As Google Ponders Making Ad Blockers Less Useful, Mozilla Ramps Up Tracker Blocking
from the competing-for-your-privacy dept
Google found itself under fire last week after critics said the company was considering weakening ad blockers on the company’s Chrome browser. The changes were part of the company’s broader Manifest V3 roadmap for the browser, which Google claims is being considered to improve browser performance and extension security. But consumer groups and adblock extension developers weren’t buying Google’s claims, and say that the changes will make adblockers less effective by prohibiting them from pre-blocking ads, instead shifting blocking determination to Chrome itself.
As it currently stands, many Chrome adblock extensions use Chrome’s webRequest API, letting users block ads before they even reach the browser. But Google?s proposal would require extensions use the declarativeNetRequest API, which leaves it to the browser to decide what gets blocked based on a list of up to 30,000 rules. While extensions like AdBlock already use the latter, developers say the overall result will be tools that simply aren’t quite as effective, and would erode consumer power to determine for him- or herself how stringent blocking actually is.
uBlock Origin developer Raymond Hill was rather pointed in his criticism of Google, arguing that the company embraced tougher adblockers to grow its market share, but is now weakening their functionality because it conflicts with Google’s raison d’?tre, namely selling more behavioral ads:
?In order for Google Chrome to reach its current user base, it had to support content blockers?these are the top most popular extensions for any browser,? he said. ?Google strategy has been to find the optimal point between the two goals of growing the user base of Google Chrome and preventing content blockers from harming its business.
Hill argues that the blocking ability of the webRequest API caused Google to yield some control of content blocking to third-party developers. Now that Chrome?s market share is greater, the company?s in a better position to ?shift the optimal point between the two goals which benefits Google’s primary business,? Hill said.
The EFF, whose adblock extension Privacy Badger will likely be impacted by these changes (should they arrive this fall), was equally pointed in its criticism of the move, arguing that weakening such tools in an era of rampant privacy and security scandals was tone-deaf on the part of Google:
?Google’s claim that these new limitations are needed to improve performance is at odds with the state of the internet,? the organization said. ?Sites today are bloated with trackers that consume data and slow down the user experience. Tracker blockers have improved the performance and user experience of many sites and the user experience. Why not let independent developers innovate where the Chrome team isn’t??
The EFF was quick to note that the changes could also impact parental controls and security and privacy tools. While Google continues to deny any ill-intent with the changes, that’s going to be left to consumers to decide. And should Google continue down the road to making adblock extensions less effective, Mozilla seems intent to fill the void. The company this week announced it would be expanding tracker blocking by default in Firefox, as the era of seemingly-bottomless privacy scandals increasingly forces companies to actually compete (to a point) on privacy.