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Google yesterday confirmed that Chrome is getting a built-in ad blocker that will block all the ads on a site (including Google’s own ads) if just one ad doesn’t meet certain standards. That’s right: Google, the company that makes the majority of its money from advertising, is building an ad blocker.
This alone is crazy. Google already has the world’s most popular browser and it’s plowing ahead building arguably the only feature that would really differentiate other browsers. I find it astounding that none of the other major browser makers managed to beat Google to the punch.
There is still time for Apple, Microsoft, and Mozilla to act. Google’s solution isn’t coming to Chrome until “early 2018,” a timeframe that could easily slip. Delivering an ad blocker directly in Safari, Edge, or Firefox this year could help these browsers in their fight with Chrome.
And yet, I don’t expect any of these companies to do anything but eventually follow in Google’s footsteps.
Apple moves way too slowly with Safari updates. Some have even gone as far to call Safari the new IE. Still, Apple loves playing up the security and privacy features of its macOS and iOS devices, slamming Google at every opportunity. It makes plenty of sense for Safari to have some sort of built-in ad blocker that not only protects users but also hurts Google’s bottom line.
I also don’t really expect Microsoft will do anything in time, despite the rumor of a native ad blocker in Edge back in March 2016. The company has certainly sped up its browser development compared to the IE days, but Edge is still only updated twice a year along with Windows 10. And the features in this year’s second release, the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, have already been announced.
Firefox Tracking Protection
That leaves Mozilla, the only company I can feasibly see not only getting something ready in time, but making sure it’s superior to what Chrome will have. Firefox could indeed steal Chrome’s thunder with a native ad blocker.
Like Google, Mozilla updates its browser every six weeks or so. The firm also likes to regularly point out it develops the only independent browser — meaning it’s not tied to a tech company that has priorities which often don’t align with the web. Furthermore, Firefox has already offered a feature called Tracking Protection since November 2015.
Just like how Chrome’s ad blocker won’t block all ads (if a site doesn’t have any low-quality ads, they all get shown), Firefox’s Tracking Protection also lets certain ads through. With Tracking Protection turned on, Firefox blocks website elements (ads, analytics trackers, and social share buttons) that could track you while you’re surfing the web, meaning it’s similar to add-ons like Ghostery and Privacy Badger. The problem is that Mozilla only offers Tracking Protection in Firefox’s Private Browsing mode (akin to Chrome’s Incognito or Edge’s InPrivate).
If Mozilla really wanted to one-up Google, it would bring Tracking Protection to the forefront of Firefox. In fact, Mozilla ran an experiment that enabled Tracking Protection outside of Private Browsing mode. While the company identified websites that didn’t function properly with the feature on, and identified domains which have been incorrectly classified as trackers, it ended the experiment and didn’t pull the trigger on bringing it to Firefox users.
“Making Tracking Protection available in Firefox outside of Private Browsing is certainly under consideration,” a Mozilla spokesperson told me a few months ago. “However, there are some websites which do not function properly when trackers are blocked.”
In other words, Mozilla is being a coward. Its reluctance and inaction have given Google the perfect opening to let Chrome further pound Firefox into the ground.
The feature wouldn’t even have to be enabled by default; Firefox could simply inform users about Tracking Protection and let them easily turn it on or off. The last step would be proper marketing: Firefox takes your privacy so seriously that it blocks ads and trackers more thoroughly than the ad blocker only coming to Chrome next year.
Unless Apple, Microsoft, or Mozilla act quickly, you can bet Chrome’s stranglehold on the browser market will tighten.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.
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