Schmetz said. “In this particular case you know that when the two biggest players in the world make a coalition to make the world better, they will make it especially better for the formats that they are strong in.”
Standards should have been introduced years ago
That ad blocking is now being considered something to be rolled out on an industry level is the first step to reducing the intrusiveness of online advertisements. Dr. Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystem at PageFair, which supplies anti-ad blocking technology, told Business Insider that “if the industry had had these standards years ago, ad blocking might not be the phenomenon it is today.”
When it comes to user privacy Ryan pointed to the upcoming changes of the EU’s ePrivacy Directive, which will limit how users can be tracked online and could reign in retargeting. “There is a crisis of tracking right now and the European regulators have stepped in and are imposing rules that will have a global effect and radically change the tracking system as we know it.”
A recent report from PageFair found that ad blocking can lead to significant problems for publishers who lose out on revenue, which limits their ability to invest in content, leading to a continued drop in traffic because users lose interest in the site. Another report found usage of ad blockers went up by 30% in 2016.
These discussions show that the industry is finally waking up to the complaints users have about online advertising, but they are just one piece of the puzzle. With the EU looking into user privacy and online tracking, it’s the next issue industry stakeholders will have to pay attention to.
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