Google Cracking Down On Chrome 'History Manipulation'

A new change may soon be coming to Chrome that will bring an end to websites either spamming users with additional pages or refusing to complete the expected action when the 'back' button is clicked, based on a recent commit to the Chromium Gerrit spotted. For clarity, those are the often ad-based or ad-ridden pages that sometimes appear when the aforementioned button is clicked to exit some less-than-honest sites. The practice works via manipulation of the browser's history, with undesired pages being added alongside the one a given user has clicked on. When the back button is pressed, those are loaded instead of the page that was previously visited. The commit specifically refers to the practice and steps toward eliminating those by marking pages that aren't added by the user for skipping later on. Then, when the back button is clicked, those marked pages are simply ignored by the browser.

Background: Browser history manipulation is nothing new but has become a nuisance over the past several years on many websites. The practice is considered malicious by many users primarily due to the fact that the newly added sites rarely appear by themselves. Namely, when a new site is added at the first click it will often have its own mechanism in place to add further pages. The result is a seemingly endless loop of advertisements that sometimes ends ad pages replacing those that had been visited directly by the user, making it impossible to go back to the intended site. In some cases that can be circumvented by tapping rapidly until a familiar page appears but that presents new hassles too since going back too far requires subsequent clicks forward through the browser history until the appropriate page is landed on.

The code commit referring to that practice is a part of a larger set of steps Google has been taking to reduce, eliminate, or introduce consequences for abusive behavior from site developers. For starters, in the latest stable release -- Chrome 71 -- Google introduced a new policy that would stop viewers from seeing any ads from websites that are frequently abusive. That includes sites that show ads that inadvertently steal personal data, start unwanted or unexpected downloads, and those that redirect a user to external sites via a pop-up window. Those that show misleading or fake 'close' or 'play' buttons fall under the umbrella of the new policy as well as those that portray warning messages falsely. Sites that deliberately hide or disguise information about charges a visitor might incur by continuing to use the site or clicking a button incur Chrome-created pop-up that warns users in advance that the site is trying to charge money. That all followed prior changes that automatically blocked most pop-up windows and new window requests.

Impact: The result of the newest apparent addition to Chrome's underlying code is not completed yet and may take several updates to arrive but could ultimately push the boundaries of unacceptable practices back further. That's not to say that it will catch every instance of the malicious history manipulation practice it's designed to bypass. But the change should force developers that include the subversive capability in their websites to rethink how they show ads and it will almost certainly cause a reduction in the number of occurrences when it is implemented.

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Daniel Golightly

Junior Editor
Daniel has been writing for AndroidHeadlines since 2016. As a Senior Staff Writer for the site, Daniel specializes in reviewing a diverse range of technology products and covering topics related to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and has a background in Writing and Graphics Design that drives his passion for Android, Google products, the science behind the technology, and the direction it's heading. Contact him at [email protected]