Manifest V3: Will Chrome fight against password theft by curbing the effectiveness of ad blockers?

In June 2023, a quiet but important change will take place within Chrome. The browser published by Google will stop supporting Manifest V2, a development interface that allows you to create extensions of all kinds for the browser. The latter will give way to a revised and corrected version, called, we give it to you in a thousand, Manifest V3. The new development constraints are supposed, according to Google, “enhance user security and privacyto prevent malicious hackers from releasing extensions that steal your data.

Safer and more efficient ad blockers?

Only here, the changes planned by Google are not to everyone’s taste. Some changes planned in Manifest V3 raise concerns that Chrome is looking to limit the capabilities of ad blockers. And for good reason, the new guidelines for extension developers no longer allow the use of the Web Request API. Officially, it’s because this tool makes it a little too easy to create extensions capable of stealing the personal data of Internet users. Unfortunately, it is also the tool used by many extensions intended to block advertising. The fear is therefore to see Google get rid of a simple and effective means of blocking advertising.

The Mountain View firm assures that these changes will in no way limit the capabilities of ad blocker extensions. By replacing the aging Web Request API with a more modern one, called Declarative Net Request, Google even claims that developers will be able to “create safer and more efficient ad blockers“. A confidence that does not seem to be shared by the influential Electronic Frontier Foundation. The association, which campaigns for an open Web, explains that the new API risks “destroy powerful privacy and security tools“.

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Will block, won’t block?

The API that Google is about to impose in Chrome leaves extensions less flexibility to filter the traffic that arrives on a machine. By using Web Request, it is possible to analyze all traffic and block the loading of elements from certain URLs (in this case, those belonging to advertising agencies). The new API will no longer allow this kind of behavior. As the EFF states, “extensions will not be able to modify most headers or decide to block or redirect based on contextual data.

To put it more simply, Manifest V3 will offer less data and less blocking possibilities to extensions by limiting the number of rules that they can impose on the loading of a web page. That’s not to say that all ad blockers will be sidelined: Adblock Plus, for example, will continue to work, and the company has even publicly welcomed the change. It should be noted, however, that the company that publishes Adblock maintains financial ties with Google. Other extensions that are more aggressive in blocking content, such as NoScrpt or PrivacyBadger, on the other hand, seem to be in the hot seat.

A problem that goes beyond Chrome

This problem goes beyond the borders of the Google ecosystem. The HTML rendering engine used by Chrome (known as Blink) is also used by Microsoft Edge, Opera and Brave. While this makes it much easier to share extensions between these programs, it also means that Manifest V3 will prevail on these browsers as well. It should be noted, however, that if a browser incorporates ad blocking features within its code, these will not be disabled by Manifest V3.

Too happy to be able to stand out on the subject, Firefox has taken a step aside. The browser published by the Mozilla Foundation already has the luxury of using its own web rendering engine (named Gecko), which means that it does not necessarily have to comply with developments pushed by Google. For the sake of interoperability, however, Mozilla announced that it would support extensions built around Manifest V3, but that it would also retain the ability to use the Web Request API. A way to promote a little more its philosophy based on an open Web and respectful of personal data.

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