THE BLOB! – Google’s new threat to Internet privacy and security

“Google is proposing a new standard called WebBundles,” according to Brave’s senior privacy researcher. Brave is an alternate web browser, competition to Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. From the Brave website:


WebBundles Harmful to Content Blocking, Security Tools, and the Open Web

This proposed standard allows websites to ‘bundle’ resources together, and will make it impossible for browsers to reason about sub-resources by URL.

This threatens to change the Web from a hyperlinked collection of resources (that can be audited, selectively fetched, or even replaced), to opaque all-or-nothing “blobs” (like PDFs or SWFs). Organizations, users, researchers and regulators who believe in an open, user-serving, transparent Web should oppose this standard…

The Web is valuable because it’s user-centric, user-controllable, user-editable. Users, with only a small amount of expertise, can see what web-resources a page includes, and decide which, if any, their browser should load; and non-expert users can take advantage of this knowledge by installing extensions or privacy protecting tools… At root, what makes the Web different, more open, more user-centric than other application systems, is the URL. Because URLs (generally) point to one thing, researchers and activists can measure, analyze and reason about those URLs in advance; other users can then use this information to make decisions about whether, and in what way, they’d like to load the thing the URL points to…

At a high level, WebBundles are a way of packing resources together, so that instead of downloading each Website, image and JavaScript file independently, your browser downloads just one “bundle”, and that file includes all the information needed to load the entire page. And URLs are no longer common, global references to resources on the Web, but arbitrary indexes into the bundle. Put differently, WebBundles make Websites behave like PDFs (or Flash SWFs). A PDF includes all the images, videos, and scripts needed to render the PDF; you don’t download each item individually. This has some convenience benefits, but also makes it near-impossible to reason about an image in a PDF independently from the PDF itself. This is, for example, why there are no content-blocking tools for PDFs. PDFs are effectively all or nothing propositions, and WebBundles would turn Websites into the same.

By changing URLs from meaningful, global identifiers into arbitrary, package-relative indexes, WebBundles give advertisers and trackers enormously powerful new ways to evade privacy and security protecting web tools… At root, the common cause of all these evasions is that WebBundles create a local namespace for resources, independent of what the rest of the world sees, and that this can cause all sorts of name confusion, undoing years of privacy-and-security-improving work by privacy activists and researchers…

We’ve tried to work at length with the WebBundle authors to address these concerns, with no success. We strongly encourage Google and the WebBundle group to pause development on this proposal until the privacy and security issues discussed in this post have been addressed. We also encourage others in the Web privacy and security community to engage in the conversation too, and to not implement the spec until these concerns have been resolved.

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September 1, 2020 at 01:04AM

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