The Adblock Problem

This is just too delicious. Google is drafting a spec on how extensions may be added to Google Chrome (screenshot gallery). Specifically, the draft mentions the ability to add “content filters” such as Adblock.

Adblock is an extension to Firefox which, well, blocks ads. Add to the mix a filterset updater and your list of ads-to-block will be automatically and continously updated. It’s like Tivo for the web; you get the content without the ads. Only instantly.

At this point, I have to come clean. I love Adblock, and it’s one of the thing that’s kept me from ever considering using Chrome as my primary browser. Friends have pointed out to me that the very web services I use on a daily are free only because ads pay for their existance. In the words of Homer Simpson: if we don’t watch the ads, it’s like we’re stealing TV The Internet! That brings me to my point.

Chrome, despite being open source under the Chromium name, is a very Google product. Google builds Chrome to advance the web so that Googles webservices run better1. Those web services are Google Search, Google Calendar, Gmail and and so on (google the rest). Most of those services are ad-supported, notably Search and Gmail. With that in mind, why would Google ever willingly allow ad-blocking features to be added to Chrome, let alone encourage the development of such? What does Google know that we doesn’t?

Let’s speculate. Google knows that Adblock will never be able to consistently block ads in Search and Gmail because those ads are implemented in a non-distinct way. Even so, Adsense ads will have a problem, since they’re always served in easily blocked iframes. Unless Google goes the Text-Link-Ads route, and allows advertisers to stealthily inserts ads via PHP/ASP, Google will be actively encouraging filters of their own bread and butter. This would, however, be highly surprising, as Google is known to punish Text-Link-Ads advertisers for polluting search results with ad-ridden content.

It’s evident that Google doesn’t consider their ads to be ads, but rather a form of “product placement”. Certainly Google is trying hard to give you context relevant ads; Wanna split a Toblerone, you ask? Buy one here, Google will answer. It’s an ad, but it’s not a blinking Bonzi buddy ad. Blockworthy? Maybe, but certainly blockable, which is why there’s a problem here.

What they’ll do beats me, but I’ll bet we’ll see one or more of the following initiatives from Google, given time:

  • Huge changes to the Adsense product line, including—possibly—unblockable Text-Link-Ads-like PHP inserted ads. Unlikely? We’ll find out.
  • Additions to the Adsense product line: inline video ads, inline podcast ads, inline XML ads, inline anything ads. All Google-automated and pseudo-relevant. “Meet people where they’re at”, I can hear Google chant.

Or, none of the above. Perhaps Google simply acknowledges that if they are to ever gain significant marketshare with Chrome, they have woo the application ambassadors—that’s me—by adding features that rival those of Firefox (whose only remaining raison d’aitre is its extension architecture). Once Google woos me (and, Google Analytics tells me, you), we’ll start our ambassador duties; first our moms get Chrome because it protects them from themselves, then we’ll recommend it to our friends. Heck, we’ll even blog about it. Fortunately for Google, we’ll forget to recommend that you add Adblock to Chrome once you’ve installed it.


  1. That, and possibly to cut back on their Mozilla pay-per-firefox-search expenses, though I find this highly unlikely as that amount is probably considered peanuts to Google—poison peanuts that irritate the hell out of Microsoft and Yahoo.