Why You Should Be Worried About Chrome Blocking Autoplay Videos With Sound

Google has surveyed the advertising landscape that it dominates and determined that it's time for a change. Beginning in January, its Chrome web browser will block autoplay video ads with sound by default. The effort is being framed as a drive to clean up the web, but it could just as easily be interpreted as a disguised move to further solidify Google's monopoly.

Image Sources: Google, Adblock

Back in April, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was planning to adopt the Coalition for Better Ads list of standards and apply them to a filter built into Chrome.

The guidelines warn against using annoying formats like large sticky ads and the dreaded autoplay video with sound.

In June, the search giant confirmed that it would be moving forward with its own adblocker beginning in 2018.

Thursday's blog post announcing the autoplay changes appears to be the beginning of the wider rollout that would block four types of egregious ads on desktop and mobile.

In October, the Chrome 63 release will add an option for users to disable audio completely on sites of the user's choosing. That update will be followed by the initiation of new autoplay policies in the Chrome 63 release in January.

Chrome will automatically block videos ads unless the audio is muted, or it includes no audio at all.

If the user tapped or clicked somewhere on the site during the browser session the video will be enabled. White listing will be available to mobile users by adding a website to the home screen and, on a desktop, the video will be allowed if the user "frequently played media on the site" based on standards outlined in the Media Engagement Index.

There are a couple of ways to look at this development. On the one hand, internet advertising needs to change, people hate it and they're doing their best to get around it. That's bad for publishers and advertisers; publishers need the revenue and advertisers don't want you associating their product with that time you scared the crap out of the office with a blaring ad.

But there's also the very real worry that Google is assembling the scaffolding to take over the few parts of digital advertising it doesn't control yet.

A report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau last July found that 26 per cent of desktop users and 15 per cent of mobile users are already using some form of adblocker, as marketers counteract that effort with more aggressive strategies, those numbers will surely continue to grow.

Google makes billions on advertising and knows that this isn't good for its future. It's also not good for the ad-supported web. Like it or not, most websites survive on ad dollars, and there's going to be a lot less free content if the ads aren't getting served to users.

According to the online analytics firm StatCounter, Chrome controls a little over 54 per cent of the worldwide browser market. Safari is its closest competitor with 14 per cent. Google is pretty much the only entity with the power to bully advertisers into creating a less abrasive browsing experience.

Most people aren't going to go into their settings to make adjustments, or even know that they can. Many sites will resist at first, but as they see their stats drop off over time, they will comply.

Fewer annoying ads means fewer people shutting them off, more revenue for publishers, more impressions for advertisers, and happier users browsing. This, it would seem, is good for everyone.

Unfortunately, the company's adblocking effort gets far more problematic, as our greatest concern is now coming to fruition: Google is assembling its own list of "good" publishers.

When the adblocking feature was first announced, we were hopeful that this move could be a positive development. One of our primary areas of concern was the possibility that Google would implement an "Acceptable Ads" list that websites can pay to be a part of.

Google, along with other media giants like Amazon and Microsoft, reportedly pays Adblock Plus to white list its services.

One unnamed company told the Financial Times in 2015 that the fee was "equivalent to 30 per cent of the additional ad revenues that it would make from being unblocked."

Google is implementing a similar program called Funding Choices that allows approved websites to show users a popup when they visit the site. A user has the option to turn off third-party adblocking software or pay a fee for an ad-free experience through the Google Contributor program.

This option is simultaneously exciting and deeply troubling.

Google's program, in theory, a better option than the one from Adblock Plus. Instead of telling sites, "we'll take a portion of the cash that our service would have 'stolen' from you," Google's Contributor program is saying, "here's a way to recoup lost revenue from users who are open to paying you."

But Adblock Plus is a much smaller company than Google and it's not embedded in practically every facet of digital life. I'm far more comfortable with a small, independent company having control over a white list than I am with an unstoppable force like Google holding all the cards.

