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Google tried to block autoplay videos on Chrome. But it broke apps and games | Technology

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Google has partially rolled back Chrome’s blocking of autoplaying video with sound after it was found to break a large collection of web apps and games.

The blocking feature was launched in April, and seemed to constitute a big step forward in removing one of the most irritating aspects of the modern web: loud, sudden and unwanted autoplaying videos.

But the update also broke a series of apps, games and interactive art in the process, preventing them from playing audio for alerts and other elements, and causing complaints from developers and users of these interactive web apps.

One of Google’s project managers for Chrome, John Pallett, said: “We’ve updated Chrome 66 to temporarily remove the autoplay policy for the Web Audio API.

“We’re doing this to give Web Audio API developers (eg gaming, audio applications, some RTC features) more time to update their code. The policy will be reapplied to the Web Audio API in Chrome 70 (October).”

The change was greeted with scepticism by developers. Benji Kay, a developer of web games and audio tools, said: “Simply delaying the enacting of this policy doesn’t solve any of the major concerns that have been raised.

“Come October, any existing software which utilises sound and which is not or cannot be any longer maintained will be broken.”

Pallett said that the change will not affect Chrome’s silencing of most autoplaying video and audio on the web. But whether this loophole will end up being abused to autoplay video with sound and get developers to update their apps to avoid them being muted remains to be seen.

The original muting of the nuisance videos within Chrome was designed to remove one of the annoyances that might have pushed users to install adblocking or other software, something Google wants to avoid as advertising is the primary source of the company’s revenue.

But as Chrome is the dominant browser on the internet, claiming a 57.4% share of online users in April across desktop and mobile according data from StatCounter, any changes have a significant impact on the way the web works.

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Google Chrome now blocks autoplaying video with sound | Technology

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Google’s Chrome browser now blocks auto-playing video with sound, taking a big step forward in removing one of the most irritating things about the modern web.

Originally promised to be delivered last January as part of version 64 of Chrome but delayed until now, the feature will stop any video that is set to autoplay with sound from doing so on sites where the video is not the primary purpose. That includes video reports for news sites and other ancillary video that is often played off to the side of text.

Video that plays without audio, or that a user has tapped or clicked on, will still play. On mobile, autoplaying videos will be allowed on sites that have been added as a bookmark to the home screen, while desktop sites that a user frequently actively watches video on will be allowed to autoplay videos with sound as ranked by the firm’s new Media Engagement Index (MEI).

Google is seeking to make controlling “unexpected media playback” automatic, while allowing users to continue enjoying content they actively want to, particularly on sites such as YouTube or Netflix that are dedicated to media playback. As such MEI registers the number of visits to a particular site v the number of times a user watches video content on that site that’s larger than 200 x 140 pixels, for longer than seven seconds with audio unmuted.

Until now users have been able to mute all sound by default from a particular site, but not block the video from playing on that site. Third-party tools and settings that block particular content from loading have been available for a while to fill that gap, but now Google is baking a system in that it thinks will work well for the majority of users.

The autoplay blocking adds to the existing ban on video, pop-up and intrusive adverts that began being blocked from 15 February within Google’s browser on both desktop and mobile – another move by Google to dissuade users from installing third-party tools, in this case adblockers.

Google’s Chrome dominates the web browser market, employed by 57.7% of internet users in March across desktop and mobile leaving Apple’s Safari a distant second with 14.8% of the market, according data from StatCounter. That means changes made by default within Chrome are likely to have a significant impact on how websites operate.

Chrome version 66 is available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux, with its mobile version rolling out to Android and iOS.

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Windows 10: Microsoft is looking to force people to use its Edge browser | Technology

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Microsoft is looking to force users into using its Edge browser, by making it default for opening links from email.

Having struggled to entice users to ditch market-leader Chrome, or even its older, now decommissioned Internet Explorer, Microsoft is going to try and force it on people.

In the release notes for Microsoft’s latest early version of Windows 10, sent out to its so called Insiders, the Redmond-based company said: “We will begin testing a change where links clicked on within the Windows Mail app will open in Microsoft Edge, which provides the best, most secure and consistent experience on Windows 10 and across your devices.”

The change will ignore the wishes of the user, opening links in Edge regardless of which app is their designated default browser.

Windows Mail is the default email client that comes pre-installed on Windows 10 supporting various different email providers including Google’s Gmail.

The reason for the change is because “Microsoft Edge enables you to be more productive, organised and creative without sacrificing your battery life or security”, the company says.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft has tried to force users to at least try its new browser, which replaced Internet Explorer with the release of Windows 10 in July 2015. When you attempt to change the default browser to Google’s Chrome in the Settings app, Windows 10 asks users to make sure they really want to switch and whether they wouldn’t rather try Edge.

But Microsoft does allow users to force the change making Chrome, or any other browser, the default choice, opening links from other apps in their choice rather than Edge.

Despite Windows 10 being installed on 36% of desktop computers globally, according to data from StatCounter, Edge is only used by 4% of desktop computer users, behind Internet Explorer with 6.9%, Firefox with 11.5% and Google’s Chrome with a market-leading 67.5% share of users.

