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Handling Heavy Ad Interventions

Ads that consume a disproportionate amount of resources on a device negatively impact the user’s experience—from the obvious effects of degrading performance to less visible consequences such as draining the battery or eating up bandwidth allowances. These ads range from the actively malicious, such as cryptocurrency miners, through to genuine content with inadvertent bugs or performance issues.

Chrome is experimenting with setting limits on the resources an ad may use and unloading that ad if the limits are exceeded. You can read the announcement on the Chromium blog for more details. The mechanism used for unloading ads is the Heavy Ad Intervention.

Heavy Ad criteria

An ad is considered heavy if the user has not interacted with it (for example, has not tapped or clicked it) and it meets any of the following criteria:

  • Uses the main thread for more than 60 seconds in total
  • Uses the main thread for more than 15 seconds in any 30 second window
  • Uses more than 4 megabytes of network bandwidth

All resources used by any descendant iframes of the ad frame count against the limits for intervening on that ad. It’s important to note that the main thread time limits are not the same as elapsed time since loading the ad. The limits are on how long the CPU takes to execute the ad's code.

Testing the intervention

You can test the new intervention in Chrome 84 and upwards.

  • Enable chrome://flags/#enable-heavy-ad-intervention
  • Disable chrome://flags/#heavy-ad-privacy-mitigations

Setting chrome://flags/#enable-heavy-ad-intervention to Enabled activates the new behavior, but by default there is some noise and variability added to the thresholds to protect user privacy. Setting chrome://flags/#heavy-ad-privacy-mitigations to Disabled prevents this, meaning the restrictions are applied deterministically, purely according to the limits. This should make debugging and testing easier.

When the intervention is triggered you should see the content in the iframe for a heavy ad replaced with an Ad removed message. If you follow the included Details link, you will see a message explaining: "This ad uses too many resources for your device, so Chrome removed it."

You can see the intervention applied to sample content on heavy-ads.glitch.me You can also use this test site to load an arbitrary URL as a quick way of testing your own content.

Be aware when testing that there are a number of reasons that may prevent an intervention being applied.

  • Reloading the same ad within the same page will exempt that combination from the intervention. Clearing your browsing history and opening the page in a new tag can help here.
  • Ensure the page remains in focus - backgrounding the page (switching to another window) will pause task queues for the page, and so will not trigger the CPU intervention.
  • Ensure you do not tap or click ad content while testing - the intervention will not be applied to content that receives any user interaction.

What do you need to do?

You show ads from a third-party provider on your site

No action needed, just be aware that users may see ads that exceed the limits removed when on your site.

You show first-party ads on your site or you provide ads for third-party display

Continue reading to ensure you implement the necessary monitoring via the Reporting API for Heavy Ad interventions.

You create ad content or you maintain a tool for creating ad content

Continue reading to ensure that you are aware of how to test your content for performance and resource usage issues. You should also refer to the guidance on the ad platforms of your choice as they may provide additional technical advice or restrictions, for example, see the Google Guidelines for display creatives. Consider building configurable thresholds directly into your authoring tools to prevent poor performing ads escaping into the wild.

What happens when an ad is removed?

An intervention in Chrome is reported via the aptly named Reporting API with an intervention report type. You can use the Reporting API to be notified about interventions either by a POST request to a reporting endpoint or within your JavaScript.

These reports are triggered on the root ad-tagged iframe along with all of its descendants, i.e. every frame unloaded by the intervention. This means that if an ad comes from a third-party source, i.e. a cross-site iframe, then it’s up to that third-party (for example, the ad provider) to handle the report.

To configure the page for HTTP reports, the response should include the Report-To header:

Report-To: { "url": "https://example.com/reports", "max_age": 86400 }

The POST request triggered will include a report like this:

POST /reports HTTP/1.1
Host: example.com
…
Content-Type: application/report

[{
 "type": "intervention",
 "age": 60,
 "url": "https://example.com/url/of/ad.html",
 "body": {
   "sourceFile": null,
   "lineNumber": null,
   "columnNumber": null,
   "id": "HeavyAdIntervention",
   "message": "Ad was removed because its CPU usage exceeded the limit. See https://www.chromestatus.com/feature/4800491902992384"
 }
}]

The JavaScript API provides the ReportingObserver with an observe() method that can be used to trigger a provided callback on interventions. This can be useful if you want to attach additional information to the report to aid in debugging.

