Google Retracts Proposal That Would Have Hobbled Chrome Ad Blockers

Posted on February 17, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud with 22 Comments

Google has retracted a controversial proposal that would have hindered the capabilities of Chrome-based ad blockers after a third-party study determined that the supposed performance benefits of doing so were imaginary. Or, as some are suggesting, invented by Google in an attempt to curb the blocking of ads, its core business.

“We are committed to preserving the extensions ecosystem on Chrome and ensuring that users can continue to customize the Chrome browser to meet their needs,” Google’s Devlin Cronin wrote in a post to the Chromium Extensions group on Google Groups.  “This includes continuing to support extensions, including content blockers, developer tools, accessibility features, and many others.  It is not, nor has it ever been, our goal to prevent or break content blocking.”

Google immediately came under fire when it proposed changes to the way that Chrome handles certain classes of extensions. The big issue concerned a technology called the webRequest APIs, which is used by many popular content blockers, including ad blockers. Google claimed that its proposed changes were aimed at improving performance and privacy. But the individuals and companies that make ad blockers, in particular, saw a darker possibility. That Google was purposefully hobbling ad blockers because its business is wholly dependent on advertising revenues.

One extension maker, Ghostery, went so far as to threaten Google with an antitrust lawsuit.

“Whether Google does this to protect their advertising business or simply to force its own rules on everyone else, it would be nothing less than another case of misuse of its market-dominating position,” a Ghostery statement explained.

Whatever you make of this issue, we should credit Ghostery with discovering the truth behind Google’s claims about performance. It studied the performance impact of popular Chrome content-blocking extensions like uBlock Origin, Adblock Plus, Brave, DuckDuckGo, Ghostery 8, and exposed the Google lie.

“Our comparison demonstrates that the most popular content-blockers are already very efficient (having a sub-millisecond median decision time per request) and should not result in any over-head noticeable by users,” the Ghostery study explains. “We showed in another study, The Tracker Tax, that blocking ads and trackers actually reduces the loading time of websites by up to a factor of 2. Besides, efficiency is continuously improved and technologies such as WebAssembly will allow to go even further.”

A ZDNet report about this issue also cites other studies that have arrived at similar conclusions: Ad blockers and other content blockers don’t slow down web browsers, they actually make web pages load more quickly.

Whether it was the Ghostery study or just the general negative feedback—I’m not aware of any credible individual or organization actually defending Google’s proposed changes to Chrome—the online search giant did back down.

“The webRequest API is not going to be fully removed,” Mr. Cronin wrote. “Once again, we are committed to supporting extensions in Chrome.  We will continue to work with developers.“

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Comments (23)

23 responses to “Google Retracts Proposal That Would Have Hobbled Chrome Ad Blockers”

  1. nicholas_kathrein

    I love Google products but they are a publicly traded company which means making $$ will override doing the right thing and the higher up that decision is made the more likely $$ will win. Calling them out is mandatory to keep these decisions minimized. So many instances of this and so many instances of this being stopped by public outrage. Keep it up folks.

  2. Paul Tarnowski

    As soon as this was first announced, I switched all my major browsing to Firefox and didn't open Chrome at all. I can't be the only one that decided to do that at the news.


    I don't know if that had any impact on the decision, but I do know that if they get rid of ad blockers altogether, I'd stop using most of the internet.

  3. glenn8878

    I guess when it was deemed imaginary that Google hobbled performance of YouTube on non-Chromium browsers, it might not be so imaginary. We just need someone to revisit the situation.

  4. nbplopes

    I personally find ad blockers principles perverse if not illegal.


    If people want to play with content free of ads should be ready to pay for it.


    Still the the way some sites use ads, “hurts” users.

    • rm

      In reply to nbplopes:definitely not illegal. If I want to create my own web browser, I can do so. And my web browser would not have a legal requirement to show ads in order for me to use my web browser. The whole Ad supported concept is one that currently works, but nothing about the internet requires the use of advertising. I have no contract with any web site to view ads. Just because a link takes me to their site, doesn't mean I have to view an add. It is their right not let me have access to their site, but they can't force me to view ads.

      Google has done everything it can to make ads work and they even realize a lot of ads are making people put ad blockers in place. So, Google is working on to make sure ads don't "hurt" the user. But, again it is just self serving of Google to do this. No one else has more to loose.


  5. BlackForestHam

    I'm glad Google has backtracked here, because it was the wrong solution. But there remains a serious issue with webRequestAPI that must be addressed in a way more accommodating to third party extension devs. To frame Google's proposal singularly as an attempt to destroy third-party ad-blocking is naive and narrow minded.

  6. Daekar

    I almost hope that Google goes through with it. An incredible exodus of power users will ensue that will absolutely cripple the dominance of Chrome and level the marketplace a bit.

  7. locust infested orchard inc

    Quote by Google's Devlin Cronin:
    "The [crippled] declarativeNetRequest API is still being expanded and is under active development..."
    "Another clarification is that the webRequest API is not going to be fully removed as part of the Manifest V3 API."


