Adblocker manufacturers come to terms with new Chrome specifications

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adblocker manufacturers come to terms with new chrome specifications.jpg
adblocker manufacturers come to terms with new chrome specifications.jpg

Google wants to slowly introduce the new rules for browser extensions. Meanwhile, there are first adjustments of well-known adblockers.

 

The manufacturers of ad blockers are not happy about Google’s Manifest V3, which should regulate the scope of browser extensions for Chrome from 2023, but can probably come to terms with it. At the Ad-Filtering Dev Summit in Amsterdam on Wednesday and Thursday, developers and manufacturers will exchange information about the innovations and previous problems.

Only recently did Google clarify the further schedule for the 2018 announced end of the previous extensions platform. Accordingly, support for old browser extensions will not suddenly end. Instead, there should be a longer transition period.

Starting in January 2023, the new platform will be integrated into Chrome’s canary, but post-Manifest V2 extensions will only be disabled for a small number of users. The stable version of Chrome should not follow until the summer – here, too, the innovations should only be released gradually and feedback from developers and users should be awaited. If everything goes according to plan, the old extensions will disappear from the Chrome Web Store in early 2024.

The reform was necessary, among other things, because the web store has repeatedly proven to be an attack vector for malware: Extensions that steal user data or otherwise conduct illegal business are often noticed. Google wants to counter renewed abuse with a more sophisticated architecture that allows users to selectively restrict permissions for extensions. In addition, Google is increasingly concerned about the performance of its own browser.

“It’s an honorable goal,” admitted Andrey Meshkov, who is responsible for the development of the Adguard ad blocker, in Amsterdam. However, problems arose when the company’s own browser extension was implemented on Manifest V3.

The future limited capabilities, especially for content filters, have been a point of contention for years. 30,000 individual rules are allowed per blocker. 50 rule sets may be supplied with an extension, but only a maximum of 10 can be active at the same time. The Adguard developers were able to come to terms with this, even if they found it difficult. So far there are 2000 different filter lists, which are often provided by unpaid volunteers. In addition, the filter lists had swelled over the years in the advertising industry’s fight against ad blockers.

The adaptation was facilitated by dividing the filter rules into two different categories: one directly intervenes in the browser’s data traffic, while the other regulates the display of the results, such as the hiding of certain CSS objects. Initial efforts to clean up the existing filter lists were successful: the network rules were reduced by half and the display rules by a third. Meshkov reckons that average users will probably not notice any difference, but more ambitious users will have to sacrifice functionality.

However, the updates are an unsolved problem: Filter lists can no longer be dynamically reloaded under Manifest V3, as was previously the case. However, since the filter lists usually have to be updated daily to deal with problems with non-functioning websites, a new version of the adblocker extension would have to be uploaded every day, which seems illusory given Google’s stricter approval processes.

Although there are technical solutions to this problem to disable at least individual rules that lead to errors. However, which update processes prove to be practicable still has to be proven in practice. At the conference, Google employees promised the integration of user scripts. In addition, processes are being worked on to enable non-critical updates that do not change the core functionality of an extension more quickly.

The non-commercial ad blocker uBlock Origin has meanwhile released a V3 version, but is disappointed with the range of functions and recommends using the filter on Firefox instead.

At the Ad-Filtering Dev Summit, Google advertised Manifest V3: The new platform gives extension developers access to the sidebar, for example. In addition, new badges in the web store should ensure new trust. In the future, not only individual extensions will be specially marked if the developers meet all quality requirements, but all their extensions can be provided with an “Established Publisher” badge.

Given Chrome’s large market share, there seems to be no choice for adblockers but to embrace the terms — although Meshkov has threatened that manufacturers could also create their own version of Chromium and the Brave browser as a safe haven for V2 extensions offered.

Google, meanwhile, is promoting a united effort to offer an extension platform for all browsers. “Right now it feels like the early days of the World Wide Web,” said Google’s Simeon Vincent. Although almost all of them have a similar goal, developers can still not develop for a unified platform. That’s why the Webextensions Community Group, in which developers of Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge exchange views on how to promote such a uniform platform, was set up last year. Vincent emphasized that the feedback from the individual developers is also important in this process.

However, the company’s employees did not mention whether Google is willing to fulfill the Adblock developers’ ardent wish of also releasing extensions in the mobile Chrome browser under Android.

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.