It's easy to interpret the changes Google is making as an attempt to kill third-party adblocking services and simultaneously gain the power to block its advertising competitors. According to a report from eMarketer, Google controls 75.8 per cent of the search ad market and 40.7 per cent of the US digital ad market.

Coming in second place is Facebook with 19.7 per cent of the digital ad share in the US. And both companies are members of the Coalition for Better Ads, the organisation setting the standards for acceptable ads in Chrome.

Mark Patterson, a Fordham legal scholar and author of Antitrust Law in the New Economy, has called the coalition "a cartel orchestrated by Google."

Pushing advertisers to create a better browsing experience seems like it's good for everyone. But as the public and regulators around the world are waking up to the urgent need to rein in Silicon Valley's most dominant players, this seems like a weird time to start implementing a system that would give Google even more leverage in its field.

At a certain point, people have to ask if a company is only a monopoly when it abuses its power, or if it's already a monopoly because of its potential to abuse that power.


Comments

    I have zero problem with this, in fact they should go further and block autoplay ads altogether, regardless of sound.

    The idea that Google blocking one particular type of ad will hurt third party ad blockers is nonsense. One of the most popular blockers (and definitely the one that should be used over Adblock Plus), uBlock Origin, specifically doesn't seek donations - it's not about money, it's about giving users choice. They're not in any way going to be hurt by this.

      I agree with you apart from one point.

      It's not about choice for me. It's about having enough control to say "Hey I am not going to allow you to reach out and smack me up the side of the head with your intrusive add, while I sit in my home"

        That is the choice you're being given though. Without plugins like uBlock Origin you have no choice - you get ads. The plugin gives you the choice to get rid of them if you don't want to see them, or enable them for trusted sites that you feel deserve the revenue.

    The issue is, they're consolidating their market position by providing a service we all wanted...So the problem really is with every other advertiser trying to screw us over for years...

    Adblock Plus allows acceptable ads which is awesome. It is encouraging responsible advertising. This sounds like more of the same. I just wish it could stop all autoplay videos, not just ads. Never, ever have I wanted to watch one besides opening a specific Youtube video.

      Yep. Autoplay video ads, especially with sound, should never have been a thing in the first place. Nobody wants to watch them.

      To be fair I've been running Adblock Plus for years and I can't remember the last time I saw one unless I was using a PC that wasn't mine and didn't have adblock installed.

        There were a few sites I visit occasionally that make video content and they auto play as well which is annoying as hell. I think I've got them all blocked now too.

      As I mentioned below, Brave is a decent alternative. On each site you visit it asks whether you want them to autoplay their videos or not and remembers your decision. Plus blocks all ads by default. And it's hands-down the fastest browser I've used, especially on my phone.

    On the other hand, Apple has announced they're blocking ad tracking by default and they're getting worshipped for it. When did this whole "Google bad, Apple good" train start, and can I get off it.

      I thought that was already in place in Windows and a bunch of browsers.

    They need to roll this out in the mobile version, for all autoplay videos. Nothing grinds my gears more than an autoplay video when I'm on mobile data.

    I'd be happy to have less content and less ads. Currently kotaku and gizmodo grind my system to a halt because of the multitude of advertising and tracking embedded in the pages, and the amount of data downloaded is insane.
    Other sites are worse. When you need the NBN just to be able to read news and info sites, its getting crazy.

    Bring it on. I absolutely hate pages that are suddenly blasting sound (loud stuff at that), usually from some random corner of the page, and before Chrome added indication of which TAB, sometimes resulted in having to mute everything while searching which damn tab it's from.

    I've been trying a new browser lately called Brave. It has in built adblocker and is much, much faster than chrome. A little bit buggy from time to time but it's still in beta I think. The creator of JavaScript and one of the Mozilla founders are leading things too, so the team behind it is legit.

      Mozilla staff always seem to start up new browser projects when they leave Mozilla. It's hard not to read that as a comment on the state of affairs with Firefox.

