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Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

Google is rolling out an ad blocker in its Chrome web browser on February 15th, the company announced Tuesday. The blocker would filter out ads that are deemed intrusive based on standards that have been mapped out by a third-party group called the Coalition for Better Ads, which includes some of the biggest advertising heavyweights, like Facebook, Google, Group M, Procter and Gamble and The Washington Post.

Why it matters: The move is meant to help clean up the web, and create better ad experiences for all Chrome users, but some see it as an antitrust problem, because the world's biggest advertiser will have the ability to block ads through a browser it owns.

While U.S. antitrust officials have been pretty quiet about the news since this summer, E.U. regulators have been more vocal about their concerns. In response to the implementation news over the summer, European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager responded on Twitter: "We will follow this new feature and it's effects closely."

Others think an antitrust argument would be difficult to make. "If the ad-blocker improves Chrome by building into it the ability to thwart harmful ads (say, ads with malware or that slow computers) regardless of ad platform, and if users can continue to install other ad-blockers, an antitrust case would be a very hard sell," says Geoffrey A. Manne, Executive Director of the International Center for Law & Economics.

The antitrust argument goes beyond Google preventing publishers from traffic, as Axios noted when the news first broke.

  • The moves gives Google more control over ad-blocking: More than a quarter of U.S. internet users use ad blockers, and that number has been steadily increasing, according to estimates by eMarketer. Google would rather use its own ad-blocking tech and have control over consumers' ad-blocking preferences, than push them to use blockers from third-parties.
  • It also positions Google to make more money by restricting other publishers in the market from having their ads load through its Chrome browser. Roughly 88% of Google's total revenue comes from advertising. (Google will account for 40.7% of U.S. digital ad revenue this year — roughly 40% of the display market and 80% of the search market.)
  • The update helps Google expand its search dominance: Google Chrome dominates search market share, with over 51% of the desktop audience using Chrome, compared to the second-largest browser, Internet Explorer, used by 17% of U.S. Internet users, according to comScore. Adding a built-in ad blocker could lure more users, who find third-party ad blocking technology difficult to navigate.

Non-compliant publishers will feel the burn. Even though Google has been working with publishers for months to prepare them for the change, many are still not compliant. The new rule mandates that publishers cannot have a "failing" status by the Coalition's standards for more than 30 days. Many of the web's most popular publishers are still not compliant, and will likely lose lots of referral traffic.

  • The types of ad formats that are unacceptable are likely ones you engage with every day like pop-ups
  • For publishers, Google Search News traffic makes up a very large percentage of their referral traffic to their websites.
  • Parse.ly, a website analytics company, finds that Google referral traffic has overtaken Facebook as the number one referrer of web traffic to publishers in the digital ecosystem.

Our thought bubble: Publishers are going to have to go through some tough sales conversations to become compliant, and it will likely be costly. Although it's a step in the right direction for everyone to create less-invasive ad formats, it's hard for publishers to convert all of their old inventory over, especially when a lot of it is already sold. Google gave publishers roughly six months to sort this out, but some could argue that's just not enough time to peel back millions of dollars of business and reallocate it appropriately.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel almost resigned over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel almost resigned in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelations stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

NRA declares bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment."

The big picture: The move comes just months after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.