People Are Mad That Google Chrome May Kill Ad Blockers

(Image credit: Ink Drop/Shutterstock)

Google has proposed changes to Chromium, the open source engine used in its Chrome browser, that could effectively kill ad blockers as we know them today. That isn't the stated reason for the changes, of course. Google says it wants to make Chrome extensions more secure, better defend user privacy and ensure page load times aren't increased by unruly extensions. But some are arguing the move could be more detrimental than that. 

Here's what the Ghostery ad blocking company said in a statement, as per Gizmodo this week:

“This would basically mean that Google is destroying ad blocking and privacy protection as we know it. They pretend to do this for the sake of privacy and browser performance; however, in reality, users would be left with only very limited ways to prevent third parties from intercepting their surfing behavior or to get rid of unwanted content.”

On January 22, developer Raymond Hill made a similar point in a discussion about the change.

"This essentially means that two content blockers I have maintained for years, uBlock Origin ('uBO') and uMatrix, can no longer exist," he said.

To say uBlock Origin would be missed if it disappeared is an understatement; it's been installed more than 10 million times from the Chrome Web Store alone.

A Potential Blow to Online Privacy

Losing tools like these would be a huge blow to online privacy. Countless trackers monitor browsing activity so it can be sold to the highest bidder. Most of these trackers are invisible, and there's no way to stop most of them from working unless you use some form of automated ad blocking tool. If uBO's download figures are any indicator, millions of people are doing just that.

That's a problem for Google. The company makes the vast majority of its money via ad platforms. Reducing the effectiveness of ads shown via those platforms reduces their value, so even if ad blockers only stopped tracking instead of completely blocking ads, they'd be a problem.

You can probably see where this is going. Google is the exception to the rule because it makes the browser people use to view the websites on which its ads are displayed. Well, actually, it's even better than that. Google also makes the browser engine and a search tool many people use to navigate the web, as well as many of the destinations those people are searching for and the ad network used on most ad-supported sites. No other company has that much apparent power over the web.

Microsoft is reportedly planning to switch its Edge browser over to Chromium. Some have alleged that Google all but forced this shift by "breaking" websites for its services (Gmail, Docs, YouTube, etc.) in other browsers. Google's services are more popular than Microsoft's, at least online, so this theory notes that Edge either has to adapt or be left behind.

All hope wouldn't be lost if these changes hit Google Chrome. People could switch to browsers like Firefox, Safari or Brave to continue using ad blockers. There are also hardware solutions like the Pi-hole for people who don't mind tinkering a bit and want even greater control over the information they share.

Google might not move forward with the proposed change to Chromium. But even considering this shift demonstrates the potential risks of giving one company so much influence over the web.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • canadianvice
    I'm furious.

    If all of these pro-ad mooks could stop serving malware, maybe I'd abide them. As it stands, their services are usually worth at best a few cents, whereas virus repair/the time is worth $150+ in my area.

    If they want to kill adblockers, how about we introduce liability to police their ads? We know how that'd work out.

    Anyway, I like chrome, but no adblocking is a deal-breaker, depending on how severe this change is. Personally, I get major "enroll, extend, extinguish" vibes from this.
  • punkncat
    I tend to agree. It disrupts usability when you are having to deal with pop ups every time you click a page, aside from safety and privacy concerns.
  • wwaaacs5
    sooooo back to a different browser then?
  • derekullo
    Google makes a browser that can't block ads ...

    I'm surprised Google let Chrome block ads at all for this long.

    "A fox guarding the hen house" comes to mind.

    I've always used Firefox and Noscript, but even this was only a last line of defense.

    Adguard DNS can block ads no matter which browser you use.

    A custom HOSTS file can also block ads no matter which browser you use.

    When I teach Online Security classes I sadly use Toms Hardware to show the difference between a site with tons of ads (before any of the above protections) and a site with no ads (after the above protections) with a page load timer showing exactly how much time is saved with ads being removed.
  • jeremyj_83
    Using an adblocker makes web pages load faster since we don't have to load all the ad garbage. It is so annoying when a webpage is more than 50% covered in ads and the page is almost unusable.
  • spentshells
    I would agree to adds to only things I actually want, which I could choose. Which would be none.... Deffinately not the belt line condos in Calgary.
  • Pat Flynn
    More reason to move to Firefox. I've had performance issues with Chrome since the meltdown/spectre fixes and been using FF ever since. It fully supports all kinds of ad-block extensions, although you have to work some magic to block the autoplay videos on this site (cut that crap out Tom's!!)
  • patrick47018
    If you care about privacy I highly recommend looking into moving to Firefox, good browser vanilla but with an abundance of useful add-ons to customize, privatize, and secure your online experiences.
  • targetdrone
    Shortly after Google does this there will be a HUGE ransomware outbreak. Just wait.
  • jimmysmitty
    21709357 said:
    sooooo back to a different browser then?

    I would say Firefox or Edge but last news was Microsoft is rewriting Edge to use Chromium. So yay.