Is Google Chromium too powerful in one hand?

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New updates are added at the bottom of this story…

The original story (published November 7, 2022) follows:

It was all fun and games when Donald Trump threatened to ban Huawei and stop them from doing business with American companies. But as I write this, Huawei smartphones are still without Google apps as a result of this ban.

In 2019, when this whole saga started, Huawei was about to usurp Samsung to become the world’s leading smartphone vendor. But that milestone never happened simply because Huawei couldn’t run Google apps on its devices.

Without the Google Play Store, for example, your app market is drastically reduced. The lack of GMS support also means that a good number of day-to-day applications are heavily affected.

Google single-handedly ending Huawei’s ambitious push to become the global smartphone leader is scary to think about. Of course, Qualcomm and Intel also played their part, but it was Google that cut the deepest.

At one point, it looked like a witch hunt, and even an investigation by Protocol implicated him. Apparently, 56% of respondents felt the Trump administration’s restrictions on Chinese tech companies had gone too far.

This same survey also found that most Americans think big tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon wield too much power and influence.

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And that couldn’t be truer when looking at Huawei’s case. It’s thanks to Google’s power over Android that the US government was able to easily oust the Chinese juggernaut.

Without stopping with Android, it seems that Google has quietly pushed for a similar influence on web browsers through its open-source Chromium project.

In case you didn’t know, Chromium is a free software project created by Google and maintained by several entities, including Google and Microsoft.

Much like AOSP, Google has opened up Chromium to anyone who wants to build a web browser without having to go through the hassle of coding everything from scratch.

Anyone, including you, can grab the Chromium source code, compile it, and fine-tune it to deliver a personalized web browsing experience.

Apart from Google Chrome, several other web browsers also use Chromium as their code base. Microsoft’s Edge is the biggest, but there are also Opera, Vivaldi, Samsung Internet and Brave browsers.

Safari and Firefox do not depend on Chromium. However, they only account for a total of 26.58% of the total web browser market share as of September 2022. The rest is a chrome market led by Google Chrome.

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With Google’s growing influence on web browsers, I’m afraid we’ll see another “Huawei” case, but this time with web browsers. Take the controversial Manifest V3 update, for example.

Starting in January 2023, Google will rewrite the rules that govern web browser extensions. The company uses Manifest API systems to govern how extensions interact with web browsers, and the current version is V2.

With the Manifest V3 update, Google will introduce new extension rules aimed at limiting the power of ad blockers while browsing the web and in turn increasing its ad revenue.

Since this is an API-level change, it will not only affect Google’s Chrome browser, but also others that rely on Chromium source code. And this naturally causes anxiety among users of various browsers.

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Google is switching the Manifest V2 API to Manifest V3. This effectively kills ad blockers. Now they are using the “it makes Chrome more secure” excuse to extort more money from you. I hope everyone understands how bad it is when it comes to constantly being fed ads. We see them everywhere, and extensions are the only real way to prevent blatant and intrusive ads (apart from paying for certain services of course, i.e. YouTube Premium).

However, some ad blockers will still work with Manifest V3, but nothing really worth using Chrome. For this I am switching to another browser and will not return to Chrome until ad blockers and other privacy extensions are developed for Manifest V3.
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Although there is optimism that ad blockers will still be effective after developers adapt them to work with Manifest V3, a statement from Vivaldi suggests that there may still be limitations compared to the functionality V2.

However, it’s important to note that extension ad blockers often depend on other APIs that are removed in Manifest V3 (and likely much harder to bring back), so there’s no guarantee that simply keeping the blocking version of webRequest alive is going to be enough, without a bit of work from the extension maintainers.
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This has also been picked up by the developers at AdGuard, who have already updated their ad blocker to support Manifest V3, but they admit they had a lot to do while they were at it.

Although the experimental extension is not as effective as its predecessor, most users will not feel the difference. The only thing you might notice is the flickering of ads due to the lag in applying cosmetic rules.

It seems Google’s ad revenue is being impacted by ad blockers. And with their hands all over Chromium, Manifest V3 aims to further restrict ad blockers in their favor, not in favor of the user.

But looking at what Google’s massive control over Android has done to Huawei, centrally controlling almost all web browsers rather than letting everyone make individual decisions doesn’t sit well with me.

Apple and Mozilla, for example, make their own decisions, which the latter even confirmed in an official statement that there will be continued support for ad blockers as usual.

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But everyone on Chromium will have to follow Google’s rules. If anything, whatever Google decides is good for Chromium affects a large portion of web browsers.

In one fell swoop, the search giant can make sweeping changes to the way we’ve come to know web browsing thanks to the massive influence of the Chromium project.

And it’s having that control over not just web browsers, but the internet in general, that should be a major concern for many, especially given Google’s recent history.

On the contrary, Chromium is becoming the “AOSP” of web browsers, and Google is just beginning to mark its authority. With that kind of power in Google’s hands, who knows what will be nerfed next?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. As for the survey below, we will share the results after a week.

Update (Nov 14, 2022)

The results are out and it looks like 70% of our readers are worried about Google’s influence on other web browsers, while 20% aren’t. The other 10% don’t really care.

PiunikaWeb began as a purely investigative tech journalism website with a primary focus on “breaking” or “exclusive” news. In no time, our stories were picked up by Forbes, Foxnews, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Engadget, The Verge, Macrumors and many more. Would you like to know more about us? Head here.

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