Vivaldi to give abusive sites the middle finger with built-in ad blocking

Same digit could be extended at Google as browser chaps 'evaluate the situation'

Amid Google's huffing and puffing over ad blockers, an update to Chromium-based browser Vivaldi puts privacy squarely in its sights.

The release, version 2.6, is not quite the feature-fest of previous builds, but contains a couple of standout tweaks to please those fed up with advertisers and online trackers, and others who like things just so.

Slapping down abusive ads

The Oslo-based outfit is keen on privacy and to that end is automatically blocking ads on sites it deems as "abusive". Abusive, in this instance, follows Google's definition and includes ads that resemble OS dialogues, have unexpected click areas, interfere with the browser back button, stop users leaving the site or redirect without user action.

Naturally, social-engineering sites and/or those that promote or link to malware also get a tarring with the "abusive" brush.

Enabled by default, the "Block Ads on Abusive Sites" option lurks in the Privacy Settings tab and is based on a blocklist hosted on Vivaldi's own kit and updated from the servers automatically by the browser.

Vivaldi told us that the list of shame itself is actually from Google and lists both failing sites and those "under evaluation".

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The representative went on: "We filter the list and only distribute the ones that are blacklisted; the ones that are being evaluated have a chance to fix their problems before they get blacklisted."

As of today, there are approximately 6,700 sites on the very naughty list.

Users a bit worried by this level of coddling can simply turn the thing off. There are plenty of extensions out there that do similar things, although, as CEO Jon von Tetzchner noted: "The way that we've implemented this functionality is an interesting step in the direction of relying less on third-party services."

While few would complain about the blocking of abusive sites (unless false positives become an issue), ad blocking itself has presented an issue for the Chromium community with the debate around Google's Manifest v3.

Fork off

Naturally, Vivaldi lobbed a toy or two out of its pram at the news, worrying that Google might be stomping over users' right to choose whether to block ads. The company told us it is therefore intending to keep the old browser extension interface.

"We are not proposing a fork," von Tetzchner said.

"That being said, we do maintain some differences with Chromium as needed, so if necessary, we could do that again. We can do that without doing a full fork, we just maintain some differences.

"In some cases that is not so hard, while in others it is harder. We will evaluate the best option for our users and for future maintainability."

When the news surfaced, Vivaldi senior developer Petter Nilson grumbled: "Once the change is introduced to Chromium, believe me when I say that there are many, many possible scenarios.

"Restoring the API could be one of them. We've restored functionality before.

"If the API is removed altogether and no decent alternative is implemented, we might look into creating a limited extensions store."

The company's position has softened a little over the last few days. Vivaldi told us: "Very recently Google changed their stance and said it is just trying to make extensions safer. So we shall evaluate the situation as we go ahead."

And the rest

However, shots certainly appear to have been fired.

Version 2.6 has also seen the team make editing profile avatars easier, added filtering for saved passwords and provide users with an indication of unread tabs. As well as adding headphone support for the previously released Razor Chroma, the gang has made cosmetic tweaks to the browser, showing the favicon for the current search engine in the Search Field and speed searching a page with "Find in Page" via Ctrl+Enter.

The Vivaldi team has also improved performance for tab-happy users, with improvements in tiling and the fiddling with panels in the sidebar. ®

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