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Home » Chrome’s new extension rules could hinder ad blockers

Chrome’s new extension rules could hinder ad blockers

Google announced this week that Chrome browser extensions written to conform only to its outgoing Manifest V2 specification may no longer work as of January 2023.

Thereafter, Chrome will only support extensions that comply with the Manifest V3 rules, which could mean the end of some ad blockers and privacy extensions.

“For years, Manifest V3 has been more secure, performant and preserving privacy than its predecessor,” David Li, product manager for Chrome Extensions and the Chrome Web Store, said in a blog post. “This is an evolution of the extension platform that takes into account both the evolving web landscape and the future of browser extensions.”

Li said the new Manifest V2 extensions will not be accepted by the Chrome Web Store after January 17, 2022, in three and a half months. Developers can still release updates to existing Manifest V2 extensions.

As of January 2023, Chrome will no longer run Manifest V2 extensions at all. Li said Google will share more details as those dates get closer. There is a more detailed timeline posted here.

Safer…

Google says the overhaul of the Chrome browser extension framework will fix security concerns, a claim it made when Manifest V3 was first introduced in 2019.

This is certainly a legitimate concern, as malicious browser extensions have crept into the Chrome Web Store over the past few years, although Google appears to have handled extensions better in 2021. Many extensions have abused their powers. held. under Manifest V2 to spy on users and steal sensitive information.

Some experts, however, are not convinced whether it is about user security or privacy.

“Our criticism is still relevant,” Alexei Miagkov, senior technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Register. “The reasons they have stated publicly [for this transition] doesn’t quite make sense. “

In 2019, Miagkov co-authored an EFF report which stated that “Manifest V3 is a blunt instrument that will do little to improve safety while severely limiting future innovation.”

A widely used browser extension that probably won’t work under Manifest V3 is the EFF’s Privacy Badger, which blocks web trackers.

… or more suitable for advertisements?

An annual report that Google filed in early 2019 with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicated that ad blocking technology could affect Google’s revenue. Google also pays Adblock Plus to whitelist its online advertising, and Adblock Plus appears to be compliant with Manifest V3.

Around the same time, Raymond Hill, who manages the free ad blockers uBlock Origin and uMatrix, posted on a Chromium developer forum that Manifest V3 meant its two ad blockers could not “exist anymore.” (Chromium is the open source platform that Chrome and many other browsers are built on.)

Along with Hill, other suspicious minds wonder if nuclear ad blockers might be the real reason for Manifest V3’s overhaul of browser extension permissions.

Still, Simeon Vincent, a developer advocate for Chrome extensions, said later in 2019 that Manifest V3 would not turn off ad blockers but instead allow developers to create better ad blockers.

It’s unclear how much money Google and publishers lose to ad blockers, but the company’s claim that Manifest V3 will help developers create better ad blockers seems somewhat unlikely.

An opportunity for competing browsers?

It will be interesting to see what happens when and if many ad blockers and privacy extensions stop working on Google Chrome, but competing browsers continue to support them.

Firefox maker Mozilla says it will support Manifest V3 but will also let ad blockers work; Microsoft has hinted that it will do the same in Edge. Brave, like Edge, is based on Chromium but says it blocks ads (by default) at a deep level that won’t be affected by Manifest V3.

Chrome currently holds about two-thirds of the global desktop browser market, according to StatCounter. The others are all below the 10% mark. If Chrome gets rid of ad blockers and others don’t, it could be a chance for them to get a bigger slice of the pie.

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