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Brave, DuckDuckGo to unplug Google's AMP where possible

Webpage acceleration tech deemed harmful by rivals

Updated Brave, the browser maker, and DuckDuckGo, the web search service, have both taken aim at AMP, Google's controversial web publishing framework.

Brave on Tuesday introduced a feature called De-AMP that lets those using the Brave browser avoid Google-hosted AMP pages and go straight to publisher content on standard web pages.

De-AMP will rewrite fetched web pages that link to AMP pages so their links point to the publisher versions of those pages. Brave's browser, which uses a modified version of Google Chrome's Chromium, will watch for when AMP pages are being loaded and stop them before they can render. Doing so prevents Google’s AMP scripts and images from being fetched and executed while also reducing the ad giant's ability to see web traffic and understand where it's going.

And in Brave 1.40 – the current version is 1.37.116 – the plan is to extend Brave's debouncing capability to detect when AMP URLs are about to be visited, and instead send users to the standard version of the page.

DuckDuckGo on Tuesday said its app and extensions now protect against Google AMP. Those loading or sharing a Google AMP page via DuckDuckGo's iOS, Android, or Mac apps, or using its Chrome or Firefox extensions, will see the publisher's regular webpage instead of the Google AMP version.

AMP, as Google describes it, is a way to create web pages using a subset of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, along with unique markup and a CDN for caching. Its goal, Google claims, is a better user experience because AMP pages load faster than web pages built with standard web technology.

Google's competitors and critics see things differently. In the years following the announcement of AMP in 2015, the technology was derided for sending web traffic to a cache on Google's servers instead of to the website implementing AMP pages and for disempowering publishers.

The December 2020 antitrust lawsuit brought by Texas and other US states alleging anticompetitive behavior from Google in the digital ad sector describes AMP as an effort to defeat "header bidding," a way for multiple ad exchanges to participate fairly in automated ad auctions that allegedly threatened Google ad revenue.

"Specifically, Google made AMP unable to execute JavaScript in the header, which frustrated publishers’ use of header bidding," the third amended complaint claims.

We're here to help

Google has denied these claims and maintains that AMP is here to help make the web better.

"Engineers at Google designed AMP in partnership with publishers and other tech companies to help web pages load faster and improve the user experience on mobile devices – not to harm header bidding," the company said in a blog post responding to the claims revealed in the third amendment complaint.

Google Search liaison Danny Sullivan also said, "AMP didn't and doesn't cause pages to rank better in Search." He added that while AMP was once an eligibility requirement for Top Stories carousels on mobile searches, that practice was ended last year.

Nonetheless, rivals like Brave and DuckDuckGo – having ridden dissatisfaction with Google's privacy practices to 50 million monthly active users and a daily query rate of close to 100 million respectively – show little enthusiasm for AMP.

In a blog post, Shivan Kaul Sahib, Brave privacy product manager and engineer, and Peter Snyder, senior director of privacy, argue that AMP harms web privacy and security while furthering Google's monopolization of the web.

AMP, they argue, gives Google more data about what people are doing on the web, confuses users into thinking they're interacting with publisher websites when they're really interacting with Google's servers, and pushes the web onto Google infrastructure and technology.

Moreover, Sahib and Snyder in a footnote argue that Core Web Vitals, an alternative performance-scoring system Google adopted for privileged page placement – for which AMP pages score well – is simply an attempt to appear "open" to regulators.

DuckDuckGo presented a similar argument.

"AMP technology is bad for privacy because it enables Google to track users even more (which is already a ton)," said DuckDuckGo via Twitter. "And, Google uses AMP to further entrench its monopoly, forcing the technology on publishers by prioritizing AMP links in search and favoring Google ads on AMP pages." ®

Updated to add

In an email, a Google spokesperson pushed back against Brave's claims.

“These allegations are misleading, conflate a number of different web projects and standards, and repeat a number of false claims,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Bypassing the AMP cache goes against the choice sites have made to deliver a fast, high quality experience for their visitors.

“AMP is an open-source framework that was collaboratively developed with publishers, tech companies, and Google as a way to help web content load faster – at the time it was created, it took 19 seconds on average to load a mobile webpage on a 3G connection.

"Today, AMP continues to be a helpful way for websites and publishers – especially those without large development teams – to easily create great web experiences.”

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