How Chrome’s built-in ad blocker will work when it goes live tomorrow


Chrome’s built-in ad blocker will go live tomorrow. It’s the first time Google will automatically block some ads in Chrome, but while quite a few online publishers are fretting about this move, as a regular user, you may not even notice it.

The most important thing to know is that this is not an alternative to AdBlock Plus or uBlock Origin. Instead, it’s Google’s effort to ban the most annoying ads from your browser. So it won’t block all ads — just those that don’t conform to the Coalition for Better Ads guidelines. When Google decides that a site hosts ads that go against these guidelines, it’ll block all ads on a given site — not just those annoying prestitials with a countdown or autoplaying video ads with sound.

Here are the kinds of ads that will trigger the new ad blocker in Chrome:

If you end up on a site where Chrome is blocking ads, you’ll see a small pop-up in Chrome (yeah — Chrome will pop up a notification to alert you when it blocked a pop-up…) that gives you the option to sidestep the ad blocker and allow ads on that site.

Under the hood, Google is using the same patterns as the public and community-curated EasyList filter rules. It’s worth noting that while Google made some modifications to those rules, it doesn’t exempt its own ad networks  from this exercise. If a site is in violation, ads from AdSense and DoubleClick will also be blocked.

Chances are that you’ll see a bit of a performance boost on sites where ads are being blocked. That’s not the focus here, though, and Google says it’s at best a secondary effect. Some early ad blockers also had some issues with excessive memory usage that sometimes slowed down the browser. Google admits that there is some memory overhead here to hold the blocking list in memory, but even on mobile, that’s a negligible amount.

It’s worth noting that the recommendations of the Coalition for Better Ads focus on North America and Western Europe. Because of this, those are also the regions where the ad filtering will go live first. Google, however, is not classifying sites by where the individual Chrome user is coming from. Instead, it’s looking at where the majority of a site’s visitors come from. So if a user from India visits a site in Germany where ads are being blocked, that user won’t see ads even if the filtering isn’t live for Indian sites.As Google’s product manager for the Chrome Web Platform Ryan Schoen told me, 42 percent of publishers that were in violation have already moved to other ads. Of course, that means the majority of sites that Google warned about this issue did not take any action yet, but Schoen expects that many will do so once they see the impact of this. While ad blockers are often among the most popular extensions, they don’t come pre-installed, after all. This one does, and Google’s approach of blocking all ads on a site will surely sting.

Indeed, this decision to block all ads may seem rather harsh. Schoen, however, argues that it’s the only practical solution. In Google’s view, publishers have to take responsibility for the ads they show and take control of their ad inventory. “The publisher can decide which ad networks to do business with but ultimately for us, the users, by navigating to a specific site, they enter a relationship with that site,” he said. “We do think it’s the responsibility of the site owner to take ownership of that relationship.”

Still, so far, it looks like Chrome will only block just less than one percent of all ads — something that will make some publishers breathe a sigh of relief and scare others. For users, though, this can only be a good thing in the long run.

Featured Image: Getty Images

Yandex bakes ad-blocking into its Russian browser


Yandex has added a native ad-blocking feature to its browser in Russia.

The Russian search giant trailed the change to local press back in December, following new guidelines from the local branch of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) — which it helped develop.

It says its aim is to enhance users’ browsing experience by blocking “intrusive advertising”.

The filter will not block ads that meet IAB Russia guidelines. And Yandex is providing a diagnostics tool, available on the Yandex.Webmaster service, where it says “publishers and advertisers can check if their advertising is compliant with Yandex standards”.

Users of the Yandex.Browser who update to the latest version will find the the ad blocker feature activated by default on both the desktop and mobile versions (though it can be user deactivated in the settings) — preventing “annoying or disruptive ads from loading when a page is displayed”, as the company tells it.

Yandex previously added support for third party ad-blocking extensions to its mobile browser, and a complaint button for mobile users to report bad ads. But baking in ad blocking by default takes things a step further.

“Yandex.Browser now blocks full-screen banner ads, pop-ups with a countdown timer, autoplay video ads and other formats of unwanted advertising, or those that do not comply with new advertising guidelines announced by the Russian branch of the IAB last month,” the company said in a press release announcing the news. “Relevant ads in non-intrusive, organic formats will still be displayed to the user.”

The move prefigures a similar one by search rival Google — which is adding a built in ad blocker to its Chrome browser later this month (also billed as being targeted at overly annoying and/or intrusive ads).

Albeit Google’s move is a pretty controversial one — on account of Mountain View’s dominance of online advertising (its Chrome web browser also beats out rivals in marketshare terms).

Though it’s also true that growing consumer concerns about creepy adtech practices have fueled growth in ad blocking tools for years. And arguably, therefore, Google is just responding to market sentiment and trying to apply pressure on advertisers to stop making ads so horrible that people want to block them.

