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Google's 'adblocker' is all about taking back control

Watch out, whitelist mafia, you might be swimming with the fishes

By Andrew Orlowski, 20 Apr 2017

The world's biggest digital advertising company Google is reportedly building an ad-blocker into Chrome – and it's already attracted the attention of Europe's most important competition regulator.

The WSJ claimed the functionality could arrive in both desktop and mobile versions of Chrome, although a final decision on deploying the ad-killer has yet to be made.

Why would a company that has made such huge profits from advertising – almost 90 per cent of Google's $89.4bn revenue last year came from advertising – seek to block users from seeing ads?

It's all about control.

By maintaining its own "blocker", Google would seize the initiative from third-party whitelists, and have a greater say in which ads were acceptable. In effect, Google would become the gatekeeper, the arbiter of taste, diminishing the role of Eyeo, which markets Adblock Plus.

Last year the then culture minister John Whittingdale compared pay-to-play ad-blocking outfits (he didn't name anyone in particular) to the mafia.

"Some of the ad-blocking companies are drawing up their own rules of acceptable advertising or offering to whitelist providers in return for payment. Many see such practices as akin to a modern-day protection racket," he said.

Evidently, there's only room in this town for one bunch of wise guys. Rumours swirled last year in the marketing trade press that Google was exploring its own "acceptable ads" lists.

DigiDay noted: "Google, together with Facebook, controlled 64 per cent of the digital ad market last year. With that clout, Google could have an outsized impact on the kinds of ad formats that become the industry standard."

Yes indeed.

Google certainly has the means to dictate the terms of trade. Around 22 per cent of UK adults use an ad blocker, but far more people use Chrome. Through Chrome, Google has enjoyed 59 per cent of the desktop market and 52 per cent of mobile browsing.

Google, along with Microsoft, Amazon and Taboola have already paid the gatekeeper's fee, no doubt through gritted teeth.

An ad-blocker in a dominant browser could mean the world's dominant ad network could be filtering out rival ad networks, which has competition implications.

The report has already drawn the attention of the EU's Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. "We will follow this new feature and it's [sic] effects closely," she tweeted at journalists today.

The Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Google about illegally leveraging its Android dominance, and the company could be hit with a record fine for a separate investigation into abuse of its search monopoly. ®

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