Google Is Murdering Ad-Blockers
December 22, 2021
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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.
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