When Google introduced Manifest V3 in 2019, web extension developers were alarmed at the amount of functionality that would be taken away for features they provide users. Especially features like blocking trackers and providing secure connections. This new iteration of Google Chrome’s web extensions interface still has flaws that might be addressed through thoughtful consensus of the web extension developer community. However, two years and counting of discussion and conflict around Manifest V3 have ultimately exposed the problematic power Google holds over how millions of people experience the web. With the more recent announcement of the official transition to Manifest V3 and the deprecation of Manifest V2 in 2023, many privacy based web extensions will be mitigated in how they are able to protect users.
The security and privacy claims that Google has made about web extensions may or may not be addressed with Manifest V3. But the fact remains that the extensions that users have relied on for privacy will be heavily stunted if the current proposal moves forward. A move that was presented as user-focused, actually takes away the user’s power to block unwanted tracking for their security and privacy needs.
Large Influence, Little Challenge
First, a short history lesson. In 2015, Mozilla announced its move to adopt the webRequest API, already used by Chrome, in an effort to synchronize the landscape for web extension developers. Fast forwarding to the Manifest V3 announcement in 2019, Google put Mozilla in the position of choosing to split or sync with their Firefox browser. Splitting would mean taking a strong stand against Manifest V3 as an alternative and supporting web extensions developers’ innovation in user privacy controls. Syncing would mean going along with Google’s plan for the sake of not splitting up web extension development any further.
Mozilla has decided to support Manifest V2’s blocking webRequest API and MV3’s declarativeNetRequest API for now. A move that is very much shaped by Google’s push to make MV3 the standard, supporting both APIs is only half the battle. MV3 dictates an ecosystem change that limits MV2 extensions and would likely force MV2 based extensions to conform to MV3 in the near future. Mozilla’s acknowledgement that MV3 doesn’t meet web extension developers’ needs shows that MV3 is not yet ready for prime time. Yet, there is pressure to get stable, trusted extensions to allocate resources to port their extensions to more limited versions of themselves with a less stable API.
Manifest V3 Technical Issues
Even though strides have been made in browser security and privacy, web extensions like Privacy Badger, NoScript, and uBlock Origin have filled the gap of providing the granular control users want. One of the most significant changes outlined in Manifest V3 is the removal of blocking webRequest API and the flexibility it gave developers to programmatically handle network requests on behalf of the user. Queued to replace blocking webRequest API, the declarativeNetRequest API includes low caps on how many sites these extensions could cover. Another mandate is moving from Background Pages, a context that allows web extension developers to properly assess and debug, to an alternative, less powerful context called Background Service Workers. This context wasn’t originally built with web extension development in mind, which has led to its own conversation in many forums.
In short, Service Workers were meant for a sleep/wake cycle of web asset-to-user delivery—for example, caching consistent images and information so the user won’t need to use a lot of resources when reconnecting to that website again with a limited connection. Web extensions need persistent communication between the extension and the browser, often based on user interaction, like being able to detect and block ad trackers as they load onto the web page in real time. This has resulted in a significant list of issues that will have to be addressed to cover many valid use cases. These discussions, however, are happening as web extension developers are being asked to port to MV3 in the next year without a stable workflow available with pending issues such as no defined service worker context for web extensions, pending WebAssembly support, and lack of consistent and direct support from the Chrome extensions team itself.
Since the announcement of Manifest V3, Google has announced several controversial “Privacy Sandbox” proposals for privacy mechanisms for Chrome. The highest-stakes discussions about these proposals are in the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. While technically “anyone” can listen into the open meetings, only W3C members can propose formal documentation on specifications and have leadership positions. Being a member has its own overhead of fees and time commitment. This is something a large multinational corporation can easily overcome, but it can be a barrier to user-focused groups. Unless these power dynamics are directly addressed, a participant’s voice gets louder with market share.
Recently this year, after the many Google forum-based discussions around Manifest V3, a WebExtensions Community Group has been formed in the W3C. Community group participation does not require W3C membership, but they do not produce standards. Chaired by employees from Google and Apple, this group states that by “specifying the APIs, functionality, and permissions of WebExtensions, we can make it even easier for extension developers to enhance end user experience, while moving them towards APIs that improve performance and prevent abuse.”