// callback that will handle intervention reports
function sendReports(reports) {
  for (let report of reports) {
    // Log the `report` json via your own reporting process
    navigator.sendBeacon('https://report.example/your-endpoint', report);
  }
}

// create the observer with the callback
const observer = new ReportingObserver(
  (reports, observer) => {
    sendReports(reports);
  },
  { buffered: true }
);

// start watching for interventions
observer.observe();

However, because the intervention will literally remove the page from the iframe, you should add a failsafe to ensure that the report is definitely captured before the page is gone completely, for example, an ad within an iframe. For this, you can hook your same callback into the unload event.

window.addEventListener('unload', (event) => {
  // pull all pending reports from the queue
  let reports = observer.takeRecords();
  sendReports(reports);
});

The resulting JSON from the JavaScript is similar to that sent on the POST request:

[
  {
    type: 'intervention',
    url: 'https://example.com/url/of/ad.html',
    body: {
      sourceFile: null,
      lineNumber: null,
      columnNumber: null,
      id: 'HeavyAdIntervention',
      message:
        'Ad was removed because its network usage exceeded the limit. See https://www.chromestatus.com/feature/4800491902992384',
    },
  },
];

Diagnosing the cause of an intervention

Ad content is just web content, so make use of tools like Lighthouse to audit the overall performance of your content. The resulting audits provide inline guidance on improvements. You can also refer to the web.dev/fast collection.

You may find it helpful to test your ad in a more isolated context. You can use the custom URL option on https://heavy-ads.glitch.me to test this with a ready-made, ad-tagged iframe. You can use Chrome DevTools to validate content has been tagged as an ad. In the Rendering panel (accessible via the three dot menu then More Tools > Rendering) select "Highlight Ad Frames". If testing content in the top-level window or other context where it is not tagged as an ad the intervention will not be triggered, but you can still manually check against the thresholds.

Network usage

Bring up the Network panel in Chrome DevTools to see the overall network activity for the ad. You will want to ensure the "Disable cache" option is checked to get consistent results over repeated loads.

Network panel in DevTools.
Network panel in DevTools.

The transferred value at the bottom of the page will show you the amount transferred for the entire page. Consider using the Filter input at the top to restrict the requests just to the ones related to the ad.

If you find the initial request for the ad, for example, the source for the iframe, you can also use the Initiator tab within the request to see all of the requests it triggers.

Initiator tab for a request.
Initiator tab for a request.

Sorting the overall list of requests by size is a good way to spot overly large resources. Common culprits include images and videos that have not been optimized.

Sort requests by response size.
Sort requests by response size.

Additionally, sorting by name can be a good way to spot repeated requests. It may not be a single large resource triggering the intervention, but a large number of repeated requests that incrementally go over the limit.

CPU usage

The Performance panel in DevTools will help diagnose CPU usage issues. The first step is to open up the Capture Settings menu. Use the CPU dropdown to slow down the CPU as much as possible. The interventions for CPU are far more likely to trigger on lower-powered devices than high-end development machines.

Enable network and CPU throttling in the Performance panel.
Enable network and CPU throttling in the Performance panel.

Next, click the Record button to begin recording activity. You may want to experiment with when and how long you record for, as a long trace can take quite a while to load. Once the recording is loaded you can use the top timeline to select a portion of the recording. Focus on areas on the graph in solid yellow, purple, or green that represent scripting, rendering, and painting.

Summary of a trace in the Performance panel.
Summary of a trace in the Performance panel.

Explore the Bottom-Up, Call Tree, and Event Log tabs at the bottom. Sorting those columns by Self Time and Total Time can help identify bottlenecks in the code.

Sort by Self Time in the Bottom-Up tab.
Sort by Self Time in the Bottom-Up tab.

The associated source file is also linked there, so you can follow it through to the Sources panel to examine the cost of each line.

Execution time shown in the Sources panel.
Execution time shown in the Sources panel.

Common issues to look for here are poorly optimized animations that are triggering continuous layout and paint or costly operations that are hidden within an included library.

How to report incorrect interventions

Chrome tags content as an ad by matching resource requests against a filter list. If non-ad content has been tagged, consider changing that code to avoid matching the filtering rules. If you suspect an intervention has been incorrectly applied, then you can raise an issue via this template. Please ensure you have captured an example of the intervention report and have a sample URL to reproduce the issue.

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