Google said Monday it will soon provide users with a capability that has been available for years through third-party browser extensions: the ability to block ads.
Google characterizes this forthcoming feature--available in a few weeks--as a "mute this ad" button rather than an ad-blocking button.
Google's choice of words is imprecise. Muting generally refers to audio made inaudible; it can be applied to the visual realm, but muted colors remain present in a less vibrant shade, unlike muted sounds or muted ads.
Google's mute button, designated by an "[x]" in the upper right-hand corner of some Google Display Network ads, will affect ad visibility rather than audibility. Perhaps Google opted for more figurative terminology to avoid spooking its advertising customers with talk of ad blocking, while still appealing to its end users and regulators.
Google product manager Michael Aiello in a blog post cites ways in which Google has given users more control over the ads they see, such as YouTube's TrueView ad product, which allows users to skip video ads, and Google's Ads Preferences Manager, which allows users to edit advertising interest categories or to opt out of online ads, including remarketing done through the Google Display Network.
Remarketing refers to the way that advertisers target website visitors based on a cookie file placed at a previously visited website. Google plans to begin deploying its "mute this ad" button on ads delivered via remarketing and interest categories. This will give Internet users the opportunity to silence unwanted ads that follow them from website to website.
Aiello says that the mute button has some limitations. "The muting is not a 100% guarantee you won't see that ad again as a consumer--for example, the same ad could be shown by a different ad company, or the marketer could run a separate campaign targeting specific Web content," he explains. "But we believe it's an early step in the right direction of giving users control over ads, while helping marketers and websites deliver ads that perform better."
Author and ad company entrepreneur John Battelle in a blog post said he was glad to see Google innovating in advertising, even if belatedly. One person commenting on Battelle's post observed that the subtext of Google's announcement was, "Please don't use ad-blockers, because you can choose which ad we will show you."
Here's Aiello's translation of that sentiment: "Online advertising underpins the Web and supports millions of businesses," he said. "It's already unique in the level of control it can offer users."