Responding to the controversy around a pending change to Chrome, Google this week said it is not killing ad-blockers. Instead, it is simply trying to make them safer.
“We are not preventing the development of ad blockers or stopping users from blocking ads,” a new post to the Google Security blog claims. “Instead, we want to help developers, including content blockers, write extensions in a way that protects users’ privacy.”
The issue here is rather complex, because it involves internal platform changes that Google is making to Chrome, and these changes impact how certain types of browser extensions, including ad-blockers, work. The changes that Google is making are collectively known as Manifest V3, and the parts that impact extension developers the most are in a new API called Declarative Net Request, which replaces parts of an older Web Request API.
“Instead of a user granting each extension access to all of [the user’s] sensitive data, we are creating ways for developers to request access to only the data they need to accomplish the same functionality,” Google explains. “With the current Web Request API, users grant permission for Chrome to pass all information about a network request – which can include things like emails, photos, or other private information – to the extension. In contrast, the Declarative Net Request API allows extensions to block content without requiring the user to grant access to any sensitive information.”
And in addition to the security and privacy benefits, the newer Declarative Net Request API also provides “significant, system-level performance benefits” as well.
But this change is controversial because so many popular extensions, especially ad blockers, rely on the Web Request API. Google says it is working with extension developers to help them update their offerings to work with the new API and that it will continue “iterating” Manifest V3 “to find solutions that both solve the use cases extensions have today and keep our users safe and in control.”
That sounds wonderful. But those ad blocker extension makers don’t seem very impressed by Google’s efforts.
“They’ve been trying to give the impression that they’re working with the developer community, when in fact they’re pretty entrenched in what they want to do,” Jeremy Tillman, the president of the privacy and security-focused ad blocker Ghostery told Wired. “The new API is not in itself a bad thing, but it becomes a bad thing when it’s the only option because it lacks the flexibility that the Web Requests API provides.”
It doesn’t help that Google’s primary revenue generator, by far, is ad sales. And that Google worked with the advertising industry to create a built-in ad-blocker in Chrome that, wait for it, doesn’t actually block ads. That ad-blocker rolls out worldwide in July.