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Chrome anti-competitive?

16 February 2018

Google's Chrome browser now has a feature that will reportedly stop 97 percent of all those really annoying ads from interrupting your browsing experience.

Apparently it will also deal-to those nasty and annoying auto-play videos, such as the ones run by Stuff (but which *I* never see because I've configured FireFox to stop all autoplay stuff anyway).

In the past, Google has been quite good in respect to its advertising network, demanding strict adherence to a code of conduct that prevented things such as full-page pop-up ads and other really annoying ways of delivering an advertiser's message. Indeed, this site runs Google Ads solely because they're unobtrusive and don't interfere with readers' access to content.

It is clear that the changes to Chrome are a good thing, from the perspective of your average web-surfer. However, might they be considered anti-competitive by the authorities that make such judgments?

There are plenty of small ad networks and websites that use far more intrusive ad formats and will thus find that *their* messages no longer appear on the screens of people using Chrome as their browser.

It is pretty easy therefore, to make the assertion that Google's move is an anti-competitive one insomuch as it favours its own advertisements whilst blocking those from others.

I guess the defense would be simply "we are not blocking ads on the basis of who serves them, simply on the basis of what our users consider is acceptable and they can disable the blocking feature if they choose to".

But seriously, I'm pretty sure there are more than a few sleazy sites which rely very heavily on bombarding visitors with pop-up ads, interstitials, auto-play video-messages and much more. If those formats are blocked by Chrome, the economics of those sites may be shattered and that will leave some very unhappy operators.

In the past we've always had a range of third-party ad-blocking plug-ins and extensions to choose from. These bits of code generally did a pretty good job of protecting against the worst of the ad formats -- so why the big fuss over Chrome?

Well none of those third-party offerings were produced by a company which also ran its own ad network. Chrome is a Google product and Google is also the largest online advertising network in the world.

Now I'm all in favour of blocking nasty ad-formats such as those which Chrome will now crush. However, I'm also dead-set against any company using its dominance or unique position to unfairly and unreasonably crush competition in the marketplace.

It appears we are on the horns of a dilemma here.

Does the ends justify the means in this case?

Yeah, I'll side with Google -- if only because Google, although evil, is not as evil as those who seek to bring my computer to its knees and fill my screen with their unsolicited crap.

However, we must remember to keep a close eye on Google. It has long ago abandoned the mantra ("Don't be evil") that so endeared the company to the online world. Since its massive growth and success, it has adopted the universal mantra of the corporate world: "make more money". That in and of itself is not a bad thing because that's what corporates are designed to do. However, when any company loses track of the things that made it great, it becomes vulnerable.

Remember when IBM was *the* computer company?

Remember when Xerox was *the* office automation company?

Remember when AltaVista was *the* internet search site?

The only constant in the world is change and whilst Google may easily get away with crushing its opposition this time, eventually we will see it fail. They need to tread carefully from this point forward.

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