Google’s war on adblockers may have broken YouTube for Microsoft Edge users

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Microsoft’s Edge web browser appears to be struggling for some users when they try to watch YouTube videos – and fingers are being pointed at Google, the company behind both YouTube, and Chrome, Edge’s biggest rival in the web browser space.

As Windows Central reports, people have been taking to Reddit to complain about YouTube’s performance in Edge, with one user complaining that videos suffer from a two-second delay, while Windows Task Manager was showing Edge using between 50% and 90% of the PC’s CPU and memory resources, which definitely shouldn’t be the case.

According to Windows Central, another user complained about Google showing a pop-up message suggesting they use Chrome instead. So what’s going on?

Is foul play to blame?

Because Microsoft Edge now uses the Chromium engine, which is the same tech behind Chrome, some people are suggesting there’s something more nefarious going on. One suggestion is that Google is purposefully reducing performance on Edge in a bid to encourage people to drop it in favor of Chrome.

In fact, one Reddit user links to another thread on which users discuss a similar problem with YouTube on Firefox, where people that suggest Google is deliberately restricting performance on rival web browsers.

I’m not entirely convinced that this is happening. It’s not that I don’t think Google would make such an anticompetitive move, but I just can’t see how the company would benefit from doing it.

For a start, Chrome is by far the most popular web browser in the world. A recent report from Similarweb showed that in December 2023 Chrome’s market share was a huge 59.65%, while Edge had only 5.54% and Firefox just 2.56%. It doesn’t make sense for Google to do something like this when it already has such a huge lead. Sure, a few Edge and Firefox users may switch over, but that’ll hardly move the dial.

In fact, Google might have more to lose by doing this. For a start, if it was deliberately throttling YouTube performance on other web browsers and proof was found, it could cause people to drop Chrome out of protest – and it could open Google up to legal action as well.

Deliberately ruining its own service is incredibly risky, as people might well blame YouTube, not the browser, and stop watching videos on YouTube instead. This could be disastrous for Google, as it makes most of its YouTube profits from advertising. If the company made it more difficult to see those ads, or put people off seeing them at all, then that profit is going to fall.

A much more plausible theory, to me at least, is that the poor performance is a side effect of Google’s war on adblockers on YouTube.

Google has been vocal about its mission to prevent people from not seeing adverts on videos via adblocking add-ons for web browsers. It's trialing limiting the amount of videos someone with an adblocker installed can see, and there have also been suggestions that it's reducing the performance of YouTube for adblock users – similar to what some Edge and Firefox users are experiencing.

This move may not be popular, but it makes sense. It should encourage people to either disable adblocking extensions so that they see adverts on videos (and therefore Google makes money), or they're tempted to subscribe to YouTube Premium, which for a monthly charge offers videos without ads – again, making Google money.

Whatever tech Google is doing to identify adblock use, it’s feasible that this is also incorrectly picking up Edge and Firefox as well, and limiting playback performance as if those browsers were adblocking software.

It’s also likely that Edge and Firefox users are using adblocking extensions in those browsers, which would make the slowing down of performance legitimate. In fact, some users have reported that disabling adblock extensions fixes the issue.

So, rather than this being a nefarious ploy by Google to get people to switch to Chrome, it looks more likely that the company is simply working on ways to protect its income. While this may not be popular, advertising revenue allows Google to keep YouTube free, as well as pay content creators to broadcast on the service; and if widespread use of adblocking software endangers that, we could be left with an even less desireable alternative.

That being said, Google also needs to make sure that whatever tech it’s using is correctly identifying adblock software, and not penalizing ‘innocent’ users (adblocking extensions are perfectly legal, after all) by mistake – especially if they're using rival products.

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Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.