Google Chrome API changes may disable most ad blockers
The company says the changes are about page speed, security and user privacy; critics are more cynical about Google's motives.
According to multiple reports, Google is readying changes to Chromium, which is the software behind the Chrome browser and soon Microsoft Edge. The discussion and issues are relatively technical and apply to Chrome extensions generally; however, one practical impact would be to disable most ad blockers.
Why Google has proposed the change. Google first discussed the proposed changes in a late 2018 blog post. It said then that the platform changes “aim to create stronger security, privacy, and performance guarantees.” They will include “more narrowly-scoped and declarative APIs, to decrease the need for overly-broad access and enable more performant implementation by the browser, while preserving important functionality.”
In plain English, Google believes these changes are needed to speed up page load times and make the browser more secure because extensions can both slow down pages and be malicious.
Google also provided the following statement to us in email: “These changes are in the design process, as mentioned in Manifest v3 and the Chromium bug. We want to make sure all fundamental use cases are still possible with these changes and are working with extension developers to make sure their extensions continue to work while optimizing the extensions platform and better protecting our users.”
What the critics are saying. Some developers have expressed alarm about the impact of the changes on ad blocking and content filtering capabilities of Chrome extensions. Raymond Hill, a developer who has been widely quoted, argues that the changes will kill his uBlock Origin and uMatrix extensions. He says that the Manifest v3 proposal will take control away from users: “Extensions act on behalf of users, they add capabilities to a user agent, and deprecating the blocking ability of the webRequest API will essentially decrease the level of user agency in Chromium, to the benefit of web sites which obviously would be happy to have the last word in what resources their pages can fetch/execute/render.”
Not all ad blockers will reportedly be disabled. The filtering capabilities behind Adblock Plus will apparently survive. Adblock Plus allows third parties to pay to enable their ads to bypass blocking. Among those paying Adblock Plus for whitelist access are Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others.
Why you should care. While it’s still possible that Google will modify its decision after objections from developers, it appears that some popular ad blockers will soon no longer work. But because this is a relatively obscure debate within the developer community it may have little impact on user behavior (e.g., browser switching). Marketers will undoubtedly welcome the move to limit ad blocking, but it could reinforce the perception that Google is prioritizing revenue over the user experience.