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New API Changes How Ad Blockers Work in Chrome

Google this week announced the introduction of a new API that effectively changes the manner in which ad blockers work in Chrome. 

Google this week announced the introduction of a new API that effectively changes the manner in which ad blockers work in Chrome. 

The Internet search giant has made numerous changes to extension-related rules over the past year, to ensure increased user security, including the removal of inline installation of extensions, tighter rules on permissions, and the recent policy aiming at deceptive installation tactics

The changes announced in October were meant to improve the security, privacy, and performance of Chrome extensions, and also resulted in an 89% drop in the rate of malicious installations since early 2018, Google said. Around 1,800 malicious extensions are blocked each month before reaching the Chrome store. 

The company also says it has increased the size of engineering teams working on extension abuse by over 300%, as well as the number of reviewers by over 400%.

To further improve the user protection, the company is making various other changes to the platform as well, to provide users with increased visibility and control over the data shared with extensions. 

“One way we are doing this is by helping users be deliberate in granting access to sensitive data – such as emails, photos, and access to social media accounts. As we make these changes we want to continue to support extensions in empowering users and enhancing their browsing experience,” Google notes

The newly introduced Declarative Net Request API replaces parts of the Web Request API, through which developers request access to only the data needed to accomplish the expected functionality. 

“At a high level, this change means that an extension does not need access to all a user’s sensitive data in order to block content,” Google points out. 

The current Web Request API requires users to grant permission for Chrome to pass all information about a network request to an extension, and that includes emails, photos, or other private information. 

The Declarative Net Request API, Google says, allows extensions to block content without the user granting access to their sensitive information, and should also result in substantial lower overhead in the browser, thus resulting in increasing system-level performance benefits. 

“This has been a controversial change since the Web Request API is used by many popular extensions, including ad blockers. We are not preventing the development of ad blockers or stopping users from blocking ads. Instead, we want to help developers, including content blockers, write extensions in a way that protects users’ privacy,” the search company underlines. 

These changes will require for developers to update the manner in which their extensions operate, but will ultimately result in users being able to limit the sensitive data they share with third-parties, in addition to being able to curate their own browsing experience. 

Related: Chrome Extensions Policy Hits Deceptive Installation Tactics

Related: New Service From Cisco’s Duo Labs Analyzes Chrome Extensions

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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