Better late than never... Google Chrome to kill off 'tiny' number of mobile web ads that gobble battery, CPU power

Could have done with this years ago to stave off rise of advert blockers but fine, OK, whatever, now it's coming


Google is preparing to starve resource-hungry ads that drain mobile device batteries and consume network resources.

Come August, Chrome will exile what it calls "heavy ads" from the browser window, in the hope fewer users will be vexed by malicious, buggy, or overly demanding pitches.

"We have recently discovered that a fraction of a percent of ads consume a disproportionate share of device resources, such as battery and network data, without the user knowing about it," said Marshall Vale, Chrome product manager, in a blog post on Thursday.

"These ads (such as those that mine cryptocurrency, are poorly programmed, or are unoptimized for network usage) can drain battery life, saturate already strained networks, and cost money."

If Google only made this discovery recently, the ad-slinging biz clearly hasn't been paying attention. By 2018, cryptomining ads were widely reported on, and web page bloat has been a concern for at least a decade. The median desktop web page now tops 2MB and the median mobile web page is close behind at 1.9MB, up from 0.5MB and 0.2MB in 2011, respectively.

Ads only account for a portion of the weight of a web page but it's been clear for years that much of that baggage can be blocked for a better browsing experience. One of the reasons internet users have adopted ad blocking extensions is that they save network resources, "around 25- 34% savings in the amount of data transferred (on average)," according to a 2017 research paper [PDF].

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Every now and again Google and its ad industry allies acknowledge abusive ad practices with reform initiatives. In 2017, the Chocolate Factory said that Chrome in 2018 will start block ads, including its own, on websites that fail to comply with Better Ads Standards.

And last year, the biz extended its certification program, through which web publishers promise not to show intrusive ads like pop-ups, worldwide.

The sub-one per cent

Mind you, Google insists misbehaving ads are a tiny problem. Less than one per cent last year were being filtered for falling short of industry annoyance standards.

And the situation is similar, it's claimed, for heavy ads. Only 0.3 percent of ads exceed the Chrome-defined threshold for hogging resources: 4MB of network data or 15 seconds of CPU usage in any 30 second period, or 60 seconds of CPU usage total. An ad will not be deemed "heavy" if the user has interacted with it.

Nonetheless, this almost insignificant fraction of ads demand a substantial portion of available computing resources. According to Vale, the 0.3 per cent of ads defined as heavy "account for 26 per cent of network data used by ads and 28 per cent of all ad CPU usage."

To rid the world of these digital behemoths, Google intends to implement its intervention – unloading heavy ads so they don't display or run code and replacing it with an ad removed message – toward the end of August. That's when Chrome 85 is scheduled to reach the stable release channel.

Google has provided technical guidance to web publishers so they can monitor for heavy ads and implement a diet protocol. ®


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