Google’s decision to hide the special-case subdomains, “www” and “m” in Chrome M69 received a huge backlash from the public last year. Following this backlash, the Chrome team did roll back the change.
However, this Wednesday the team announced that they are planning to hide “https” and “www” in Chrome omnibox on desktop and Android in M76. In other news, the team is splitting the HTTP cache to prevent side-channel leakage.
Chrome to hide https and www from URLs
Citing the reason behind reaching this conclusion, the Chrome team said that it is to improve the “simplicity, usability, and security of UI surfaces.” With this change, the team aims to hide away all the distractions and make URLs easier to read and understand for users.
Emily Schechter, Product Manager, Chrome Security at Google, wrote on Chromium Issue tracker, “In Sept 2018, we rolled out a change to hide special-case subdomains “www” and “m”. Per my above message on this thread, we rolled back these changes, and announced our intent to re-ship an adjusted version: we will hide “www” but not “m”.” She added, “For several months, we’ve had this version enabled in our Canary, Dev and Beta channels and are confident that it is ready to be enabled in the Stable channel as well.”
The Chrome team, together with other browser representatives, has also added a “Simplify non-human-readable or irrelevant components” section in the web URL standard. The section recommends browsers to omit components that can “provide opportunities for spoofing or distract from security-relevant information.”
The team has also built an extension named Suspicious Site Reporter for Chrome using which you can identify suspicious sites and report them to Safe Browsing. With this extension, users will be able to see the full URL with no scheme or subdomain hiding. You can also see the full URL by clicking twice in the URL bar on the desktop, and once on mobile.
What the public thinks about this change
Users have pretty mixed feelings about this update. While some think that this is a step towards making Google a monopoly, others believe that this does simplify URLs for non-technical users.
Expressing their concern on Hacker News, a user said, “…these “improvements” in Chrome are meant to make google the defacto interface for using the web. Imagine a world where 99% of users do not have any concept of URLs or any other fundamental WWW concepts. Instead, they open Chrome type whatever they want and get the results.”
Some users also highlighted that this update could raise security concerns as well. “Let’s assume that you have a blog platform offering subdomains for each user and ‘m.blogplatform.com’ is available. Now, any user can get that subdomain and impersonate the homepage because Emily from Chromium decided that eliding parts of the URL without any spec is a reasonable decision,” a user added.
Apple’s browser, Safari also only shows the domain and lock icon to indicate the legitimacy of a website’s certificate. Since Apple did not receive this amount of user backlash, some felt that the backlash is just the result of people losing trust in the big tech. A user commented, “…collective shrug when Apple hides the URL, but if Google does so we get huge outrage and assumptions that this must clearly be done primarily for malicious reasons.”
You can read the full conversation about this update on Chromium’s bug tracker.
Chrome to split the HTTP Cache to prevent cross-origin leakage
Currently, the HTTP cache stores resources for each of its entries in a single bucket, which is shared among the origins. So, when loading the same resource these origins will refer to the same cache entry. This can lead to a side-channel attack in which a site can detect whether another site has loaded a resource by going through the cache. To prevent this attack, the Chrome team is planning to partition the HTTP cache by the origin of the page’s top-frame.
You can read more about this update on the Chrome Platform Status site.