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Google proposes changes that will break ad-blockers in Chrome

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UK publishers lose nearly £3 billion a year due to ad blocking, and it’s projected to cost publishers worldwide $27bn in lost revenues by 2020.

While Google has taken some initiatives to help publishers recover lost revenue from ad blocking, it is actually proposing certain changes to Chrome—the browser that commands an industry-leading 65% market share—that will break a number of ad-blockers.

“Google engineers have proposed changes to the open-source Chromium browser that will break content-blocking extensions, including various ad blockers,” reports The Register.

“The drafted changes will also limit the capabilities available to extension developers, ostensibly for the sake of speed and safety. Chromium forms the central core of Google Chrome, and, soon, Microsoft Edge.”

Google is currently putting together a public document called the “Manifest version 3” that lists the proposed changes.

According to the manifest, Google will “strive to limit the blocking version of webRequest, potentially removing blocking options from most events”. The limitation will affect the functionality of some popular ad blockers, especially uBlock Origin and uMatrix.

Currently, ad blockers and other extensions use the “webRequest” API to listen for events during web page loads and block them. If the proposed changes are implemented, extensions won’t be able to block events with this API. That should speed up page load times, since Chrome won’t have to wait for extensions to weigh in while loading a page.

In a note posted to the Chromium bug tracker, Raymond Hill, the developer behind uBlock Origin and uMatrix, said the changes proposed by the Manifest v3 proposal will kill off his ad and content blocking extensions.

Adblock Plus, one of the most popular ad blockers, also released a statement saying they too are “affected by this proposed change, because it would replace the main API that we (and almost all other content blockers) use to block requests with something a bit watered down.”

Google’s stated rationale for making the changes is to improve security, privacy and performance, and supposedly to enhance user control. Concerns are being raised, especially from the developers’ community, that Google is using privacy as a pretext for putting the interests of its ad business over those of browser users.

Google has a different take, though. “Users should have increased control over their extensions,” the design document says. “A user should be able to determine what information is available to an extension, and be able to control that privilege.”

The report notes that while the proposed changes will diminish the effectiveness of content blocking and ad blocking extensions, they won’t entirely eliminate all ad blocking.

“Even though we don’t know the exact plans for this proposed change,”  Adblock Plus stated, “should it get implemented we’ll make sure ABP is available for Chrome users.”

It is to be noted that the manifest is still in draft, so nothing has been finalized yet.

“These changes are in the design process, as mentioned in the document,” a Google spokesperson said. “Things are subject to change.”