But this move for greater democracy would have been more powerful and effective before Google’s unilateral push to impose Manifest V3. This story is disappointingly similar to what occurred with Google’s AMP technology: more democratic discussions and open governance were offered only after AMP had become ubiquitous.
With the planned deprecation of Manifest V2 extensions, the decision has already been made. The rest of the web extensions community are forced to comply, deviate from, or leave a large browser extension ecosystem that doesn’t include Chrome. And that’s harder than it may sound: Chromium, the open-source browser engine based on Chrome, is the basis for Microsoft Edge, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave. Statements have been made by Vivaldi, Brave, and Opera on MV3 and their plans to preserve ad-blockers and privacy preserving features of MV2, yet the ripple effects are clear when Chrome makes a major change.
What Does A Better MV3 Look Like?
Some very valid concerns and asks have been raised with the W3C Web Extensions Community Group that would help to propel the web extensions realm back to a better place.
- Make the declarativeNetRequest API optional in Chrome, as it is currently. The API provides a path for extensions that have more static and simplistic features without needing to implement more powerful APIs. Extensions that use the blocking webRequest API, with it’s added power can be given extra scrutiny upon submission review.
- In an effort to sooth the technical issues around Background Service Workers, Mozilla proposed in the W3C Group an alternative to Service Workers for web extensions, dubbed “Limited Event Pages”. Where this approach restores a lot of the standard website APIs and support lost with Background Service Workers. Safari expressed support, but Chrome has expressed lack of support with reasons pending but not explicitly stated at the time of this post.
- No further introduction of regressions in important functionality that MV2 has. For example, being able to inject scripts before page load. This is broken with pending amendments in MV3.
Even though one may see the moves between web extensions API changes and privacy mechanism proposals as two separate endeavors, it speaks to the expansive power of how one company can impact the ecosystem of the web; both when they do great things, and when they make bad decisions. The question that must be asked is who has the burden of enforcing what is fair: the standards organizations that engage with large company proposals or the companies themselves? Secondly, who has the most power if one constituency says “no” and another says “yes”? Community partners, advocates, and smaller companies are permitted to say no and not work with companies who enter the room frequently with worrying proposals, but then that company can claim that silence means consensus when they decide to go forward with a plan. Similar dynamics have occurred before when the W3C grappled with Do Not Track (DNT) where proponents of weaker privacy mechanisms feigned concern over user privacy and choice. So in this case, large companies like Google can make nefarious or widely useful decisions without much incentive to say no to themselves. In the case of MV3, they gave room and time to discuss issues with the web extensions community. That is the bare minimum standard for making such a big change, so to congratulate a powerful entity for making space for many other voices would only add to the sentiment that this should be the norm in open web politics.
No matter how well meaning a proposal can be, the reality is millions of people’s experiences on the internet are often left up to the ethics of a few in companies and standards organizations.
Canada’s ambassador to China to leave post after helping free detainees
Canada‘s ambassador to China said on Monday he would soon leave his post after a two-year assignment where he helped secure the freedom of two Canadian detainees despite icy relations between Beijing and Ottawa.
Dominic Barton’s departure, which will take effect on Dec 31, leaves a crucial diplomatic post open at a time when the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rethinking its policy towards a more assertive China.
Barton said in a statement that working to free the two men had been “the honor of a lifetime”.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor spent almost three years in detention before being freed in September. The two were jailed shortly after Canadian police picked up a top Huawei Technologies Co Inc executive on a U.S. warrant.
Trudeau, under pressure from the official opposition Conservatives to take a tougher line with China over human rights, said Canada was “better positioned to manage this important relationship and achieve our diplomatic objectives”.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said Trudeau had mishandled the relationship with China, which he said was currently a disaster. Canada should consider a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, he told reporters, a step U.S. President Joe Biden is set to announce this week.
Despite the release of the two men, bilateral relations remain chilly. A Chinese ban on imports of canola from two major companies imposed in 2019 remains in place and Canada is yet to decide whether to bar Huawei equipment from 5G telecommunications networks.
Two senior diplomatic sources said Canada was putting together a new strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, in part to deal with China. Canadian officials say Ottawa, which has limited diplomatic influence, must work with others.
