Will Google Chrome kill your ad blockers?

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Last September, the Chrome navigator underwent a major overhaul. Since the release of Chrome 69, Google has indicated that it wants to improve security and the user experience. With this in mind, the Mountain View firm and the developers of Chromium, the open source project that created Chrome, are working on the delicate issue of extension management.

The management of extensions is problematic

The management of extensions is a recurring problem for Google and its competitors (Mozilla, Opera, etc.). These publishers regularly remove add-ons from their catalogs because they have proven to be malicious or dangerous to users’ privacy. Recently, a French researcher showed that nearly 200 add-ons of Firefox, Opera and Chrome could be used to steal sensitive data. To solve this problem, Google proposes to tighten the rules governing the management of Chromium-based extensions through its “Manifest”.

What is the Manifest?

An application manifest is a document that provides a set of information about an application. Chromium-based browser extensions are subject to the browser’s manifest. Google engineers are currently working on the new version of this manifesto (Manifest V3). According to the Mountain View firm, adding restrictions targeting extensions would improve user safety and speed up navigation.

What impact on ad blockers?

In this manifesto, Google states the idea of “restricting the blocking capabilities[of HTTP requests] of the webRequest API”. And that’s where the problem lies, this change would have a direct impact on ad blockers. Indeed, ad blockers such as uBlock Origin and uMatrix work precisely thanks to the Webrequest API.

uBlock origin logo

Official uBlock Origin logo

The Chromium developers propose an alternative: the declarativeNetRequest API. In their view, the latter offers better guarantees for users’ privacy. Unlike the WebRequest API, it would allow Chromium (and Chrome) to directly manage requests rather than forward them to the antipub extension. The problem is that the development of uBlock Origin and uMatrix is based on Webrequest.

Raymond Hill, the developer of these two ad blocking solutions, expressed his skepticism in the Chromium bug tracker. According to him, the implementation of the restrictive declarative APINetRequest would mean the end of its extensions and other add-ons based on a similar operation.

What are the consequences for the user?

The information to remember despite the alarmist articles published in France and across the Atlantic is that nothing has yet been decided. Discussions are still ongoing, and the solution proposed by the Chromium developers is therefore not accepted.

The implementation of this new API would obviously allow Google to offer its own ad blocker. The user would therefore always be “protected” against invasive advertising content. The Almighty Google would thus kill two birds with one stone: eliminate a few competitors while offering a more or less equivalent service. The Chrome advertising blocker could be activated this summer. Note that the other tenor of AdBlock ad blocking would not be impacted by Google’s new rules, as its development does not depend mainly on the Webrequest API.

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