Google Blocks Ads, Apple Blocks Ad Blockers – A Case for Both

Last updated on June 2, 2019 Comments: 0
Google has launched a built-in ad-filtering service to its flagship Chrome browser while Apple has upped enforcement of the App Store banning apps that affect other programs’ operation – including some VPNs and ad-blocking tools.

Why have the tech giants made these changes and what do they mean for users?

What’s Happening

Google and Apple have both announced major changes to how they allow users tackle the growing problem of disruptive and intrusive online advertisements.

Chrome’s tool, which has already gone live, is based on standards set down by the Coalition for Better Ads, a group of international trade associations and online media companies formed to agree upon standards for allowable online advertising.

For its part, Apple has recently stepped up enforcement of an App Store policy point that states that apps “should use APIs and frameworks for their intended purposes.”

This means that many third-party ad-blocking tools – which rely on integrations with media platforms to disrupt how they deliver advertising content – have found themselves being unceremoniously ejected from iOS’s app-delivery platform.

Why Now?

Intrusive advertising has been a growing problem on the web for some time now.

Whether the advertisements are delivered as interstitials (which cover the full screen with advertising), videos ads played before YouTube clips, or more old-fashioned banner ads, for many users they have significantly degraded the advantages of consuming content on the internet.  In fact, survey findings have previously shown that a full 83% of people want a reliable means of filtering out what they deem to be “really obnoxious” advertisements from the internet (as they access it).

This general dissatisfaction with the state of online advertising has spawned the growth of a large number of third-party ad blocking services, the best known among them Adblock Plus, which has numbered as many as 21 million daily users.

Faced with declining revenues and reduced impressions for their messages, both publishers and online media giants have reacted by developing tools to automatically detect when ad blocking tools are installed – and force users to disable them if they want to continue to access their sites.

As the world’s dominant choice of web browser, Google has leveraged its substantial clout in the web industry to create a substantial benefit for users in this regard. Chrome’s new built-in ad filtering service should prevent many users from having to disable their third-party ad-blocking software each time they want to visit a website which contains advertisements that trigger its filter.

What Will Be Blocked?

Google has said that the ad-filtering that it will build into Google Chrome will follow standards set down by the Coalition for Better Ads and target only the most annoying and intrusive advertisements – such as those that automatically play video and audio.

The standards lay out twelve “least preferred ad experiences” that Chrome will automatically begin blocking. These include pop-up ads and prestitial ads with countdowns on the desktop and ads that take up more than 30% of the screen on mobile devices. The categories were determined by research led by Google itself (other participants in the Coalition include Facebook, Reuters, and Microsoft).

For iPhone users, the effect will be more modest. The clause of the privacy policy which the company has begun enforcing will specifically effect applications that block advertisements on apps other than Safari, the company’s web browser.

A VPN that blocks advertisement content delivery networks (CDNs) across all apps on the device, for example, would not be allowed on the App Store. Such apps work by installing certificates across all iOS browsers – including third-party tools like Chrome – that prevent them from properly serving advertisements. Apple has clarified that only apps that interact with the company’s official API for content blocking (aptly named the Safari Content Blocker API) will be allowed to remain in the App Store. This will have a substantial chilling effect on the market for iOS ad-blockers and VPNs that include it as a function.

It’s important to note that this isn’t a new clause – rather, the company has deviated from its traditional stance of turning a blind eye to the clause and have begun enforcing it more aggressively.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

Who could be put out that those annoying pop-up videos will be off the web (and your smartphones)?

Given that Google Chrome is the browsing tool of choice for almost 60% of the world’s surfers, there are a lot of online publishers that stand to lose some serious revenue as a result of Chrome’s new measures.

Likewise, providing ad-blocking functionality only within Safari is a far less attractive feature for VPN companies to offer than producing a feature that will disable such advertising across whatever apps the users uses to stream web-based media. Both can expect to be affected adversely by the developments.

In addition, because Google is the lead participant in the Coalition for Better Ads, the company has given itself what many would perceive to be an advantage over other advertising networks that may produce advertisements that fall into Google’s blacklist but which are predominantly served to users over Chrome.

Such advertisers will have to race to catch up with the new measures while Google can take comfort in the knowledge that advertisements carried over its own networks, such as Google AdWords, are automatically deemed suitable to show.

Many will regard this as a conflict of interest and the company can be expected to face further questions of whether the consolidation of power that Google has obtained is in internet users’ best interests. Additionally, according to Henry Kargman, CEO of digital advertising company Kargo, the web giant has yet to institute an effective appeals mechanism for companies that are unhappy with its decisions.

Only Time Will Tell

The measures that Apple and Google are taking to tackle the problem of intrusive advertising is likely to prove only the tip of the iceberg in measures to combat this growing issue.

Whether the tech giants can find a solution that also serves the interests of web users remains to be seen.

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