Controversy With Chrome Ad Blocker: Google Increases The Maximum Limit
You have probably read a lot about the upcoming Manifest V3 for Google Chrome extensions and the controversy surrounding changes affecting ad-blockers and other extensions on the platform.
A first draft of Manifest V3 for Chrome extensions was published to the public in January 2019. Criticism erupted in force because one of the changes would cripple ad-blocking functionality of Chrome extensions.
Without going into too many details: content blockers on Chrome use an API called webRequest API to block certain elements on visited web pages. Google’s plan back then was to make the API “read only” and move blocking functionality to a new API called declarativeNetRequest API.
One of the primary issues with this API was that it had a fixed rule limit of 30,000; famous ad-blocking filter lists like EasyList already have more than double the guidelines, making it difficult to load all the filters if Google introduced the fresh Manifest file. One of Google’s allegations was refuted that extensions using the ancient API had a negative impact on results.
Raymond Hill, the creator of uBlock Origin and uMatrix, pointed out that the shift would end its Google Chrome extensions, and other developers made comparable remarks.
By making slight changes to the API, Google attempted to tackle issues in May. The company added an option to use 5000 dynamic rules but the overall consensus was that the limitations were still to limiting.
Several companies that use Chromium as the core for their browsers, e.g. Brave or Vivaldi, were quick to note that they would find ways around the limit.
Google announced changes that it plans to make to the Declarative Net Request API that would raise the limit of the API to 150,000. Google noted as well that it is investigating options actively to include other methods that could help extension developers leverage the API better.
We are actively exploring other ways to expand this API, including adding methods to get feedback about matched rules, and support for richer redirects leveraging URL manipulation and regular expressions. Additionally, we are currently planning to change the rule limit from maximum of 30k rules per extension to a global maximum of 150k rules.
Google notes that the proposed changes were never designed to “prevent or weaken” ad blockers on the Chrome platform and that Google’s main motivation behind the change was to “give developers a way to create safer and more performant ad blockers”.
Another argument that Google brings forward to validate the API change is that the API has been abused in the past by malicious developers to access user “credentials, accounts, or personal information”.
The reasoning is puzzling given that Google earlier announced that when Manifest V3 launches, it will only remove the blocking portion of the webRequest API. It would appear that malicious developers of extensions can still use it by tracking applications to access user data.
Developers have expressed other concerns as only a rule-based strategy is focused on Google. Chrome extensions may not support any functionality that is not based on regulations if the modifications are launched in the present form.
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