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Google and partners try to block online ad blockers

COALITION:A large group of digital advertising firms led by Google are to help set standards on ‘acceptable’ ads, but giants such as Apple and Mozilla are not members


After seven months of work, the biggest digital advertising companies think they have a solution to the existential threat of consumers blocking online ads.

Google, the biggest player in this industry, is at the center of the plan, although the company and its partners are keen to present the initiative as a group effort.

The Coalition for Better Ads published a list of undesirable online ads earlier this year. Google plans to add a feature to its Chrome Web browser that would disable those ads.

The feature is designed for publishers, rather than a tool for consumers, and would operate the same way Chrome already filters ads that are undesirable in other ways, such as those that drain computer batteries, people familiar with the plans said.

The Wall Street Journal earlier this week first reported on Google’s potential decision, sparking criticism that the search ad giant was again exerting too much control over the market for digital ads.

Now industry partners are stressing that the plan is a group effort and not finalized. They also distanced Google’s tool from existing ad blockers that prompted the initiative in the first place.

“There is no ad blocker that’s going into a browser,” trade group Interactive Advertising Bureau head Randall Rothenberg said, although he would not offer further details on the tool. “What we want is something that’s industry-wide, that can demonstrably improve user experience and that’s embraced by pretty much everyone.”

Rothenberg helped set up the Coalition for Better Ads in September last year. Beyond Google, members include some of the largest marketers, ad agencies, media organizations and Facebook Inc.

Last month, the group issued its list of ad units — including those that take over entire screens or videos that start automatically — that it claimed are most likely to prompt people to download ad blockers.

The Chrome option is different from ad blockers, which are downloaded as mobile apps or Web browser plug-ins to zap most marketing messages, people familiar with the plans said.

Instead, it might look like similar tools that Google builds into its browser. Last fall, Chrome began automatically disabling ads that use Flash multimedia, citing computer battery drain.

People in the coalition said they expect Google to also hold its own search, display and YouTube ads to the same standards it imposes on the rest of the industry, although the terms have not been finalized.

Google declined to comment on potential Chrome features. However, the company emphasized that its plans are part of a group effort.

“Google alone cannot solve for the incentives users have to install ad blockers,” a company spokeswoman said. “We need an industry approach that is data-driven and endorsed by everyone.”

Stuart Ingis, a lawyer for Venable LLP, which counsels the Coalition for Better Ads, said the group is still months away from issuing policies on “acceptable” ad standards.

“All the options are on the table,” he said.

Leaders of the coalition said other tech companies, such as Microsoft Corp and Facebook, would be involved in setting standards.

“Something that’s only one browser is not really worth it,” Rothenberg said.

Yet, while the group is large, it is not comprehensive.

Apple Inc, which controls the Safari browser on iPhones, and Mozilla Corp, which runs the Firefox browser, are not members of the coalition. Firefox includes a browser setting that blocks ads and Apple began allowing third-party tools that block content on its mobile browser last year.

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