Google might be a search company, but it’s also an advertising company, and nowhere is that clearer than with its efforts to crush ad blockers in its Chrome web browser. The latest twist in this saga has seen Google announce that it is resuming its plan to severely restrict ad blockers, leaving users and privacy advocates in uproar.
In a post on the company’s blog, Google explained that, beginning in June 2024, it will restart its plans to deprecate the Manifest V2 format that current Chrome extensions use and replace it with the more restrictive Manifest V3. According to the post, a range of new features have been added to Manifest V3 that have – according to Google – met with approval from the developer community.
One of the changes is that Google has increased the upper limit on how many rules that extensions can have in place from 5,000 to 30,000, a number Google calls “generous.” That might sound like a lot, but it’s still far below what any decent ad blocker needs to run.
The popular extension uBlock Origin, for example, needs around 300,000 rules in order to work properly – ten times the Manifest V3 limit – and that’s before you add in any custom rules.
If Manifest V3 continues as is, it means ad blockers will essentially be crippled. That would be terrible news for users, not just because ads can be annoying, but because they can also be highly dangerous spreaders of malware – something Google doesn’t seem to be able to stop. Yet one thing the death of ad blockers won’t be bad for is Google’s advertising business. What a coincidence!
Time to switch?
Google has defended its plans by saying Manifest V3 restricts extensions in order to preserve user privacy and provide a more lightweight browsing experience. Yet both claims have been met with scorn from some industry experts.
For instance, Firefox’s Add-On Operations Manager pointed out that malicious add-ons can still steal user data in Manifest V3 using the webRequest API, which Google’s latest extension changes will not block. Privacy advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), meanwhile, have called Google’s Manifest V3 strategy “deceitful and threatening,” arguing that it is “outright harmful to privacy efforts.”
None of this should be particularly surprising since Google has a very obvious conflict of interest: blocking ads is simply bad for business. Concerns over user privacy and security will, many have argued, always take a back seat when there is money to be made.
If you’re worried about this, it might be time to think about switching to a different browser. A great alternative is Firefox – our pick for the best web browser – because it blends fantastic privacy protections with incredible flexibility and cross-platform support.
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Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he's learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That's all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.