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Frontend Development

Contra Chrome: A Biting Satire of Google’s 2008 Chrome Comic

Contra Chrome is a very clever — and absolutely scathing — critique of Google Chrome’s privacy features (or lack thereof).
Apr 23rd, 2022 6:00am by
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For those of us old enough to remember Web 2.0 in its heyday, one of the classic “texts” of that era was the Chrome comic book, which was released in September 2008 at the same time the first version of the Chrome browser was launched. As a tech blogger at the time, I was lucky enough to receive a paper copy of the comic, which I still have on my bookshelf to this day. Well, this week I got a surprise when I discovered a new online “remix” of that comic.

Published under the name “Contra Chrome,” at first glance it looked like the original comic book author, Scott McCloud, had released an updated version of his creation. But on page two of the website version of Contra Chrome, it became clear that this was a satire of the original comic, not an homage.

Contra Chrome 1

From page 2 of the Chrome comic remix.

Surely McCloud wouldn’t bite the hand that had fed him back in 2008? Or was this a hit-piece from Apple’s Safari team? (I must admit that was my initial reaction, since I’d discovered the remix via a gleeful tweet from an Apple employee.) Finally, after clicking on the website’s about page, the author revealed herself: Leah Elliott, a self-described “comic artist and digital rights activist.”

Contra Chrome

Ouch! From page 5 of Contra Chrome.

After a close read of Elliot’s remix of the Chrome comic, which you can download as a PDF, it turns out to be an absolutely scathing critique of Google Chrome’s privacy policies. She has re-used McCloud’s cartoons, quite brilliantly it must be said, with altered text that is decidedly anti-Google. The remixed comic has upset some of the original Google web development team of the Web 2.0 era, although as yet it hasn’t elicited any official Google response.

I reached out to Elliot earlier this week to ask her some questions. I wanted to find out her motivation for creating this remix, why she feels so strongly about Google’s privacy policies, and whether she had any professional reasons to publish the remix. She did reply to me and indicated that she was open to answering my questions. So I sent them off (at her suggestion, using PGP-encrypted email). However, at the time of writing, I haven’t received any further reply. If I do, I’ll write it up as a separate post next week.

This Week in Development

WebAssembly Public Working Drafts Released

The W3C’s WebAssembly Working Group has published three First Public Working Drafts. As noted by Michael Larabel in Phoronix, among the proposals are “fixed-width SIMD, bulk memory operations, reference types, JavaScript’s BigInt to WebAssembly i64 support, support for multiple return values, and import/export of mutable globals.” The Hacker News thread has more commentary to dig into.

In other WASM news, Renee Shah interviewed 18 startups that “were either using WebAssembly in production or building core infrastructure to develop Wasm applications.” It’s an enlightening post for those of you new to Wasm or wondering how it can fit into your application development pipeline.

Stack Overflow Web3 Survey

The Stack Overflow developer community has had its say on the Web3 hype. In a survey of 595 developers, 25% think Web3 is the future of the internet, 15% think it’s a bunch of hype, 14% think it’s important for crypto and related apps, and 9% think it’s all a scam. Apparently, 36% responded with “What’s Web3?” — so they obviously haven’t been reading our coverage here at The New Stack.

The survey also looked at “what non-blockchain tags are most common among blockchain tags,” and unsurprisingly JavaScript came out on top, followed by Python. “JavaScript is essential to Web3, but Web3 isn’t fundamental to the JavaScript ecosystem,” commented Matt Kiernander, developer advocate at Stack Overflow.

LEGO uses Chromium-Only APIs for New App

In the interests of journalistic balance, I feel like I need to give Google Chrome some love at the end of this post. When it comes to web capabilities, Google’s open source Chromium browser project is second-to-none. But when LEGO announced a sophisticated new app that uses advanced web functionality — in the form of the Serial API and Web Bluetooth API — in some quarters this was attacked as monopolistic. However, I have my doubts around why Mozilla and Apple have not chosen to support these APIs. If you read through this Mozilla thread on GitHub about Serial API, which goes back to May 2020, there are a lot of compelling reasons to support it — for example, it enables web versions of education and medical apps. Anyone who has struggled with the vagaries of a native medical app knows how bad some of those solutions are (I speak from experience, as a type 1 diabetic who has been saddled with terrible iOS apps for years).

Dev Tweet of the Week

Finally, let’s end the week with a funny tweet! Perhaps only Web3 devs will get it, as Nader Dabit is a hero in that community. In any case, hit me up with your nominations for next week, @ricmac.

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