Looming on the horizon since 2020 has been Manifest V3 (MV3). An API that dictates how Extensions can integrate with your browser. After a huge backlash, Manifest V3 has been pushed back. This backlash stems from MV3 potentially killing the functionality of ad blocker extensions. Is this true? Let’s take a deeper look into if Manifest V3 means the end of ad blockers on Chrome.
What is Manifest V3?
The Manifests within browsers is an API that dictates how Extensions interact with the browser that you are using. These Manifests are created by Google.
Manifest V3 is set to change a very important aspect that could spell the end for ad blockers. Currently, Manifest V2 ad blockers make use of the ‘webRequest’ API to block HTTP requests. Manifest V3 is set to bypass this and instead block from a list of just 30,000 URLs. This is thought to be around just 10% of your average ad blocker blacklist.
Google says that MV3 is a step towards better privacy
Throughout all of this Google’s stance on Manifest V3 is that it will be a boon for users. They said in a developer blog that MV3 is focussing on “improvements to security, performance, and privacy — while preserving or extending the capability of extensions and keeping a webby developer experience.”
On paper, the changes that MV3 makes do seem like a good idea. But experienced developers and even the EFF have spoken up about how damaging Manifest V3 will be for the internet. And the blatant conflict of interest present.
EFF warns about Google’s Manifest V3
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has publicly warned users about the ramifications of Manifest V3. In an article from 2021, they had this to say:
“Manifest V3, or Mv3 for short, is outright harmful to privacy efforts. It will restrict the capabilities of web extensions—especially those that are designed to monitor, modify, and compute alongside the conversation your browser has with the websites you visit. Under the new specifications, extensions like these– like some privacy-protective tracker blockers– will have greatly reduced capabilities.”
Developers speak up against Manifest V3
The EFF also shared some interesting insights from developers and academics about the potential impact of Manifest V3. Some choice words include:
Giorgio Maone, NoScript – “Of all the browser extension API revolutions I’ve seen in 16 years of NoScript development, Manifest V3 is the worst offender by a long shot: a huge step backwards, and a poorly justified one. Manifest V3 shrinks extension capabilities and Web users’ freedom to customize their browsing experience.”
Gildas, SingleFile – “For SingleFile, I consider the migration to Manifest V3 to be a major regression from a functional and technical point of view.”
Helen Nissenbaum and Daniel Howe, AdNauseam/TrackMeNot – “Manifest V3 positions Chrome as the all-powerful arbiter of what software lives and what dies, shattering the ideal of a diverse array of extensions serving the legitimate preferences and values of equally diverse users.”
Massive pushback from users over Manifest V3
Developers weren’t the only ones that had a bone to pick with Google regarding MV3.
Google was planning on removing support for MV2-based extensions from Google Chrome and Chromium starting in January 2023. As the cut-off date for MV2 of January 2023 drew closer, more attention than ever was shone upon Google to help bring awareness to what MV3 is and how it would impact users worldwide.
Articles were posted on many of the most well-regarded tech blogs around, and word caught on that Google was attempting to “kill the ad blocker”.
When will Manifest V3 take effect?
After many users voiced their concerns about MV3, Google had to back down, but only temporarily. The initial January 2023 date was pushed back a further six months, to June 2023. They also stated that any Chrome extension still using MV2 after January 2024 will be removed. There is a stipulation though, developers looking to enter the ‘Featured’ category, must already be MV3 compliant.
Another thing worth noting is that by January 2023, in Chrome 112, Google says they may start turning off support for Manifest V2 extensions in the Canary, Dev, and Beta channels. Important note for those using Chrome in these channels.
Google’s conflict of interest
As has been brought up by others, there is a huge conflict of interest here on Google’s part. Google’s ad business is by far their biggest earner. In 2021, advertising accounted for 81.3% of Google’s total revenue. Ad blockers are a thorn in Google’s side because they get in the way of their main money maker.
Google has a vested interest in making sure that ad blockers are squeezed out. Google is trying to introduce MV3 under the guise of privacy and security improvements, but just about every developer has rebuked this spin. It’s pretty clear that Google is profiting from this change, and it’s a major driver behind their push to implement it.
Google Chrome by default
As it currently stands, Chrome/Chromium-based browsers have a 65% market share. The closest non-chrome competitor is Safari with just shy of 20%. The most well-known alternative, Firefox, sits at just 3%.
The relevance of these facts is that, just by sheer market usage, Google gets to dictate how we surf the web. Even Microsoft, who for years had their own browser engine, moved Edge over to Chromium. Like it or not, the reason why Google can push through Manifest V3, is because they’re the biggest player in the space. No one even comes close.
Are the likes of Brave, Vivaldi, and Edge safe from Manifest V3?
Some of the more popular Chromium-based browsers such as Brave, Vivaldi, and Edge are as beholden to this change as Google Chrome is. Extensions come from the same Google Store as they do for Chrome, so that doesn’t help.
What does make a difference is ad blockers that are built into browsers. Vivaldi, for example, has an ad blocker integrated directly into it. This allows them to circumvent the Manifest V3 restrictions. This goes similarly for other Chromium browsers with an adblocker built-in. This Vivaldi blog goes in-depth about why their solution will continue working regardless of MV3.
Firefox to implement Manifest V3
Whilst Firefox may just make up 3% of the market, its add-on store (Firefox equivalent to Extensions) is just as active as Google’s. But, Mozilla, the organisation behind Firefox, has already stated they will be integrating MV3 into Firefox.
This leads back to the domination of Chrome in the browser space. The integration needs to happen to help maintain parity with Google for developers. Developers will want their product on as many storefronts as possible, and the most popular ones almost always come first. That is why it is in Mozilla’s best interest to keep up with MV3, otherwise, developers could forgo a Firefox version altogether.
Mozilla explains in detail their reasoning for adopting Manifest V3 in this blog post. It’s well worth a read.
Ad blocker for Manifest V3
Some ad blockers have already made the switch to Manifest V3, but they have run into roadblocks regarding that 30,000 website limit.
Developers are showing there are workarounds but they are not foolproof. This could change in future, these are very talented people writing these extensions, but presently this is not the case.
The best browser to use after Manifest V3
It would seem right now you have two options for a reliable experience. The first is to switch to a browser with a built-in ad blocker, like Vivaldi. It is worth looking at moving away from Chrome, as it is a massive data thief. Learn more about how Chrome doesn’t care about your privacy, and how you can get the Chrome experience, in a more privacy-respecting package with this blog post.
The second option is to move to a device or network-wide ad blocker. One of the more well-known popular network-wide implementations of an ad blocker is Pi-Hole. Pi-Hole can run on something as low power as a Raspberry Pi (hence the name), and help keep your whole network free of adverts. Though, this won’t protect you if you aren’t connected to your home network. That is where device-based ad blockers such as AdAway come in.
What Google says goes – whether you like it or not
Google has shown that it is willing to flex its muscles should it feel there is a significant chunk of cash on the line. Ultimately, that’s what Manifest V3 is, a power play from Google to extract even more money from its users (and even those not using Google products!).
This is why no one company must have control over such a vital part of the internet. They get to call the shots, and there is nothing you can do.
What Google says goes.
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