Chrome and Firefox battle to be ‘most secure browser’ in ad blocker storm
Navigators come and go. A handful manage to hang on and begin a long process of upgrades to continue offering what the public expects from a browser. Internet Explorer, once the dominant player, was retired this month (though a handful of long-term support contracts ensure it’s still around). In 2021, Google’s browser, Chrome, was the market leader, with more than 3.2 billion users worldwide. The silver-winning browser, with a relatively meager 576 million users, was Safari.
Firefox – A browser on the ropes?
Mozilla’s Firefox, once a go-to browser for its security features, has struggled during the pandemic years. In fact, it lost around 30 million active users between 2019 and 2022. This has led some tech watchers to speculate that Firefox has lost its grip on what users need from a browser in the 2020s. It’s a mistake to count Firefox for now. Especially considering a set of changes that have just been made to Chrome. Known as Manifest V3, the changes aim to increase user security on Chrome-based browsers. Mozilla’s Firefox has always lived and breathed security. In fact, it’s one of the main features that made people adopt it in the first place, especially during Internet Explorer’s period of dominance, a time when the “browser-based security problem” was a common trope in cybersecurity briefings.
Manifest V3 is, as Google puts it, “one of the biggest changes” to its extension platform since the launch of Chrome. This changes Google’s philosophy on end-user privacy and gives a nod to Mozilla’s focus on perpetual security. Google users are concerned that when Manifest V3 is implemented, their privacy-based ad blockers might stop working. Which means that in an effort to improve the end-user security of its platform extension, Google may have just punched a hole in Chrome’s ad-blocking capability.
Firefox – A bouncing browser?
Mozilla, on the other hand, has just announced that within Firefox, ad blockers will continue to function normally. This means that after its own implementation of Manifest V3, it will still support the ad blocking version of the WebRequest API of browsers.
In fact, in a blog post, Mozilla stated that it: “…also provides support for declarativeNetRequest. We will continue to work with content blockers and other key consumers of this API to identify current and future alternatives where appropriate. »
So suddenly Chrome users may have an arguably less secure, or at least more boring, Internet experience than Firefox users. Google reiterated its commitment to working with browser plugins to ensure their continued operation, and these plugins will include ad blockers.
The scientific part
Here’s how Manifest V2 and Manifest V3 will differ in crucial ways.
Under Manifest V2, the current iteration, when you load a website or page, your computer sends requests to the site, but through ad-blocking plugins, if you have them installed. They verify the data that comes back to you. This data can come from a number of sources – images stored on one server, forms on another, cascading style sheets on a third, advertising media on a fourth, etc., all coming together to create the page you want to view.
When the data returns to your computer, it is queried by the same plug-ins, and ads and malware are denied access to your computer.
Manifest V3 is designed to solve two problems. The first is the time this query takes per plugin. And the second is the potential of plugins to alter the traffic and interaction between your machine and the internet. There is a logic to this, as plugins can be corrupted to allow malware to access your machine, or could redirect your website request to a scam site and blind you.
Manifest v3 will allow plugins to check and block requests checked against static resources, as a fairly specific blacklist, but won’t check everything dynamically, like under Manifest V2 currently.
The result is that v. 3 should remove some of the time shift experiences that are prevalent in Manifest V2. It should also be better for maintaining a secure plugin ecosystem.
What Google does not recognize is that users (via the plug-ins they install) will have less control over precisely who advertisements pass user-installed checks and appear on the computer screen. And that, coincidentally, is consistent with Google’s position as the world’s largest online advertising agency.
Essentially, Manifest V3 could give control of the ads you see to a company that potentially gets paid by advertisers to let you see them, bypassing the pesky blocking code that in Manifest V2 would have kept you from being bothered by advertisements. Google will always work with ad blockers, but in the world of Manifest V3, all ad blockers may not be created equal.
Browsers opening windows of opportunity
But in life and business, sometimes there are opportunities, and Mozilla takes full advantage of this moment. With about 10% of the browser market, compared to 65% for Chrome, it must seize all opportunities by the horns. It pledges to keep its ad blockers in place despite Manifest V3. But Mozilla is also highlighting the problem, writing blogs showing Chrome users how to switch to Firefox.
It is possible that users and developers will be influenced by the ad blocker issue to try Firefox again. And every day that Chrome users experience ad blocker issues can only help Mozilla. It won’t shake Google into its 3 billion starts, but it might convince users to “see other browsers.”
Browsers of choice?
And once users move browsers once, it can be difficult for Google to win them back. After all, the old browser offers much of what Chrome does in 2022. Its main focus is security, including the universally loved “Container Tabs” feature, added to a relatively fast and transparent browsing service, means that former Chrome users may have a hard time remembering exactly why they switched to Google Browser in the first place.
Professional tech users are generally happy to switch browsers based on complex perceived benefits. Most non-specialist internet users around the world tend to stick with their browser of choice unless it is visibly starting to affect their experience. A repartition of ad blockers might just do that, moving them away from Chrome. Once they’ve moved, the intricacies of upgrading from Manifest V3 in Chrome may not provide enough reason for the majority of them to back down.
And reminding the world of its history as a security-focused browser just might bring users back to Firefox.
The ticking of the clock
This issue, and this reminder, may be exactly what Mozilla needs to overcome its three-year user crisis. Although it doesn’t match Chrome, it may help strengthen Mozilla’s position against market rivals like Microsoft Edge.
Meanwhile, time is running out at Google to match Mozilla’s continued support for ad blockers, or to explain why it won’t. Or at least get its message across with more clarity and hopefully some transparency on everything of his motives.