First of all, let me say that I think it’s awesome that Google has finally created a simple solution to allow users to opt-out of advertising tracking. This new Chrome extension already seems like a much better idea than the somewhat convoluted controls or browser plug-ins that they’ve created in the past to placate government agencies and concerned users. It’s also great that Mozilla is taking the same steps — though I’m going to focus on Google here since their entire business revolves around ads. (Though I guess you could argue that Mozilla’s does indirectly as well since they’re business revolves around the revenue they get from Google.) And it’s even better that they’re open-sourcing the whole thing.
But let’s be honest here: this really doesn’t mean much of anything.
Depending on which stats you prefer, Google Chrome has about 10 percent of the total worldwide browser market share. Of those, a smaller percentage actually know what an extension is. Of those, a smaller percentage use them. Of those, a much smaller percentage are going to know what this opt-out extension is. And of those, an even smaller percentage are actually going to install it. (The same argument could be made for Firefox, as well.)
When all is said and done, a lot of people simply are not going to be opting-in to use this opt-out extension. Currently, the users/weekly installs numbers haven’t been tallied yet, but there are a whopping 11 ratings so far (all of which give it 5 out of 5 stars, as they should).
Again, that’s not to say Google shouldn’t be offering this tool. They absolutely should. But I just think we should be honest about what it really means: again, very little.
The types of users that are actually going to install this extension are users that have either already blocked or naturally block out online ads. These are not the users that butter Google’s bread. They’re not the masses that click on ads because they have no idea what they’re clicking on, or because they see some flashy keywords that appeal to them. These are the savvy users that generate little or no revenue for Google already.
As product managers Sean Harvey and Rajas Moonka note in their post on the Google Public Policy Blog (also interesting that this isn’t on the much more widely read Official Google Blog, no?):
Keep in mind that once you install the Keep My Opt-Outs extension, your experience of online ads may change: You may see the same ads repeatedly on particular websites, or see ads that are less relevant to you.
“Change” is Google’s subtle way of saying “get worse” here, obviously. And that’s probably true. I’ll certainly acknowledge that targeted ads actually are better than non-targeted ones which just flash junk you definitely don’t want in your face. And that’s apparently what you’re going to see if you use this extension. Well, unless you have an ad-blocker extension also installed. Which, again, if you know about this extension, there’s probably a pretty good chance you do.
The next paragraph is also interesting:
Importantly, we’ve designed the extension so that it should not otherwise interfere with your web browsing experience or website functionality. This new feature gives you significant control without compromising the revenue that fuels the web content that we all consume every day.
To me, that reads as if Google is saying: “Look, we recognize that those of you who will be installing this extension are not looking at or clicking on the ads anyway, but please remember that online ads fuel the entire web (and Google). Just go along with it. Don’t ruin this for everyone.”
This opt-out extension is a great step. It’s just not a giant step. In reality, it will mean very litte. And Google knows it. That’s why they’re fine with doing it — with some nudging from the FTC. (Also note: that Google is doing this via an extension rather than building it directly into Chrome as an option.)
On the flip side, if this extension were to be installed on a massive scale, it could conceivably cripple Google’s entire empire. And if they thought that would happen, obviously, Google wouldn’t be so ready and willing to offer this up.