Is This the End of Ad Blocker Extensions?
In October 2018 Google proposed changes to their Chromium code base (Manifest v3) that would introduce new extension standards limiting the functionality of ad blocking and privacy enhancing extensions.
Chromium powers Google’s Chrome web browser. Google Chrome currently garners more than 60 percent of the market share for web browsers.
The announcement caused uproar among extension developers, as the changes would seriously impact the functionality of their products. In some cases, these products would be rendered useless.
Developers accuse Google of removing agency from users by limiting the browser capabilities they can enact through extensions. They argue this is done in favor of website owners, who will have more control over which actions can be executed on their pages.
This change potentially impacts not only Google Chrome users, but also users of the web browsers Brave, Opera and Vivaldi, all of which are built using the open-source Chromium engine. Microsoft is currently integrating Chromium with their Edge browser.
Brave CEO and founder Brandon Eich announced that if Google plans to make these extension changes in Manifest v3, they will continue supporting the old extension technology. This will allow these extensions to operate as intended within Brave. An Opera spokesperson said they would consider doing the same.
The announcement is yet another concerning Google’s privacy issues. Critics also note that Google has a close business relationship with AdBlock Plus, who although affected will benefit from the blow to their competition.
Is ad blocking ethical?
Whether or not ad blocking is ethical is a subject of recent debate. If the cost we pay as users to access “free” websites is viewing advertising in exchange for content, are we reneging on the deal by installing ad blockers?
Proponents of ad blockers argue that as users, we are having advertising forced upon us. Blocking ads encourages advertisers to get better at creating content we’re willing to consume. The ads we’re shown are often generated by collecting data about us; data many prefer were not collected. Ads make for a clunky user experience: they slow page loads, prevent a smooth reading experience and are sometimes loud and impossible to stop. At best ads are annoying, and at worst they’re a symptom of the Internet tracking our every move.
Arguments against ad blocking often focus on business models. If users are allowed to block the very thing that earns the site revenue, then the business model is at risk. With the decline in print journalism and its subscription model, ad revenue helps support quality journalism. Many sites issue plaintive requests explaining this and asking users to disable ad blockers before proceeding to the website; other sites require the ad blocker be disabled full stop.
Ad blockers ultimately benefit the user. With the Manifest v3 update to Chromium, Google is edging towards siding with websites to prevent users from blocking ads. As this issue evolves, web browser developers, website developers, extension developers and Internet users will continue to devise workarounds to achieve their ideal web experience.