“At Yandex we believe in building an enjoyable online experience in which people are delivered helpful information. Aggressive advertising interferes with a high-quality user experience and has led to increased ad blocker downloads, which can block potentially useful offers and information to users,” said Dmitry Timko, head of Yandex.Browser, in a statement about the launch. “Native ad blocking eliminates the need for additional ad blockers and promotes better quality advertising.”

A Yandex spokeswoman added that the company intends to expand native ad-blocking to other markets too, though does not have a firm timeline at this point as she said it will depend on the development of local ad standards.

“Currently, our first step is to apply native ad blocking in Russia, where we serve the majority of Yandex Browser users. Moving forward we will implement changes in other markets as new local guidelines for non-intrusive advertising are established,” she told us. “We are currently in active discussions about applying similar native ad blocking filters in CIS states. We will handle the English version of Browser on a case by case basis. According to information we have, IAB Russia works in coordination with IAB Europe, IAB Belarus, and the Coalition for Better ads on research and recommendations.”

Apple has also been attacked by the IAB for baking a tracker blocker feature into its Safari browser. Though the move aligns with the company’s strong pro-privacy consumer stance and a business model that relies on hardware sales and services revenue rather than ad-targeting (as Google and Yandex both do).

Featured Image: Lilyana Vynogradova/Shutterstock

Thousands of major sites are taking silent anti-ad-blocking measures


It’s no secret that ad-blockers are putting a dent in advertising-based business models on the web. This has produced a range of reactions, from relatively polite whitelisting asks (TechCrunch does this) to dynamic redeployment of ads to avoid blocking. A new study finds that nearly a third of the top 10,000 sites on the web are taking ad blocking countermeasures, many silent and highly sophisticated.

Seeing the uptick in anti-ad-blocking tech, University of Iowa and UC Riverside researchers decided to perform a closer scrutiny (PDF) of major sites than had previously been done. Earlier estimates, based largely on visible or obvious anti-ad-blocking means such as pop-ups or broken content, suggested that somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of popular sites were doing this — but the real number seems to be an order of magnitude higher.

The researchers visited thousands of sites multiple times, with and without ad blocking software added to the browser. By comparing the final rendered code of the page for blocking browsers versus non-blocking browsers, they could see when pages changed content or noted the presence of a blocker, even if they didn’t notify the user.

As you can see above, 30.5 percent of the top 10,000 sites on the web as measured by Alexa are using some sort of ad blocker detection, and 38.2 percent of the top 1,000. (Again, TechCrunch is among these, but to my knowledge we just ask visitors to whitelist the site.)

Our results show that anti-adblockers are much more pervasive than previously reported…our hypothesis is that a much larger fraction of websites than previously reported are “worried” about adblockers but many are not employing retaliatory actions against adblocking users yet.

It turns out that many ad providers are offering anti-blocking tech in the form of scripts that produce a variety of “bait” content that’s ad-like — for instance, images or elements named and tagged in such a way that they will trigger ad blockers, tipping the site off. The pattern of blocking, for instance not loading any divs marked “banner_ad” but loading images with “banner” in the description, further illuminates the type and depth of ad blocking being enforced by the browser.

Sites can simply record this for their own purposes (perhaps to gauge the necessity of responding) or redeploy ads in such a way that the detected ad blocker won’t catch.

In addition to detecting these new and increasingly common measures being taken by advertisers, the researchers suggest some ways that current ad blockers may be able to continue functioning as intended.

One way involves dynamically rewriting the Javascript code that checks for a blocker, forcing it to think that there is no blocker. However, this could break some sites that render as if there is no blocker when there actually is.

A second method identifies the “bait” content and fails to block it, making the site think that there’s no blocker in the browser and therefore render ads as normal — except the real ads will be blocked.

That will, of course, provoke new and even more sophisticated measures by the advertisers, and so on. As the paper concludes:

To keep up the pressure on publishers and advertisers in the long term, we believe it is crucial that adblockers keep pace with anti-adblockers in the rapidly escalating technological arms race. Our work represents an important step in this direction.

The study has been submitted for consideration at the Network and Distributed Systems Security Symposium in February of 2018.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

Google will turn on native ad-blocking in Chrome on February 15


Google is going to start blocking certain ads in Chrome, the company announced earlier this year. But now we know exactly when: February 15, 2018 (via VentureBeat) is the go-live date provided by the company for introduction of its built-in enforcement of the standards established by the Coalition for Better Ads, of which it is a member.

This won’t block all ads on all websites – instead, it’ll stop those that are deemed overly annoying or intrusive. But it will be blocking all ads from sites where even one ad displayed on the site doesn’t meet those standards, even if the rest are technically in compliance.

Google has been working with publishers to make sure they’re in compliance with the new standards, in advance of the feature going live. It’s done a lot to make sure that this wasn’t sprung on anyone without warning.

It’s also hoping that by building its own ad-blocking into Chrome, it can alleviate the concerns of consumers who find intrusive ads ruin their experience, but without having them resort to using more restrictive third-party blockers that potentially cut into their own primary business – which remains selling ads.

Featured Image: Stephen Shankland/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE