Changes to Google Chrome that will cause some ad blockers to break have not been popular to say the least. But Google is fighting back, saying that the changes, named Manifest V3, will add security and functionality for users.
And the software giant is pushing ahead with its plans–it says the only people who can use the blocking version of the web request API following the change will be Google’s enterprise users.
Now Google has also confirmed a timeline for the rollout of Manifest V3–and it’s not far off at all. The first public version earmarked as a developer preview, will arrive in July or August this year, according to Ghacks.
Chromium developer advocate Simeon Vincent confirmed that the first preview would be available for the Google developer Canary channel in late July or start of August.
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He said: “Manifest V3 is not yet ready for experimentation and feedback. The extensions team is currently working towards releasing a Developer Preview in the Canary channel at the end of July or beginning of August. We’ll be sharing additional details when that lands.”
Google’s proposal–dubbed Manifest V3–will see a major transformation to Chrome extensions that includes a revamp of the permissions system. It will mean modern ad blockers such as uBlock Origin—which uses Chrome’s webRequest API to block ads before they’re downloaded–won’t work. This is because Manifest V3 sees Google halt the webRequest API’s ability to block a particular request before it’s loaded.
Other extensions such as Tampermonkey, the popular userscript manager, will also be affected by the changes.
There has already been a backlash in response to Manifest V3, and it’s likely this will continue.
When replying to a question which stated that Google’s privacy claim “makes absolutely zero sense” (the question pointed out that only the blocking webRequest API is being targeted for removal, “yet the observational webRequest remains fully intact and extensions will still be able to read all your requests”), Vincent said:
“The Manifest V3 effort aims to improve the security and privacy guarantees of the extensions platform. Today, the only way for an extension to block content is with the webRequest API, the webRequestBlocking permissions, and host permissions for all domains you wish to block content on. These APIs and permissions expose a massive amount of data and capabilities to the extension; data and capabilities that the extension may neither want or need.”
As part of its “rethink” of how it approaces the extensions platform, Vincent said Google wants extensions “to do what they do today, but in ways that don’t compromise the user’s privacy.”
“Broadly speaking, the declarativeNetRequest (DNR) API fits into this mold by giving extensions a way to modify requests without exposing the request object to the extension or (as much as possible) without requiring the extension to have host permissions to modify requests,” Vincent said. “In other words, a hypothetical content blocker implemented in Manifest V3 could deliver the same results as its Manifest V2 counterpart but with no risk of data exfiltration.”
The developer preview might give an indication of how the changes will impact the accuracy and efficiency of ad blocker extensions now. However, without a decent sample set it may not provide a completely accurate picture, says independent security researcher Sean Wright.
“The bigger the sample size, the more accurate the results are going to be, but there aren’t likely going to be many users using the developer release of Chrome,” Wright points out. “They will only be the extension developers as well as those users who like to be on the bleeding edge.”
Meanwhile, he says any issues with this version “will likely revive the backlash.”
I have reached out to Google to confirm the dates and provide further information and I will add the response to the article if it arrives.
It will likely be a while before the changes arrive in Chrome Stable. The soonest it could be available more widely will probably be early 2020.
The changes are seeing many Chrome users starting to switch to different browsers. There is still concern over the fate of other browsers based on Chromium, such as the upcoming Microsoft Edge and Brave.
Microsoft is currently asking users whether they want built in ad blockers, while Brave has already said it won’t be taking on the Manifest V3 changes.
Of course, the other option is to switch to Firefox, which isn’t based on Chromium and is already launching a number of new privacy and security features.
Date: June 26, 2019