Google ad boss: ad blockers are 'a blunt instrument and we need to be worried'

Sridhar RamaswamyGetty / Laura Cavanaugh

Google ads boss Sridhar Ramaswamy thinks the ad industry needs to hurry up and do something about bad ads and ad blockers.

Ad blocking software, which automatically nixes display advertising from websites, became a hot topic after an Apple operating system update allowed ad blocking on iPhones and iPads for the first time.

Although Ramaswamy made it clear that mobile advertising is still doing "incredibly well for Google and everybody else" while on stage at The Wall Street Journal's WSJDLive conference, he does see the growing popularity of the software as a cause for concern.

"Clearly [ad blockers] affect big companies. But the diversity of opinion that we get from the different blogs, from the small newspapers is that they all suffer when someone installs an ad blocker," he said. "In my mind, it's a very blunt instrument. And that's why we need to be worried."

People install ad blockers after they've had a poor experience, where a mobile web page is completely covered up by an ad, or they're unable to find the "X" in the corner, Ramaswamy says. Bad ads threaten to bring chaos for the whole industry.

"There needs to be more of a sustainable ad standard that we voluntarily define, and things in that standard should not get blocked," he said. "I think this is essential to us all for survival."

He said that Google has been in touch with the Internet Advertising Bureau, browser companies, and other industry execs. Meanwhile, AdBlock Plus has been working on getting together a board of people in the ad industry to create a criteria for which ads should be labeled as "acceptable." Acceptable ads would not get blocked.

Ramaswamy said they're looking to declare the standards quickly: "hopefully months."

On Google's Q3 earnings call later the same week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai echoed the same sentiment when asked about ad blocking. He too said that the key was making sure that the ad experience improves.

"It's clear that that are areas where the ad experience is getting in the way, it affects performance, and so we as industry need to collectively do all that better," he said. "And so we are going to work hard to do that."
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