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Google ad-blocking poses new threat to publishers

Publishers are facing a new revenue threat from Google once its upgraded Chrome browser with built-in ad-blocking capabilities is released next year, as it will have the capacity to block not only specific ads – but possibly all advertising – from offending sites.

The move has the potential to bring on another confrontation with the search giant, which already is under fire over the impact of its aggregated content on publisher business models.

Google has developed a tool with the support of major media players to identify invasive or annoying advertising that could be blocked by the new Chrome filter. The tool also evaluates and scores websites based on their ad creative and design.

Unacceptable ads will be determined by standards set by a group called the Coalition for Better Ads, which includes Google, Facebook, News Corp, and The Washington Post as members, as well as Unilever and GroupM.

The Chrome feature is certain to be controversial. On one hand, there are huge benefits for both consumers and publishers, but on the other, it can give Google immense control over the web, partly in the name of protecting its own revenue.

So far, Google has identified about 700 sites that require corrective action out of around 100,000 that it has reviewed so far under an extensive report in consumer ad experiences.

Half of the 700 got a “failing” status and the other half a “warning.” Pop-ups were the most common problem Google found, accounting for 96 per cent of violations on desktop and 54 per cent on mobile.

Google released the tool on June 1, to allow publishers to identify offending content and take steps to rectify it before the introduction of the new browser. The tool provides screenshots and videos of ads that have been identified as annoying to users, such as pop-ups and autoplaying video ads with sound, and prestitial ads with countdown timers.

Major publishers in Australia and New Zealand use, or have used, these styles of advertising in some form.

Google is yet to sort how the Chrome blockers will be applied, however media site Digiday reports that the tech giant has not ruled out filtering all ads from a failing site — not just the offenders – a prospect that would alarm publishers.

It is also yet to specify what would lead a site to be labelled as “failing.” “Warning” would apply to publishers with “two or more violations” but that these sites would not be blocked.

Google will block ads from the sites of a failing publisher if it does fix the violations within 30 days.

To add to publishers’ problems, Apple recently said it would update its Safari browser to block video ads that autoplay and stop ad tracking.

Most of the sites Google listed in its 700 “failing” sites were out of the mainstream, but several dozen were carried by traditional media. Those listed as failing include Forbes; the Orlando Sentinel and Sun-Sentinel; Los Angeles Times; Bauer Xcel Media’s Life & Style and In Touch Weekly; Chicago Sun-Times; Tribune Broadcasting’s Fox 13 Now; and Sporting News.

A similar number of mainstream sites got warnings. These included, The Jerusalem Post, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Cox Media Group’s WSB-TV in Atlanta, the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, the UK Independent, The Daily Caller, Reader’s Digest, All You, Smithsonian, New York Daily News, Salt Lake Tribune and CBS News.

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