Google's new Chrome extension policy is a step backwards

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 20, 2013
Updated • Sep 22, 2014
Google Chrome

When it comes to customizing the browser user interface, Chrome was always one of the browsers that did not allow many changes. In fact, it is one of the least modifiable browsers out there. Even Microsoft's Internet Explorer offers more customization options than Google Chrome.

Some users like that, as it makes the browser interface appear slimmed down so that there is more space for websites and their contents. Others dislike it, as it takes away choice from them.

While it is possible to display a bookmarks toolbar in Chrome, that is about it when it comes to the Google Chrome interface and even that option may be ignored by a lot of users as it is hidden in the main -- and only -- menu of the browser.

If you take Firefox for example, it is up to the user how the interface looks like. With several toolbars, buttons, and even sidebars, or slimmed down to be as slim as Chrome.

In Keeping Chrome Extensions Simply, Google announced an update to Chrome's Web Store policy in regards to extensions.

The announcement featured a picture of Microsoft's Internet Explorer prominently that had more than a dozen toolbars installed. This was done to highlight what Google -- and likely every other Internet user on the planet -- does not like: toolbars that clutter up browser space.

The announcement itself on the other hand does not really have anything to do with that screenshot. In it, Google states that Chrome extensions must "have a single purpose that is narrow and easy to understand".

The company does not explain this further on the blog, leaving much of what it means up for interpretation. What exactly does single purpose mean?

It is likely that the announcement aims at what browser toolbars often offer. They ship with search, may display security related information on search results page, may offer translation, and several other services.

But, Chrome never really had a toolbar problem in first place. While many "news" site report that Google is banning toolbars from Chrome, they fail to understand that it never allowed them to be installed in Chrome.

What some extension developers did however was install toolbar controls on the web pages the user opened in Chrome. The only extension that I know that  did this is SEOQuake, a SEO extension that displays information about a site's marketing metrics in a small toolbar at the top of the page.

When you open the program policies page, additional information are provided:

Do not create an extension that requires users to accept bundles of unrelated functionality, such as an email notifier and a news headline aggregator. If two pieces of functionality are clearly separate, they should be put into two different extensions, and users should have the ability to install and uninstall them separately. For example, functionality that displays product ratings and reviews, but also injects ads into web pages, should not be bundled into a single extension. Similarly, toolbars that provide a broad array of functionality or entry points into services are better delivered as separate extensions, so that users can select the services they want

When you look at the examples offered, you will notice that this will affect some extensions in a major fashion. Some developers may need to split up their extensions as a consequence of the policy enforcement, while others may prefer to abandon Chrome for that reason.

What the policy means, definitely, is the end of multi-purpose extensions for Chrome. While some users may welcome the change, it may inflate the number of installed extensions for others, or even take away functionality from Chrome that was added by extensions if the developers of those extensions decide not to update their extensions anymore.

Existing developers have until June 2014 to adapt, while new extensions will only be accepted if they comply with the new policies.

Last month, Google announced that it would block browser extensions that originate from third party websites completely for Chrome Stable and Beta users.


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  1. Dwight Stegall said on December 23, 2013 at 12:30 am

    This policy makes me very happy. Toolbars and widgets are the scurge of the internet. They hog memory and some are really hard to uninstall for newbies. You can do most of the things they offer with bookmarklets and other addons that don’t hog memory. I hope all browser companies ban them forever.

  2. JPS said on December 22, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    The reason I don’t use any of these browsers is because they are ‘just browsers’.What I’m looking for is a SYSTEM,not just a browser.And that means there are only two out there — Apple and Microsoft.A system can do far more than ‘just a browser’ — so I never use them.

  3. BTaa said on December 21, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    The new Chrome extension policy may be drawn up because of these possible reasons:
    – The Annoying toolbars
    – Complaints about high CPU/RAM usage
    – Those who want not to be tracked (in other words: those privacy-savvy users)
    – Those who want a cleaner Chrome experience

    1. LWarden said on December 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      “- Those who want not to be tracked (in other words: those privacy-savvy users)”

      GOOGLE??? PRIVACY???

  4. Nebulus said on December 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    It’s all about controlling YOU and telling you what you can and you cannot do (as Kulm also said). Nothing else.

  5. Kulm said on December 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    hum asks; WTF is going on?
    Control. Lock down. Corporations seeking monopolies.
    All one really has to remember is that Google is in bed
    with the NSA.

    1. berttie said on December 21, 2013 at 9:54 pm

      >All one really has to remember is that Google is in bed with the NSA.

      The way things are going, the NSA being in bed with Google might be more accurate. I’m sure Google could show them more than a thing or two about collecting info on people.

  6. hum said on December 21, 2013 at 9:09 am

    What is it with the browsers these days? IE did a 180 and became actually useable and fast, Firefox aims to become Chrome Lite, Opera commits suicide and turns into a Chrome-skin, and Chrome goes ballistic against extensions. WTF is going on?

    1. Keith said on December 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      With all the other browsers striving to “look” like Chrome, it would be funny if Chrome comes out with a completely new design just as FF Australis is launched. LOL!

      1. Nebulus said on December 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm

        LOL, that means that for the following 10 versions after Australis, Mozilla will struggle to change it’s browser to match the new Chrome! :)

  7. ilev said on December 21, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Google’s new Gmail auto login is too a step backwards in security and privecy.
    Google removed the ‘Stay Signed In’ option when logging to Gmail and users are now always logged-in to Google’s services which help Google tracking users.
    Anyone with an access to an unattended PC can enter into Gmail, Google drive, Google Docs.. and read all mail, send mails, spam, viruses…
    Accounts are always connected via Account Chooser panel.
    Users who want want their ‘Stay Signed In’ option back should remove all account from Account Chooser panel, or, remember to sign-out every time.

  8. Bobby Phoenix said on December 20, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    I like it. Right now I use some extensions that I only need for one reason, but they do much more, and while that may be good, it hogs up memory that it shouldn’t. I’d rather install 10 extensions that do just 10 things along with minimal memory use than 4 extensions that do 20 things, and triple the memory use.

    1. Ozzy said on December 21, 2013 at 12:39 am

      Bobby, this is not true, because one extension with a ten features hogs up less memory than ten single-purpose extensions.

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