Over the past year there has been panic that Google plans on banning the use of ad blockers in Google Chrome. This is largely caused by misleading blog posts indicating that Google Chrome’s manifest v3 limits the deprecates the webRequest API to enterprise applications which require it. Adblockers today use this API to detect every incoming response body and remove the parts that contain the advertisement’s HTML code so Google Chrome does not load or render the advertisement. This approach has worked well for the past several years by extensions such as AdBlock Plus and uBlock Origin. The problem is that by this API existing without strict limits, a Chrome extension can abuse the API to access and steal data such as credit card numbers and passwords from a page due to the privileged access it has. Google Chrome could put strict limits on which extensions are still allowed to access the API although that puts a limit on competition, and smaller developers won’t be able to take a new approach to adblocking without jumping huge hurdles. It’s also possible that Google will allow a limited set of allowlisted extensions to continue using the webRequest API for the time being. It’s not going away it’s just be limited so Google could make an exception for specific extensions although I do not agree with this approach and believe it would do more harm than good to allowlist the big adblockers. Google seeks to improve the security of Google Chrome, these changes are not about adblockers but have resulted in a controversy.
Google controls the distribution platform
While it’s tempting to blame Google’s Business Team and claim they want to remove the ability to use an adblocker in Google Chrome, while they may want that, they do not need to remove an API to do so. Google controls the Chrome Web Store and can just stop signing updates, remotely disable, and stop distributing ad-blocking browser extensions. Why would Google go through the trouble of removing an API when they can easily ban adblockers from the Chrome Web Store and delete existing ones from user’s Chrome installs? The ability to instantly ban adblocking on Google Chrome exists and Google has not used this power.
A new approach to adblocking
Google is building a new API for extensions to use which allow them to pass a list of content to block and Google Chrome itself will perform the blocking without allowing the adblocker to view page content. This is similar to the Apple Content Blocker API which does the same thing. The current proof of concept had some limitations such as a limit to the amount of rules an extension could ad which need to be addressed before these changes take effect. There is some concern that Google will limit the ability to block Google’s ads but this is unlikely. Even if they did, forks of Google Chrome (such as Brave Browser and Microsoft Edge) exist which have stated they will not disable the webRequest API.
Adblocking will probably be faster and safer in the end
There are a lot of dooms day predictions where Google ends the ability to use adblockers but these situations are unlikely. Rather I predict that adblocking on Google Chrome will be faster and safer for users. Remember that adblockers are a security product and they should encourage changes to browser architecture and APIs that protect users even if it requires significant changes to their product. Google has provided over a year of advanced notice so this change is not going to suddenly destroy adblockers as long as an update over the next year or two is prepared to work with the new API. I think there’s a lot to look forward to with the future of adblockers on Google Chrome.