    It doesn't appear to me as if Adoogle have retracted their initial decision. As I understand it, the Manifest v3 specification would break content and ad blockers, privacy extensions, and a host of other browser add-on code that depend upon on the ability to intercept requested web content before being rendered by the browser, as Cronin admits the webRequest API shall, "not going to be fully removed", i.e., partially removed, thus incapacitated.


    The work being pursued to dumb down the current webRequest API in favour of the new crippled declarativeNetRequest API is suggestive Adoogle have every intention to maintain its interests is burdening the World with ads within Chrime.


    I am of the opinion regarding Google's Devlin Cronin clarification post in the 'Chromium Extensions' sub-forum concerning Manifest V3, was simply to pacify users of Chrime who are clearly recognizant of the ulterior motive of this "Devil's Cron job", with future versions of Chrime unable to block ads.


    Chrime has been caught red-handed engaging in Chrominality, and the days of its status of being number one are on the cards – and rightly so too.


    It shall be interesting to see if there is a significant upsurge in Firefox usage over the coming months as reported by:


    https://www.w3counter.com/globalstats.php


    http://gs.statcounter.com


    https://netmarketshare.com


    The thing is though, Firefox with an ad blocker (e.g. uMatrix) automatically blocks the likes of w3counter.com and statcounter.com resulting in these browser stat services unable to accurately quantify Firefox users, hence downplaying the usage of Firefox as the majority of Firefox users are far more inclined to install ad-blocking and privacy extensions than their gormless Chrime user counterparts.

  8. BudTugglie

    Chrome preventing ad blockers would certainly force me to abandon Chrome for a browser that allows ad blockers. I'd be surprised if Google would risk losing a lot of Chrome users.

  9. markbyrn

    My guess is the Google bean counters determined that enough people would defect from Chrome to negate the potential ad revenue increase.

  10. bart

    Someone should develop a Google Ads ad-blocker. Just to make a point :)

  11. red.radar

    In light of the recent announcement of Edge using Chromium. Would these type of decisions by Google impact all the downstream projects that use Chromium as the render engine? Or is the handling of extensions different.


    These type of reported issues make me nervous about Google's immense influence through Chrome.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to red.radar:

      The handling of extensions is part of Chromium, which is how all other Chromium-based browsers (Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, etc.) manage to support downloading Chrome extensions directly from the Chrome store.


      As with all open-source projects, changes upstream (in Chromium, in this case) almost always flow downstream into derivative projects. For all the other browser makers, that's kind of the point -- they get all of the "advancements" that Google makes with Chromium for "free," and they just have to build their UI on top of all that. Because the source code is available, it's always possible for derivative projects to make tweaks to the underlying source they use in their downstream project -- disable certain features, add their own. The problem is that, if you start making too many tweaks to the underlying source when you build your project, you start to lose the benefit of getting that underlying source development for free. And every time a new version of Chromium is released, you have to start all over and start re-implementing all those little tweaks. That's why the Chromium derivatives are always a version or two behind where Chrome is.


      I can't say I know how easy/hard it would be to patch around a change like this, but I can say that it's probably not the kind of thing that Microsoft would bother "fixing." What's in it for them? If the market leader is going one way, what's their incentive to go another? Alternative browsers like Brave and Opera each make adblocking a selling point, so it's likely that they might work around it. Then again, it's also possible that they might just say, "use the built-in adblocker and don't worry about it," as each provides built-in adblocking that's already not as complete as what uBlock Origin provides.

  12. sabarrett

    Stuff like this (and the mess of managing which google account chrome was connected to) is why I switched back to Firefox last year. Much happier.

  13. fishnet37222

    I was kind of hoping they went ahead with it. I felt it would drive more business to Firefox.

  14. Pungkuss

    QQ. How do you suggest Google make money off Chrome if an ever growing number of folks install ad-blockers? Just wondering if blocking ad-blockers is the eventual end to all of this, that we keep putting off. Seems like that is the only way this can end. Nothing is free.


    • wright_is

      In reply to Pungkuss:

      The problem isn't ads per se, the problem is that the companies providing the ads (including Google) do very little to ensure the legitimacy of the ads, that they aren't scams or that they aren't dishing up malware.

      The problem is, the system is so big and so automated these days, that even though Google alleges they remove millions of malvertising campaigns, a large number still get through.

      Until they get their own house in order, they shouldn't be trying to stop users from protecting themselves.

      I don't use an ad-blocker add-in, I just block the Google (and other) ad domains at the DNS level.

    • kjb434

      In reply to Pungkuss: I never consider using Ublock Origin as an ad blocker. It's a preventative measure to prevent bad javascript from being run on my machine.
      All the arguments regarding "how will they survive without the ad review" fail to address the security issue. Ads are often cut and past scripts added to a webpage. The pages that use these scripts provide no assurances that their ads are completely safe. Ublock Origin gives me that piece of mind.
      You are right, nothing is free. In the end, my safety will always override a websites attempt at making an income.


  15. Hoomgar

    "Or, as some are suggesting, invented by Google in an attempt to curb the blocking of ads, its core business."  LOL!  Of course that was the driving reason.  They simply could not justify it.

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