Users of the Chromium web browser are about to lose access to several key features, including bookmark and password sync.

Google is cutting off access to a number of private APIs used in Chromium builds from March 15, 2021.

Among the APIs nixed are those supporting the browser’s account syncing services, translation, and spell checking.

  • Google account sync
  • Geolocation
  • Click to Call
  • Chrome spelling API
  • Contacts API
  • Chrome translate element

Why is Google yanking support for these features from Chromium, which serves as the open-source foundation of Google Chrome?

Security they say, noting that inclusion of these “exclusive APIs” in open source builds “…meant that a small fraction of users could sign into their Google Account and store their personal Chrome sync data, such as bookmarks, not just with Google Chrome, but also with some third-party Chromium based browsers.”

Google says access to these features isn’t supposed to be accessible out of Google Chrome, and revoking their access is restoring intended functionality.

Except these APIs are the same ones that have been available to Linux distros maintainers packaging Chromium for, what, like the past seven years? Quite why Google has only just “noticed” their use is …Odd.

An earlier version of this article listed the Safe Browsing API as one of the resources affected. Google has since clarified that this API is unaffected. However, some versions of Chromium with the Google API revoked don’t currently detect malicious links.

Chromium API Removal Affects Everyone

Although these APIs are being axed in the near future they are, at the time you read this, still work. And they will continue to work until mid-March. But it’s important to know once Google cuts off access to these API keys it affects everyone who uses Chromium.

But all version of Chromium will be affected from March 15, even on older builds where the API keys are still present.

The more people who hear about this change before it happens, the better

In fact, all Linux distributions are affected irrespective of how they choose to package Chromium. On Ubuntu the ‘pure’ Chromium package is a Snap app (even if you install it with apt) which is maintained by Canonical. Linux Mint offers a traditional repo version of the browser.

Some Chromium package maintainers on Linux have already disabled the APIs now, ahead of the cut off date.

How will Chromium users react to this decision? Probably with confusion. Those who don’t hear about it before the cut-off date will likely be left confused, and may assume something has broken in their config or within their Linux distribution’s packaging.

So the more people who know about this change before it happens — and know why it’s happening — the better.

If you use Chromium for Linux it’s important to know that your sync data will not be deleted but will only be available locally. Any data you have synced from Chromium to your Google account will remain available through My Google Activity page and Google Takeout, as well as from the Google Chrome.

Firefox is a First-Class Chromium Alternative

Firefox 83 about
Firefox is a viable alternative

Google would like users of open-source Chromium builds to switch to fully-fledged Google Chrome. This ensures all of the Google-based features folks are familiar with remain accessible. And since it’s easy to install Chrome on Ubuntu (and most major distros) this isn’t a difficult solution, either.

But Google Chrome is not open source — a key decider for many.

What’s the best open-source alternative to Chromium?

Mozilla Firefox.

Firefox is preinstalled on most Linux distros (and available from the repos where it doesn’t) and it has built-in sync features that are every bit as good as Google Chrome’s. And since Firefox can import passwords, bookmarks, cookies, and history from Chromium a switch needn’t be much hassle.

Not every Chromium-based browser will be affected by the API change. Vivaldi, which is based on Chromium, uses its own sync engine, as does Microsoft Edge (though Edge for Linux currently lacks support for it).

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