Google Is Murdering Ad-Blockers

December 22, 2023

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Google is harming ad-blockers and putting in place systems that benefit them financially.

One of the important ways that people can protect their privacy on the Internet is to use an ad-blocker. These browser extensions prevent bits of JavaScript that websites use to load up ads from running, prevents tracking and retargeting cookies from being saved, and blocks HTTP requests that hit ad-networks from hitting an advertising server. This contributes to protecting peoples' privacy as they browse the Internet since so many publishers rely on Ad Networks that try and track your activity across the Internet. As you might imagine, firms that make their money off of advertising such as Google aren't always the biggest fans of ad-blockers. Google's Chrome Extension store contains a large number of ad-blocking browser extensions.

Google is updating the manifest version from 2 to 3 in Chrome in a near-future update. This central file is required for all browser extensions and lists out some of the basic permissions that every browser extension requires to operate. Now, manifest 3 isn't going to absolutely prevent ad-blockers from running: going down that road might bring too much public pressure and legislative oversight on Google. Instead, manifest 3 kills the ability for extensions to intercept network requests. It instead provides a means for extensions to block content by providing a blacklist. This won't absolutely kill ad-blockers, but can severely limit their functionality in the face of increasingly elaborate advertising techniques and advertisers figuring out how to subvert declarative lists. There is a great deal of community criticism over many of these proposed changes that neuter the dynamic nature of web extensions and limits their power greatly that have essentially turned extensions into limited service workers. This is a very troubling development from Google, who will try and justify it by citing protecting users' privacy, but that could greatly harm it in the long-run. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has come out strongly against manifest version 3.

While this giant change is potentially very bad for privacy, it should be mentioned that it's not necessarily all bad news from Google. Their new "Data Safety" form for Apps is live and their Google Play App Store will start displaying it in February 2022 and requiring it in April 2022. Similar to Apple's Privacy Nutrition Labels it will give people a self-reported version of what Apps are doing with peoples' data. Though it's a good first step (that should have been done years ago) it will not necessarily be accurate or resolve any privacy issues that do exist. Additionally, they're working on a "Privacy Sandbox" model for web cookies that may resolve the issue of tracking cookies exposing a user's identity or personal information to advertisers, and this project also has some government oversight with the United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority being involved in oversight and development.

How can people protect themselves in the face of a complicated and continuously changing marketplace? Though Google Chrome is a great browser, there are many industry alternative web-browsers, many among them using the open-source bits (the Blink rendering and V8 JavaScript engine) from Chrome that may be better options for privacy-focused individuals if Google wants to engage in this kind of activity. Additionally, better ad-blocking technology called SugarCoat may be coming to Brave's excellent privacy-focused web-browser by default. Even DuckDuckGo, one of the more privacy-focused search-engines is reportedly building their own web-browser too. Considering alternatives to Google's products and services where possible seems like a good idea for more privacy-focused people, but at the very least you should follow industry blogs like RemoveMyPhone's Learning Center to keep track of the important updates that you might not read about elsewhere.

We hope you enjoyed reading this guide and learned something new! Check out our Learning Center to learn more about online privacy and security or consider subscribing to our Online Privacy Service to remove your phone number, name, and address from Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo search results and hundreds of data broker sites.