Everything you ever wanted to know about Chrome’s built-in ad blocker

Chrome learns to block ads by itself. What has Google come up with, and how will it help users?

Few people are fond of Internet advertising. That’s hardly surprising: it’s annoying having a tacky picture splashed over half the screen when you’re engrossed in a really interesting article, or worse, a blast of noise from some autoplaying video ad way below the fold. It’s no wonder ad blockers have been around for a long time already — or that they are very popular. A recent Reuters study found that nearly a quarter of Internet users had one installed.

Ad-blocking technology has now gone a step further: Google Chrome is set to start blocking advertising automatically. Not all of it, mind you.

What will get the chop? And is all advertising equally bad? Let’s investigate.

What’s an ad blocker, anyway?

Usually ad blockers are browser extensions that hide advertising. Typically, modern ad blockers forbid ad servers to download their content to pages viewed by users.

How is Google Chrome’s built-in ad blocker different?

Unlike typical ad-blocking extensions, Chrome works on the assumption that not all advertising is bad. For example, take an ad that doesn’t strong-arm you but offers a discount or a solution that you actually want, you’ll be glad you saw it — and so will the advertiser. Chrome also knows not all ads are equally obtrusive. Moreover, most websites make their daily bread with advertising. So Google will block only those ads that get in your face too much.

What’s too much? How will Chrome decide what to block?

The ad blocker will base its decisions on guidelines laid out by the Coalition for Better Ads. However, if just one website ad falls foul of CBA standards, Chrome will block not only that single ad, but all advertising on the resource.

Google will leave the final decision in users’ hands, however. Website visitors will be prompted to block an ad but have the option not to.

Hang on, what’s the Coalition for Better Ads?

The CBA is an alliance of advertisers, trade groups, publishers, and large companies that have come together, as the name suggests, to improve ads. The coalition was formed in September 2016. Its heavy hitters include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Reuters, the Washington Post, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.

Their goal is to reduce bad advertising so the advertisers that play by the rules have more access to clients. As Google Vice President Sridhar Ramaswamy explains, just one intrusive banner can lead a user to block all ads. As a result, companies find it harder to reach their audience, and online resources lose revenue and stop making decent content.

What does the Coalition for Better Ads do?

To start, the coalition looked at what people find most annoying about online advertising, interviewing 25,000 Internet users in North America and Europe. They also considered ad size, loading time, impact on website operation, and other small but important details. Armed with this research, they developed a set of advertising standards.

It’s true the coalition isn’t acting out of altruistic love for humanity but rather because its members are losing money. That didn’t stop them from examining the roots of the issue and putting their own house in order first, instead of tilting at windmills — or, in this case, ad blockers.

What are these standards?

The CBA’s first draft lists types of advertising that are “least preferred by consumers” and provoke in them an urge to expunge all ads from view. They are:

  • Pop-up ads that appear while a page is loading — either brazenly filling the entire screen or graciously leaving a small slice of site content for the user to squint at;
  • Autoplaying videos with sound — the ones that startle and make you rush to close the tab without reading anything;
  • Ads with a countdown timer that are not closeable;
  • Ads that cling to the bottom of the page as you scroll (especially if they take up 30% or more of the screen area).

For mobile devices, the list is slightly different — and twice as long. It includes all kinds of screen-covering ads: those that require a lot of scrolling to get rid of, pop up when you tap a link and then force you to wait, or simply cover more than 30% of the screen. Exclusive to the mobile device list is Flash-animated ads, which distractingly flicker as they change text and background color. But smartphone scrollers find ads fixed at the bottom of the screen far less irritating, and so they are not prohibited under these standards.

How does Google find offenders?

Sites are checked for compliance with the standards. The administrators are then given either a green light or 30 days to sort things out. Domains whose administrators ignore Google’s notification are barred from displaying ads in Chrome. After any issues are corrected, a repeat check can be requested. If it passes, the domain can start earning again.

Ads are gone, but the spying continues

All’s well that ends well, or so it would seem: Users get to see friendly ads, and site owners make money. Sadly, that’s not the end of the story. While protecting people from intrusive banners and videos, Google and other companies continue — less noticeably, but no less intrusively — to monitor all user actions. If privacy invasions annoy you just as much as Flash banner ads do, our advice is to use a reliable antimonitoring tool — for example, the Private Browsing feature in Kaspersky Internet Security.

Don’t forget that Chrome isn’t the only browser out there, and the rest don’t yet have their own built-in ad blockers. For them, Kaspersky Internet Security’s Anti-Banner component will do the job.