In February, Canada launched a 58-nation initiative to stop countries from detaining foreign citizens for diplomatic leverage, a practice that Ottawa says China is using.
Charles Burton, a China expert and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think tank, said one replacement for Barton could be long-time diplomat Julia Bentley, who served in China from 2011-2014 and recently ended an assignment as head of mission in Malaysia.
Another possibility is Sarah Taylor, a fluent Mandarin speaker, who is ambassador to Thailand.
The office of Foreign Minister Melanie Joly did not immediately respond to questions about when a replacement might be named or whether Canada might consider a diplomatic boycott.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; editing by Philippa Fletcher)
Politics Podcast: Most Americans Don’t Blame God For All The Bad Stuff That Keeps Happening – FiveThirtyEight
On today’s Politics Podcast, the crew gets into God, COVID-19, and the midterms. So, the usual. They discuss a new poll about whom Americans blame for misfortune — is it a higher power, or the unending, uncontrollable, unyielding chaos of the universe? Then they pivot to what causes so much of our misfortune these days: COVID-19. Namely, the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, how concerned Americans are and should be, and what it might mean for politics in the coming months.
And then finally it’s time for the horse race stuff: Who’s running in 2022, who’s not, and what that tells us about how politicians are sizing up their chances in the midterms and beyond. As part of that discussion, they discuss how running on a lark might be different for women than it is for men, and mention FiveThirtyEight’s “When Women Run” project, which features an interview with Stacey Abrams.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
Brazil Politics: Impasse Over Bill That Eases Fiscal Rule – BNN
(Bloomberg) — The lower house and the senate reached an impasse over the so-called precatorio bill, which eases austerity laws and makes room in the budget for President Jair Bolsonaro’s new social program.
The constitutional amendment was approved by both houses of congress in two rounds of voting, and the senate made changes to the text, forcing it to return to the lower house. But senators didn’t receive well a proposal made by house Speaker Arthur Lira, who would like to speed up the process by enacting only the consensual part of proposal — leaving changes to be voted on a separate bill at a later date.
Another idea would be to take the full text of the bill, including changes introduced by the senate, directly to a vote on the floor of the lower house, skipping its committees. The issue will be debated on Monday during a meeting of senate leaders.
The economy ministry cut to 0.4% from from 0.99% of gross domestic product its estimate for next year’s primary budget deficit, considering the approval of the precatorio bill, according to newspapers.
Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the Brazilian state-owned oil giant, will announce a reduction in the price of fuel in the next few weeks, Poder360 reported, citing an interview with President Jair Bolsonaro.
The report provided no details. The president’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Room for a so-called third-way presidential candidate running as an alternative to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Jair Bolsonaro depends on the incumbent losing popularity and not making it to the runoff, Christopher Garman, director of the Eurasia Americas division, said in an interview with Valor Economico.
He forecast that Bolsonaro’s popularity will recover in the coming months with an increase in the minimum wage, cash handouts and an expected deceleration of inflation. Garman doesn’t expect such moves to make Bolsonaro the front-runner ahead of Lula, but sees former judge Sergio Moro coming third in the race. Chances of a runoff between Lula and Bolsonaro is 80% and the leftist leader is more likely to win then, the newspaper quoted Garman as saying.
- Guedes wants Bolsonaro to support the liberal agenda during the 2022 election campaign: Folha de S.Paulo
- Moro says he believes in the leadership of his electoral project and puts the polarization Lula-Bolsonaro in check : Estado
- Moro met wit Rio Grande do Sul Governor Eduardo Leite
Brazil reported 4,844 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, according to data published by the Ministry of Health. The death toll reached 615,636, with 66 in the past 24 hours.
Newspapers’ Top Stories
- O Estado de S. Paulo
- Mayors fail to use 15 billion reais ($2.6 billion) of the budget for education
- Folha de S.Paulo
- GSI allows mining in preserved areas of the Amazon
- O Globo
- Use of revolving credit card lines hits record
- Valor Economico
- Even with weak GDP, BC is likely to maintain a high interest rate policy
Promulgação da PEC gera embate no Congresso: Radar Político
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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