Late last week, three major trade bodies and coalition members—the 4A's, Association of National Advertisers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau—penned a letter to the group that proposed guidelines and logistics around how browsers should block annoying ads such as pop-ups, autoplaying video with sound and ads that quickly flash and change colors.
Per the proposal, which could take some two years to implement if adopted, a publisher would see all ads blocked on a page, even if only one of them is deemed "annoying." That's a reflection of current limits in ad-blocking technology, according to the authors.
"The browser cannot surgically remove a single ad from the page," says Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA. The browser "cannot go into a page on the Chicago Tribune and say, '10 ads on that page, but I'm going to remove one.' They'd have to remove all."
As Liodice puts it, the "technology does not exist" for browsers to remove a single ad; only the publisher has that capability.
As publishers attempt to overcome the rise of ad-blocking browser extensions such as Adblock Plus, therefore, they may soon have to deal with another blocker—one that comes with browsers even if consumers don't install it. When coupled with traditional ad blockers, not volunteering likely translates to publishers leaving a large stack of cash on the table.
However, publishers who "volunteer" will be granted "safe harbor," according to the letter, meaning browsers would not scan their pages for annoying ads. Instead, the Coalition for Better Ads would keep tabs on enlistees—though it still must create the technology to do so—and reach out to publishers if there are problems. That would allow them to make the necessary changes and remain in compliance without having ads blocked.
As it stands, Google is the only Coalition member that has confirmed plans to filter out annoying ads in its browser, Chrome. Microsoft, which recently joined the coalition, has yet to say publicly whether it will follow in Google's footsteps. People with knowledge of the situation say the Coalition is attempting to bring Mozilla's Firefox browser into the mix. Apple, which was called out in the trade bodies' letter for planning to undermine cookies without industry consultation, is considered extremely unlikely to join the coalition's efforts.
Mozilla could not be reached for comment.
"Who becomes judge and jury? The browsers right now can theoretically do what they want," Liodice says. "But the final arbitrator would be the CBA, and they can tell publishers, 'Hey, you should remove that annoying ad' so there is one authoritative voice in the industry. That's the goal."
Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of the 4A's, says the goal of the Coalition for Better Ads is simple: If ads are great instead of a nuisance, fewer people will download ad blockers. "This is a global inatiive that includes agencies, publishers and other assocations to define what the standards for the industry should be," Kaplowitz says. "Some sites will not comply, but that has to be their decision."
Roughly 11 percent of the global internet population runs ad blockers, a 30 percent jump year-over-year, according to PageFair. The research indicates that a vast majority of people already using ad blockers are also unlikely to uninstall the software.