Google’s Latest Chrome Update: Security Patch or Money Grab?

March 11, 2019

In its November 2018 release of its Manifest v3 public document, Google announced an upcoming security update for their Chrome browser.

The biggest change announced is the way in which Chrome extensions work; Google is clamping down on extensions which fetch and run code from remote servers. While this ostensibly sounds like a sensible move to stop the hiding of malicious code in seemingly harmless extensions, there will be one major casualty of this update: ad blockers. While the Manifest v3 document is still in draft, meaning that nothing announced is set in stone, the announcement immediately received backlash from developer communities and Chrome users alike.

Ad blockers are currently one of the most popular and widely used extensions available, the ad blocker uBlock Origin alone has over 10 million users, and since Google’s main revenue source is paid advertisements across the various Google networks, conspiracy theories about Google’s true intentions are growing.

So, what does this mean for Search Engine Marketers and advertisers? From a SEM point of view, this could be viewed as a positive; fewer ad blockers (or even none at all) would surely mean better ad exposure and therefore better ad traffic to site and revenue. However, one unintended consequence of this could be users jumping ship and switching from Chrome to a competing browser. For those of us running campaigns targeted at specific user demographics, this could potentially mean much less targeted ad spend, as demographic targeting relies on users being logged into Chrome and the data harvested from browsing activity. Potentially, this could mean Google losing market share to rivals such as Firefox.

Whatever the eventual outcome, Google seems to have shot itself in the foot somewhat. The latest security update and their approach seems unusually ham-fisted for a company such as Google. To put a blanket ban on running code from remote servers, which extensions other than ad blockers also rely on, is a blunt-force strategy. And following community outcry, Google has repeatedly stated that those changes are not set in stone and are still subject to revision. Whether or not these security updates will be rolled out in their current form is yet to be seen, but it is most likely that they will go ahead potentially in an altered or watered-down version.

Author – Jack Biram

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