Fatigue from relentless targeted online advertising has spurred a growing share of internet users to download ad blockers – browser extensions that remove digital ads from websites. In fact, more than one in four U.S. internet users removed digital ads from Web pages with an ad blocker this year, according to a report by eMarketer.

That’s bad news for ad tech firms and publishers who rely on selling ads to make money. Rubicon Project of Playa Vista is trying to solve the problem through a new Google Chrome browser extension, codenamed Project Awesome, which empowers users to tailor the ads they view and give feedback to advertisers. The company launched a beta version of the extension this month.

Users can block, snooze, or like ads they see within the extension. Based on that feedback, Rubicon will attempt to serve ads that are relevant to individuals. Users can further tailor ads they view by describing their preferences within a profile, which is kept anonymous from advertisers.

For example, a user could express an interest in traveling to Hawaii via a profile, said Tim McQuillen, who runs the Rubicon incubator that developed the extension.

“Advertisers can be notified that I’m in market to go on a trip and send me deals,” he said.

Project Awesome works in a similar way to an ad preference tool named AdChoices, which was released by industry group Digital Advertising Alliance in 2010. That tool allows users to indicate they don’t want to see an advertisement again.

Project Awesome differs in that it allows users to give positive and negative feedback about ads they are being served, said Shekhar Yadav, Rubicon’s executive vice president of innovation.

“AdChoices was more of a reactive thing that the industry did,” he said. “We are more of a proactive solution to figure out what the consumers want.”

The company doesn’t plan to generate revenue directly from Project Awesome. Instead, it will push the tool as a means to improve advertiser-user relations and as a way to improve the perceived value of ads, which Rubicon is betting will help raise prices, said Dallas Lawrence, the firm’s chief communications officer.

“Our business benefits when the entire ecosystem grows,” he said. “The more money that comes into digital advertising the better for us.”

Mobile VR Move

In a move to enter the burgeoning virtual reality gaming industry, Seismic Games of Palms last week purchased Grue Games of West Los Angeles for an undisclosed amount.

Grue was launched this year and has been working on as-yet unreleased virtual reality and augmented reality games. Seismic, meanwhile, specializes in developing games for mobile phones, such as “Skylanders Battlecast.”

Grue’s 15 employees will add to Seismic’s development expertise, especially in the area of virtual reality, said Greg Borrud, Seismic’s chief executive.

“We just didn’t have the capacity to push virtual reality in a meaningful way,” he said. “This is a way where we could add this team and start to play in the VR space.”

Seismic will continue to develop games for mobile phones, though its projects will now have a virtual reality component, he added. Mobile phones can act as virtual reality display screens when placed inside headsets such as the Samsung Galaxy VR.

“I’m a firm believer that mobile VR has one of the best shots of being the platform of choice for VR,” said Borrud. “It’s a device that everybody owns, so the barrier to entry is low. We can get some really great visuals out of iPhones and Android devices.”

It’s a Snap

Latino digital content producer mitú Inc. of Santa Monica has launched a Discover channel on Snapchat, according to a press release. Starting on Dec. 13, mitú will create exclusive videos, articles, photos and animations on the platform.

“It’s important to us to provide editorial perspectives that fully reflect all members of our community,” said Nick Bell, Snap Inc.’s vice president of content, in a statement. “(It’s) equally important to find the right partner with a unique and authentic point of view. Snapchat and mitú have a lot in common.”

Meanwhile, Snapchat users have the opportunity to win an official award from the Tribeca Film Festival next year through a partnership between the Venice app maker and Tribeca Enterprises, which operates the festival. The Tribeca Snapchat Shorts program, now in its second year, allows Snapchat users to submit edited snaps to the festival and have their work judged by Eva Longoria, Jason Biggs, and Serena Williams, among others.

Staff Reporter Garrett Reim can be reached at greim@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 232.

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