Adblock Plus and (a little) more

What will Google Chrome’s new ad filter actually block? We investigate... · 2018-01-24 14:00 by Ben Williams

People have been asking us for months now what the new Google Chrome “ad filter” will look like. The answer is harder to determine than it might seem, because this update to Chrome wasn’t available in any of the Chromium builds when we were testing. Apparently, earlier today, the change landed in Chrome 64 on Android – but not desktop, where we wanted to test. So we had to do some digging.

We felt that you, our users, needed to know what to expect. Our investigations into the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) yielded surprising results. We took the specifications from a white paper from last year called Determining a Better Ads Standard Based on User Experience Data.

The CBA’s white paper tested 55 different types of desktop ads for acceptability. We compared what the CBA qualified as acceptable ads against the the current Acceptable Ads definition. (The Acceptable Ads criteria were maintained by eyeo, with its community, but future iterations are in the hands of the Acceptable Ads Committee, an independent body).

Here is our handy spreadsheet of side-by-side comparisons for each ad type tested

Google has announced that it will follow the CBA’s definition for ad acceptability. From 55 types of ads, the CBA says that only nine of those ad types are egregious enough to block.

*It was not always clear where the CBA drew the line, so a few ad types tested were difficult to judge. This was especially true in two cases, both marked in the above spreadsheet with comments. We hope we were accurate in our interpretation. There weren’t many edge cases, though, so it doesn’t affect the big picture.

For example, the CBA says that the following ads and more are permissible:

You get the picture. Apparently, these new CBA standards bravely skim off the ads that may induce massive eye-gougings upon viewing.

In total, the new CBA-endorsed ad skimmer will only block 16.4 percent of the ad types listed in its white paper. In comparison, using the Acceptable Ads standard, Adblock Plus (and other ad blockers) block 51 different ad types, or 92.7 percent of those ads.

Ad filter? More like ad skimmer …

Now, in fairness to Google, they had a lot of courage to step into the ad-blocking waters at all. Most of parent company Alphabet’s revenue comes from advertising after all. We’ve always maintained our admiration for Google’s efforts, not to mention those of the CBA.
For some, Google’s double role as enforcer of CBA standards in Chrome and voting member for the CBA is a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse. Yet, looking at the bigger picture, the goals of the CBA are to:

  • improve advertising (good)
  • shield users from the worst ad experiences (also good)

What’s underpinning this is also good, because the proposed system lets users decide for themselves what they want. (“User control” is a synonym for “the internet” IMHO). I mean, users can still download ad blockers, tracking blockers, etc. on Chrome. But now, out of the box, Chrome skims nine out of 55 ad experiences off the top of the pile (not bad).

After doing this experiment, it was clear to us that there was a literal gulf between the CBA and AAC standards. Which … is also cool. Like I said at the outset, part of the reason we did this was because users had asked about the differences, and none of the askers had investigated. Now we know – and knowing is half the battle.

Now that we have the quantitative line in the sand, the qualitative difference between the AAC and CBA becomes even clearer:

  • the CBA wants to make ads so good (eventually, I guess) that people won’t need ad blockers
  • the AAC, by contrast, accepts that users want ad blockers, but seeks an acceptability standard for use with ad blocking.

Comment [7]

  1. Michael · 2018-01-24 19:47 · #

    Google’s “Adblocker” is just a mere placebo, designed to protect Google’s decreasing ad revenue. A superfluous “Adblocker” that will offer no protection against parasitic swamp that is the modern ad industry.

    16% is frivolous!

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    I think a lot of ad blockers probably feel the same way :) That was kinda the point here — to let all of you know what to expect.

  2. Markus · 2018-01-25 09:09 · #

    Opera has had built-in optional adblocking for quite some time now. Unfortunately, they offer no further explanation (that I can see) as to what and how much exactly is blocked, where the blocklist data comes from, etc. – all you get is a checkbox to turn the option on or off. Seems Chrome will be taking the same route.

    Now, obviously one can install ABP in either browser. However, I can’t seem to find any info on what it means if one runs both ABP and the browser’s own adblocking at the same time. Is there a performance impact? Does it help, or does it hurt? Or does it not matter at all? Is that recommended or is it rather not? What’s the order of execution? How do both approaches differ from each other? etc. It would be appreciated if you could offer some insight for the users there. Should one use both ways of adblocking in a Chromium browser, or is it better to turn one kind off if both are available?

  3. Just__a_thought · 2018-01-26 20:14 · #

    For me it’s very simple. A blocker who’s survival depends on blocking Adds (credibility); and a blocker that needs Add to survive.

  4. ABP-user · 2018-01-27 18:51 · #

    Only the blocking of the « Tab-Under » is useful.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    For sure. To me, the other blocked types are all positive steps for Chrome as well … just not the level of blocking our users expect.

  5. John S · 2018-02-20 12:06 · #

    I have to say that I haven’t noticed much difference since Chrome 64 in ads displaying. I guess maybe they have to be pretty bad to be filtered. Personally I think any ad that significantly distracts or inhibits the function of the web site is something that is to me a bad ad. I don’t mind them there, but I don’t want them being obnoxious and distracting. I guess that I didn’t expect Google to do much to stop their cash cow of ad revenue. Who would expect Google to bit hard the hand that feeds it? For me its more about PR stunt for Google to make everyone thing they are doing something.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Interesting theory. One thing is clear though: it won’t be an experience that someone who uses an ad blocker would be happy with.

    To see it in action, you can visit these sites: https://www.gsqi.com/marketing-blog/chrome-ad-filtering-in-action-first-examples/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

    … just remember to turn off your ad blocker first :)

  6. John S · 2018-02-24 13:22 · #

    After using Chrome native for a few days. I doubt many people unhappy with how ads are done on many sites. Will be happy with the effectiveness of Google’s ideal of ad filtering. My own thoughts on why Google did this was the placebo effect. Do something that does not upset your ad revenue customers and helps prevent some Chrome users from installing more robust ad blockers. Since Google makes a good chunk of its revenue from ads. I am skeptical of them honestly addressing the ad problem on the web. On the other hand, they benefit greatly if they can stop you from installing a ad blocker.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Have you tried Chrome with ABP?

  7. John · 2018-02-26 11:10 · #

    Have to say Ben I understand why users install a adblock but it has its downsides too. Many sites block you the user if they detect a adblock being used. Then you end up whitelisting them anyway which allows the ads. I’ve basically complain to the site say my peace and just stopped using the site. When the ads become too over bearing and the reaction from the web site is aggressive with adblockers. Nothing much you can do but simply mark that site as unworthy of visiting.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Yeah, it’s really annoying when sites go that route, especially because it’s very possible they’re not effective: http://www.businessinsider.de/ad-blocking-walls-not-working-2016-2?r=US&IR=T

    Long term, I think that method will disappear though.

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