YouTube, Chrome, and Ad Blockers

Some table-setting: I rarely need to note any conflicts of interest in the things I publish here, but repeat site sponsor — most recently this weekMagic Lasso is an ad blocker, and its developer must navigate YouTube’s crackdown. To be clear, this post is not informed by that sponsorship, and I am mindful of separating the part of this site that makes me money from the reason people read anything I write in the first place. (Sorry, Magic Lasso.)

Anthony Ha, Engadget:

As noted in a blog post by the ad- and tracker-blocking company Ghostery, YouTube employs a wide variety of techniques to circumvent ad blockers, such as embedding an ad in the video itself (so the ad blocker can’t distinguish between the two), or serving ads from the same domain as the video, fooling filters that have been set up to block ads served from third-party domains.


Keeping pace with YouTube will likely become even more challenging next year, when Google’s Chrome browser adopts the Manifest V3 standard, which significantly limits what extensions are allowed to do. Modras said that under Manifest V3, whenever an ad blocker wants to update its blocklist — again, something they may need to do multiple times a day — it will have to release a full update and undergo a review “which can take anywhere between [a] few hours to even a few weeks.”

The transition to Manifest V3 has been a long time coming, which means much has been written about it, and I question the more absolutist claims that its eventual rollout will destroy ad blockers. In 2019, Catalin Cimpanu of ZDNet reported that Apple rolled out similar restrictions, pointing to shutdown notices from uBlock Origin and AdGuard Pro. Four years later, uBlock remains unavailable, but there is still a version of AdGuard for Safari. I would bet on there being differences, but ad blockers exist for Safari, which surely means the kinds of restrictions Google is working on are not a death knell for the industry.

Unsurprisingly, the motivations for this feel different when it is being done by Google instead of Apple because Google’s whole business model is based on advertising. When it changes extensions in Chrome, the world’s most popular web browser, in ways that make ad blocking more difficult, people are going to view that as a conflict of interest. YouTube also happens to be the place the most of the world watches video. That gives Google an extraordinary advantage: it runs the browser, it hosts the video, and it powers the ads.

Craig Mod:

YouTube premium is the greatest deal on the internet, and all the work to block YouTube ads leaves me confused. Premium is the best kind of paid service upgrade: it makes the user experience perfect and you support creators.

It is nice for there to be options available to users instead of an expectation of advertising. If you watch a lot of YouTube, Premium looks like a great choice, though I find it requires a reorientation of your headspace: think of YouTube Premium as “YouTube”, and YouTube sans Premium as the “free trial” or “lite” version. That framing also puts Google’s strategy for YouTube into a more understandable context, I think. Google has increased the per-video ad load and it delivers fewer skippable ads, and it is becoming more strict about ad blocking in the same way many software companies limit free trials.

But I can understand why people block ads, too, because the quality of ads I get on YouTube sucks. Part of this is my fault because I am a more privacy-conscious user and, so, take steps to prevent specific targeting. That means I get an awful lot of ads with deep-faked celebrities hawking sketchy investments, garbage supplements, gambling, diet scammers, and other bottom-of-the-barrel crap. I understand my restrictions reduce my likelihood of seeing things which interest me. On the other hand, why is Google accepting ads like these in the first place?

Ha notes that Adblock Plus is not dedicating itself to YouTube ad blocking, as it says they fall under the acceptable ads criteria. Fine. I do not think the sort of ads I get are actually acceptable in a broader sense; they are the kinds of things that would be rightfully be rejected by the sleaziest print publication. But if they are not seen as disruptive in the way, say, a popover or interstitial ad might be, I can understand that.

At least there are now options. You can grin and bear the nightmare surveillance ad machine, you can excise yourself from that targeting and still put up with ads, or you can pay to separate yourself from the results of that system while your data is still used to feed it. Or you can try to fight it. Just be prepared for Google to fight back.

You can also support your favourite video creators — or writers — on platforms like Patreon, too. But that cuts Google out of the revenue picture, so do not expect to see them pitching that as a legitimate alternative option. The main problem with YouTube is that it is a social network for some users, and a utility for others, and those perspectives are not always compatible.