    I fucking hate all autoplay ads. Good.

    Rhett, I know this is going to blow your mind, but here goes;

    Nobody deliberately clicks on adds. Nobody wants to listen to adds and everyone, yes, EVERYONE, wishes that they didn't exist.

    Just because an add is automatically playing does not mean that people are watching it. Any website that has been peddling to their sponsors the assumption that readers are eating their force-fed garbage is, itself, utter garbage.

    And even if Google is running some sort of monopoly over this right to force-feed people garbage, guess what? NOBODY has any sympathy for the advertisers getting screwed over by these new policies for a very, very simple reason.

    NOBODY WANTS TO WATCH ADDS.

    Last edited 20/09/17 10:45 am

    Seems to me that Google's giving us what we want, and as collateral 'damage', the advertising industry are paying for it? If the dog-fuckers responsible for auto-playing ads in the first place are upset about having to pay Google more due to evil corporate manipulation, I'm finding myself having a LOT of trouble mustering even a shred of sympathy.

    Motherfuckers, yours is the industry that came up with auto-playing ads with audio. And it became popular enough that drastic measures had to be taken. Your industry can't be trusted. Ever heard the saying, "A few bad apples spoil the bunch?" Focus less on the fact that there are only a few bad apples, and more on the latter half of that sentence, that notes that the entire bunch is spoiled.

    Id rather they block autoplay ads in general,

    I dont want video's and such playing and chewing into my bandwith when im not even watching or remotely interested in them

    Yeah, nah

    Let anyone who creates auto-playing video advertising, especially with sound, burn for all I care.

    Sorry Rhett.

    The people have voted, and your conspiracy theory has been rejected.

    Back to your tin-foil lined bunker!

    To say less ads = less content is a bit simplistic. A website could, for example, just post old articles again and again....that's just more ads with no extra content right kotaku?

    Plus this whole, 'we'll disappear without ads' crap sounds kind of like the taxi industry complaining about ride sharing. Nobody wants ads except for advertisers, and consumers are now getting access to powerful tools that allow them to avoid ads entirely. We shouldn't have to give that freedom back just because your funding model is becoming obselete. If we get less content but no ads I am completely fine with that.

    Google are probably one of maybe 2-3 companies in the world with enough influence to be able to actually do something about the UX surrounding web advertising. They're imposing these restrictions because it's been proven over the last decade that advertisers don't care about UX. I would argue that this was a much bigger issue 5-10 years ago, when some auto-playing ads could chew up enough bandwidth and CPU on mobile devices as to actually make the content you're trying to access virtually inaccessible... but I also don't think anyone was in a position to do anything about it back then. It's not going to kill publishers - they'll adapt, and hopefully advertising will be less of an impedance in the near future.

    Tl:dr: "It's about freaking time."

    The thing is, it wouldn't hurt the advertising industry at all if the advertising industry was focusing on creating good ads in the first place

    If this move bankrupted every single company that's ever shown me an auto playing ad, I would be perfectly okay with that. Fuck 'em.

    The point missed entirely by this article is not that people are unwilling to deal with ads for free content/value (we've done this for generations), it's that: A large majority of internet advertising is sloppy, untargeted and lazy. Autoplay, popup, in-you-face ads are the lowest form of advertising, akin to jumping in front of someone while walking, waving a product in their face and shouting. Ineffective, annoying, and in some cases damaging the brand.

    Advertisers need to simply work a little harder to make ads engaging and relevant. Furthermore, they'll see better response rates and ROI... So ultimately this is win-win for everyone, and Google is simply pushing them in the proper direction.

    Remember the malware/virus backdoor that was Flash? 10 years ago Apple took a stance to push HTML5 development in the proper, secure direction (taking plenty of attacks in the process), and it is finally being discontinued. There will never stop being "Advertising" as there will never be "no video" on the net. But there is nothing wrong with pressing these multi-billion dollar companies to do it better.

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