Mozilla and Google differ when it comes to ad blocking extensions
Mozilla and Google differ when it comes to ad blocking extensions

Mozilla and Google disagree on how much space ad browsers should leave for ad-blocking extensions, and are increasingly at odds, putting Firefox and Chrome in opposite camps.

The split focuses on a feature called web requests, which are used in ad blockers and are essential for any system looking to block domain sales.

Google has always had security issues with web requests and has worked hard to keep them away from the latest standards for the extension called Manifest V3.

But Mozilla clarified in a recent blog post that Firefox still supports web requests, opening the door to the most sophisticated form of ad blocking.

Google's tactics have been heavily criticized by privacy advocates, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been outspoken in opposition. However, research firms are not affected.

Firefox has a much smaller market share than Chrome, but this could be an opportunity for Mozilla products to make themselves known. Google's commitment to MV3 has had an enormous impact on the public image of ad blocking on the modern web.

The changes to MV3 are part of a planned overhaul of the Chrome browser extension's specification that will define what permissions, features, and system resources the extensions can use.

According to the current specification - Manifest V2 - the extension can use an API function called web requests to monitor traffic between browsers and sites and modify or block requests to specific domains.

The web request feature is important and can be used for both beneficial and harmful purposes. Ad blocking extensions use this feature to block incoming and outgoing traffic between specific domains and the user's browser.

They also use it to block ad serving domains and stop information from being sent from your browser to any of the thousands of tracking domains that collect Internet user data.

However, the same functionality can be maliciously used to hijack user data or inject additional ads into web pages, which is one of the reasons Google changed the way it works in Manifest V3.

Mozilla stands up for privacy

As part of the new specification, the blocking version of the Web Request API has been removed and replaced with an API called Declarative Net Request.

Instead of monitoring all data in network requests, the new API forces extension makers to pre-define rules to handle certain types of traffic, and when the rules are triggered, the extension can perform a smaller set of actions.

This is a problem with some add-ons. Adblock Plus, one of the most popular ad blockers, has approved the MV3 modifications. Although it is worth noting that the extension has a financial relationship with Google.

Google is rolling out these changes as a privacy, security, and performance feature. But critics see it as an attempt to limit the effects of the ad ban on businesses funded almost entirely by advertising.

However, some makers of ad blockers and privacy plugins say the change has eroded the effectiveness of their products. “Google is about privacy by design,” said Jean-Paul Schmitz, CEO of Ghostery, a privacy-focused browser extension. But it still claims to have a monopoly on the entire ecosystem. It does this by killing the digital privacy companies that give users control over their data.

The Ghostery extension is a great example of a product that could be severely affected by changes to Google. In addition to blocking advertising content, the extension also analyzes the communication between a website and a user's browser, looks for data that could inadvertently identify an individual visitor to a website, and replaces it with general data before web traffic leaves the browser.

The developers say that this requires the ability to change network traffic at any time. It is severely restricted due to the limitations of MV3.

The developers of ad blockers also fear that the changes will have an impact beyond Chrome. The MV3 specification is part of the Chromium project, an open source web browser created by Google that forms the basis for Chrome, Edge, Opera, Brave, and more.

Firefox allows add-ons to use more sophisticated blocking techniques

Since Chromium supports these projects, browsers that rely on them may need to switch to the MV3 add-on format. Extensions for these browsers can no longer block ads that use network requests.

As the lead developer of Chromium, Google has tremendous control over what browser extensions can and cannot do.

This differentiates browsers that do not rely on Chromium (Firefox and Safari in particular) as they have the opportunity to take a different approach to designing extensions and can now differentiate themselves with a more permissive approach to ad blocking.

For compatibility reasons, Mozilla continues to use most of the Manifest V3 specification in Firefox, allowing add-ons to be ported from Chrome with minimal changes. But after Google removed Firefox, Firefox continued to support blocking web requests, allowing more sophisticated ad blockers to work as usual.

Mozilla clearly understands that privacy is a core value for those who use its products. "We know that blocking content is important to Firefox users, and we want to make sure they have access to the best privacy tools available," she said. In Firefox, we block tracking by default, but we still allow ads to load in the browser. If users want to block ads completely, we believe it is important that they do so.

Google is on the way

Anyway, it looks like Google is on the way. The company said it supports the ban, which is meant to limit the type of data certain extensions can collect. And this is despite a wave of criticism from the developers of Adblocker.

"We are pleased that Mozilla supports Manifest V3, which aims to make add-ons more secure for everyone," she added. Chrome supports and continues to support ad blockers. We're changing the way web request blocking works because we're fundamentally changing the way extensions work to improve the security and privacy features of our extension platform.

According to the search giant, it has received positive feedback on the changes from many content blocking extension developers. He noted that the developers of Adblock Plus praised it.

Firefox's stance on ad blocking could encourage more users to switch to the browser. Firefox currently has less than 8% of the computer browser market compared to 67% for Chrome.

These changes will be more visible to users of all Chromium-based browsers once Manifest V2 support ends in June 2023.

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