Google may break ad blockers with upcoming Chrome change

Google Chrome dominates the browser market.


Stephen Shankland/Techhnews

A Google plan to improve the Chrome web browser has triggered an explosion of concern that it’ll also cripple extensions designed to block ads, improve privacy and protect against security problems.

Google’s proposed approach would torpedo ad blocker uBlock Origin, privacy and password manager Privowny, JavaScript software blocker NoScript and a malware blocker from F-Secure, according to their developers.

In a statement Wednesday, though, Google said it’s trying to improve Chrome while keeping all those extensions working.

“We want to make sure all fundamental use cases are still possible with these changes and are working with extension developers to make sure their extensions continue to work while optimizing the extensions platform and better protecting our users,” the company said in a statement.

The controversy shows the difficulties that arise from Chrome’s dominance 10 years after its debut. Google’s browser accounts for 62 percent of website usage today, according to analytics firm StatCounter. But if a Google change causes problems, then extension authors and website developers can be stuck with it unless they can get millions of people to change to a different browser like Mozilla Firefox or Apple Safari.

Chrome’s power also is amplified by the fact that other browsers, including Vivaldi, Opera, Brave and soon Microsoft Edge, use Chrome’s open-source foundation, called Chromium.

Extensions let you customize web browser behavior to do things like take screenshots, manage tabs, disable websites’ potentially risky JavaScript software and even replace photos of President Donald Trump with images of kittens. But ad blockers are a top extension use. Indeed, it was one of the uses Google specifically called for when it first revealed its Chrome extensions plan in 2008. uBlock Origin has been installed more than 10 million times, for example, according to Chrome Web Store statistics.

Google probably will update its extensions plan.

“This design is still in a draft state, and will likely change,” Chrome team member Devlin Cronin said in a mailing list response Wednesday. “Our goal is not to break extensions. We are working with extension developers to strive to keep this breakage to a minimum, while still advancing the platform to enhance security, privacy, and performance for all users.”

First published Jan. 23, 10:49 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:58 a.m.:
Adds more Google comment.

‘Hello, humans’: Google’s Duplex could make Assistant the most lifelike AI yet.

Techhnews Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in Techhnews’s newsstand edition.

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