Chrome’s new ad blocker limiting extension platform will launch in 2023


Google’s journey to Chrome’s “Manifest V3” has been going on for four years now, and if the company’s new schedule holds up, we’ll all be forced to spend year five there. “Manifest V3” is the rather unintuitive name for the next version of Chrome’s extension platform. The update is controversial because it makes ad blockers less effective under the guise of protecting privacy and security, and Google happens to be the world’s largest advertising company.

from google latest blog post details the new timeline for the transition to Manifest V3, which involves ending support for older extensions running on Manifest V2 and forcing everyone onto the new platform. Starting in January 2023 with Chrome version 112, Google “may perform experiments to disable support for Manifest V2 extensions in Canary, Dev, and Beta channels.” As of June 2023 and Chrome 115, Google “may perform experiments to disable support for Manifest V2 extensions in all channels, including the stable channel”. Also from June, the Chrome Web Store will stop accepting Manifest V2 extensions and they will be hidden. In January 2024, Manifest V2 extensions will be removed from the store entirely.

Google said Manifest V3 is “one of the biggest changes to the expansions platform since its launch a decade ago.” The company says the more limited platform is meant to bring “security, privacy, and performance improvements.” Privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) disputes this description and says that if Google really cared about the security of the extension store, it could just control the store more actively using real humans instead of limiting the capabilities of all extensions.

The big killer for ad block extensions comes from changes to how network request changes work. Google says that “rather than intercepting a request and procedurally modifying it, the extension instructs Chrome to evaluate and modify requests on its behalf.” Chrome’s built-in solution forces ad blockers and privacy extensions to use the primitive solution of a raw list of blocked URLs rather than the dynamic filter rules implemented by something like uBlock Origin. This list of URLs is limited to 30,000 entries, whereas a normal ad unit extension can contain over 300,000 rules.

It is very concerning that Google is using its position as the world’s largest browser vendor to protect Google’s business model by crippling ad blockers and privacy protection extensions. Few months ago, EFF called Manifest V3 “misleading and menacing”. The privacy group said Manifest V3 “will restrict the capabilities of web extensions, especially those designed to monitor, modify, and compute alongside the conversation your browser has with the websites you visit. According to new specs, extensions like these, like some privacy-protecting tracker blockers – will have significantly reduced capabilities.”

The EFF punched holes in most of Google’s justifications for Manifest V3’s changes, saying that malicious extensions are primarily interested in data theft and that Manifest V3 only prevents extensions from blocking data, not stealing it. inspect, so Google does little to stop bad actors. . The report says performance isn’t a valid excuse either, citing a study showing that downloading and rendering advertisements degrades browser performance.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, Google’s advertising division seems to have a growing influence on Chrome’s design. The company refuses to block tracking cookies until it can first build tracking and advertising directly into Chrome.

Several extension developers are working on solutions in the Manifest V3 sandbox. There’s no way to know the end-user impact until these solutions are developed and Google kills the existing extension platform, but the loud rollout of user-unfriendly changes seems to be one of the few things that could hurt Chrome’s market share. Firefox is still around, with an infinite number of Chromium forks.


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