Google's 2020 web developer summit puts security at the top of the agenda

The virtual event will also focus on tools to make more powerful and private apps and extensions.
Nathan Ingraham
N. Ingraham|12.09.20

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, UNITED STATES - 2020/02/23: American multinational technology company Google logo seen at Google campus. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images via Getty Images

It may not be in person this year, but Google is holding its annual Chrome Dev Summit, starting a 12:30PM ET keynote that kicks off two days of virtual sessions and workshops. Just before things kick off, Google has dropped a preview of what it’ll be focusing on the next two days. For those not familiar with the Chrome Dev Summit, it’s not specifically about the Chrome browser or Chrome OS — it’s about the web as a broad platform, regardless of what browser you use. “When we work with web developers, we want them to have the best experience across the web ecosystem,” said Ben Galbraith, a Google product developer for the web platform. “Very little that we do is Chrome-specific. We view Chrome as part of how we can help in the conversation of how the web can evolve, but we try to avoid things that are Chrome centric.”

Galbraith said that the Dev Summit would focus on three main themes: safety and security, adding capabilities for more powerful web apps and optimizing for speed and performance. Around privacy, Google has some new tools for web developers as part of the “Privacy Sandbox” it first announced last year. The first is the Click Conversion Measurement API, which lets advertisers measure click-through rates without the need for third-party cookies, something Google plans to drop from Chrome by 2022.

In a similar vein, the Trust Token API lets a site like Gmail install a token that show you’re a “trusted” Gmail users, something that other sites could then see without knowing specifically who you are. This is something that would help cut down on things like web fingerprinting, which Google has already said it’s working to reduce. Broadly speaking, these updates are trying to replicate the functionality that cookies can deliver without giving websites nearly as much tracking information about who is using the browser.

Google is also updating its somewhat controversial extension security tool known as Manifest V3. Back in 2019, there was some drama around Manifest V3 as it sounded like it would stop ad blocking extensions from working properly. In today’s release, Google notes that it got “an abundance of helpful feedback” since it first shared the Manifest V3 proposal, and that since then it has been working with extension developers, “including ad blockers,” to continue changing and refining how Manifest V3 works. Developers interested in trying it can give it a go with the Chrome 88 beta release; the Chrome Web Store will start accepting Manifest V3 extensions starting in January with the Chrome 88 stable release.

As for more advanced web apps, Google today says that it’s making it easier for Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to be found in the Google Play Store on Chromebooks. Earlier this year, the Twitter and YouTube TV listings in the Play Store were automatically able to recognize if you were browsing on a Chromebook and install the PWA rather than Android app. To make PWAs more capable, Google is enabling developers to accept payments using the Play Store billing APIs, another feature that’ll make PWAs more on part with their Android counterparts.

Finally, in terms of performance optimization, Google is extending the “Web Vitals” metrics it announced earlier this year. At a high level, Web Vitals are meant to give developers a clear look at quality signals that make for a good browsing experience. A subset of those, Core Web Vitals, are three specific metrics that tie back to user experience and will play into how Google ranks sites in search starting in May of 2021. Today, Google announced that a new, open-source Web Vitals Report will let developers visualize and compare their metrics in Google Analytics.

Google is going into far more detail about all these changes over the next two days at the Chrome Dev Summit, so if you’re a web developer, it might be worth tuning in and taking part in the virtual experience. As for everyone else, these changes might not impact your web-browsing experience immediately, but things like more secure extensions and tools to improve site performance will hopefully make for an increasingly stable internet.

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