Ad loading times allegedly throttled by Google to boost AMP

ad loading speads
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New court documents allege Google has deliberately throttled ad loading times to promote its AMP (Accelerated Mobile) pages. The antitrust action, originally brought by several US States against Google in December 2020, centres on anti-competitive practices in digital advertising. The fresh allegations have come as publisher scepticism at Google leadership grows.

  • Google introduced AMP in 2015 to speed the loading times of mobile web pages. It is presented as a web component framework that publishers can use to create ‘user-first’ websites, stories and ads. Though seen as effective in speeding content loading there have been complaints about the relatively slower speed of ad loading times.
  • The ongoing lawsuit alleges an inherent conflict of interest, with Google representing and charging fees to both advertisers and publishers, and also  controls the exchange where ad-sales transactions are taking place. This conflict is compounded by Google’s role in setting web standards through the dominance of Chrome in the browser market.
  • The fresh claims emerged from papers filed early in November 2021 and allege that AMP has been boosted by actively slowing ad loading times for other formats. A recent report in The Register concluded:

That Google would devise a standard from which it benefited is not surprising, but the allegation of deliberately delaying ads on other formats in order to promote it is disturbing.

Publisher trust

At the Chrome Dev Summit 2021 a host of initiatives from Google’s Privacy Sandbox to improvements to Core Web Vitals and performance tools were discussed. Paul Kinlan, Lead for Chrome Developer Relations, highlighted Google’s “vision for the web’s future” on the last day of the conference.

But during an live Q&A session with Chrome Leadership, the skepticism of many developers and publishers surfaced. The ex-AMP advisory board member Jeremy Keith asked:

Given the court proceedings against AMP, why should anyone trust FLOC or any other Google initiatives ostensibly focused on privacy?

Google management swerved the direct question, saying they couldn’t comment on the court case and choosing instead to focus on the work they are doing with the Privacy Sandbox. They said they were not asking for ‘blind trust’ with the Sandbox effort, but working in the open with the project and sharing developments as early as possible.

Writing ‘AMP has irreparably damaged publishers’ trust in Google-led initiatives’, Sarah Gooding said the response did little to change the minds of the  developer community. She believes Google continues to advocate for a number of controversial initiatives, even after some have landed the company in court and.

She says the fresh allegations around AMP compound the lack of trust and require ‘truly transparent’ answers. She describes how Google forced publishers to adopt AMP or lose mobile traffic and a spot in the Top Stories carousel.

The DOJ’s detailed description of how AMP was used as a vehicle for anticompetitive practices simply rubs salt in the wound after what publishers have been through in expending resources to support AMP versions of their websites.

Esther Kezia-Thorpe says that publishers she has spoken with have had a largely positive experience with AMP, both in terms of revenue and traffic. But without trust in Google’s ongoing transparency and belief in its underlying motivations, publisher support for future projects like FLOCs could be threatened.

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