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Google Chrome Swallows Pop-Up Ads, Advertisers Still Get Billed

The browser actually loads pop-up ads even though they won't be seen unless users choose to maximize the pop-up ad windows that Chrome has minimized.

Google's new Chrome browser, if widely adopted, is likely to have a significant impact on Internet advertising.

Perhaps surprisingly for a company that depends on online ad revenue, Google has included pop-up ad concealment in Chrome. "In terms of building Chrome, it was really designed with the user in mind," a Google spokesperson explained.

Ad concealment is distinct from ad blocking because Chrome actually loads pop-up ads. This is typically a billable event, even though the ads won't be seen unless users choose to maximize the pop-up ad windows that Chrome has minimized.

As a consequence, the use of Chrome may result in billings to advertisers for cost-per-impression pop-up ads that were never viewed.

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The Firefox plug-in Adblock Plus prevents ads from being loaded and thus prevents advertisers from being billed for unseen ads. "This is not necessarily true for other ad-blocking solutions, however," Wladimir Palant, the software's creator, said in an e-mail.

Palant estimates that 5% of Firefox users, representing almost 1% of Internet users as Firefox's market share approaches 20%, use Adblock Plus.

Tom Charvet, technical founder of online ad auditing company Click Forensics, said that based on comments from the engineers he has spoken with, the typical ad blocker stops any ad impression from being recorded.

"That scenario would not trigger a billable event," he said. "I can't say 100% that this is how every ad blocker works, but it seems safe to say that's probably how all of them work."

If indeed this proves to be an issue, it won't affect Google's AdWords customers because Google doesn't sell pop-up ads. But third-party ad networks could see this as another reason to move away from pop-up ads, a format considered to be an irritant by many Internet users.

Another Chrome feature that may affect practices in the online ad industry is Incognito, the browser's privacy mode, which prevents local files from recording the user's browsing activities. Incognito, like Internet Explorer 8's InPrivate mode and Safari's Private Browsing mode, interferes with the placement of cookie files that advertisers use for ad tracking and targeting. Mozilla is planning a similar privacy mode for future versions of Firefox.

As Chrome, Internet Explorer 8, and Safari displace browsers like IE7 and IE6 that lack privacy modes, advertisers won't be able to rely on cookies as often to help them deliver targeted display ads.

Google's decision to combine Chrome's URL address box with its search box also could affect advertisers. Because Chrome will suggest sites and searches, the URLs and keywords that users enter are likely to be skewed toward the links and terms Google suggests. This should reduce typo traffic, making parked domains and typo sites less profitable, and increase the usage of popular keywords, making those words more expensive for advertisers to buy.

Chrome should help Google and its advertisers by removing menu bars and buttons, a move that promises more monetizable screen real estate in the browser. Finally, Chrome's speed enhancements should lead to more searches being conducted in any given amount of time.

Such changes, however, depend on Chrome's adoption among Internet users. Barring a major distribution deal, it's likely to be years before Chrome's market share hits the double digits.

Take a spin through our Google Chrome image gallery and have a look at the browser that's being touted as a game-changer.

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