It is clear Microsoft needs to do something to stimulate use of Edge, but the change is likely to be extremely unpopular with both testers and regular users, if it is not altered before becoming default for all versions of Windows 10 going forwards. Microsoft said: “As always, we look forward to feedback from our Windows Insider Program community.”

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Google turns on default adblocker within Chrome | Technology

Google turns on default adblocker within Chrome | Technology

Users of latest Chrome browser on Windows, Mac OS, Linux and Android will have some of most intrusive types of ads blocked automatically

Google’s Chrome browser will begin blocking some adverts from 15 February.
Photograph: Stephen Shankland/Flickr

Google will start automatically blocking intrusive ads within its Chrome browser for desktop and Android from Thursday 15 February.

The change, announced in June, will see the dominant browser that is used by over 56% of internet users block some of the most intrusive ads including full-page prestitial ads, flashing animated ads and auto-playing video ads with sound.

“A big source of frustration is annoying ads: video ads that play at full blast or giant pop-ups where you can’t seem to find the exit icon,” said Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, vice president for Chrome. “These ads are designed to be disruptive and often stand in the way of people using their browsers for their intended purpose — connecting them to content and information. It’s clear that annoying ads degrade what we all love about the web.”

The built-in adblocker will stop showing all ads on any sites that repeatedly display any one of a list of the most disruptive ads, as decided by the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) – a group of advertising and online media companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever and a collection of publishers including News Corp, Thomson Reuters and the Washington Post.

Among the list of banned ad types are anything that pops up, makes noise, blocks the screen or won’t go away. But it also includes sites with an advert density of over 30%.

Coalition for Better Ads Better ads standards.

Ads classified as intrusive by the Coalition for Better Ads Better and therefore blocked by Chrome. Photograph: Coalition for Better Ads Better

“Although a few of the ad experiences that violate the Better Ads Standards are problems in the advertisement itself, the majority of problematic ad experiences are controlled by the site owner — such as high ad density or prestitial ads with countdown,” said Chris Bentzel, engineering manager for Chromium.

Bentzel explained that Chrome’s approach to adblocking is therefore quite different to other adblocking tools. Instead of outright blocking all ads, Google will inform sites that contravene the CBA guidelines, give them 30 days to rectify the situation and only then block ads from sites that persist.

Chrome will pop up a notification if a user lands on a site where all the ads are blocked allowing them to allow adverts on that particular site.

Chrome will notify users when it has blocked ads on a particular site.

Chrome will notify users when it has blocked ads on a particular site. Photograph: Google

“Our goal is not to filter any ads at all but to improve the experience for all web users,” said Bentzel.

As of 12 February, 42% of sites warned by Google, ahead of the adblocker being switched on, altered their display ads including the LA Times, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune. But research by rival Eyeo reckons Google’s system will only remove nine out of the 55 types of adverts on the desktop web, while Google has faced criticism over the level of influence it has exerted over the CBA.

By having the adblocker turned on by default in its Chrome browser Google is attempting to shape what is and isn’t acceptable, instead of simply blocking all advertising. Google’s parent company Alphabet generates the majority of its revenue from display ads, but Google’s own AdSense and DoubleClick have not been made exempt from the blocker. Two important ad types have been made exempt, however: Chrome will not block pre-roll adverts on videos for platforms such as YouTube nor Facebook’s in-stream video ads with sound.

“We’ve already seen more and more people express their discontent with annoying ads by installing ad blockers, but blocking all ads can hurt sites or advertisers who aren’t doing anything disruptive,” said Roy-Chowdhury.

Over 11% of internet users are estimated to be using an ad blocker, according to data from PageFair.

“By focusing on filtering out disruptive ad experiences, we can help keep the entire ecosystem of the web healthy, and give people a significantly better user experience than they have today,” Roy-Chowdhury said.

Google’s adblocking efforts are focused on sites from North America and western Europe for now and will only block around 1% of all adverts, which means users are unlikely to see an instant cut in the number of ads while they browse unless they frequent particularly ad-clogged sites.

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No tracking, no revenue: Apple’s privacy feature costs ad companies millions | Technology

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Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web.

Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for the Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced.

With annual revenue in 2016 topping $730m, the overall cost of the privacy feature on just one company is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dennis Buchheim, general manager of the Internet Advertising Bureau’s Tech Lab, said that the feature would impact the industry widely.

“We expect a range of companies are facing similar negative impacts from Apple’s Safari tracking changes. Moreover, we anticipate that Apple will retain ITP and evolve it over time as they see fit,” Buchheim told the Guardian.

“There will surely be some continued efforts to ‘outwit’ ITP, but we recommend more sustainable, responsible approaches in the short-term,” Buchheim added. “We also want to work across the industry (ideally including Apple) longer-term to address more robust, cross-device advertising targeting and measurement capabilities that are also consumer friendly.”


ITP was announced in June 2017 and released for iPhones, iPads and Macs in September. The feature prevents Apple users from being tracked around the internet through careful management of “cookies”, small pieces of code that allow an advertising technology company to continually identify users as they browse.

A cookie is a small text file a website can drop on to a visitor’s computer when it wants to remember something about them. The contents of a shopping trolley, perhaps, or whether or not they are logged in to the site at all.

But cookies can also be used in less user-friendly ways. An advertising network can drop a cookie on a visitor’s computer, and then read that same cookie at every new website the visitor arrives at that displays that network’s adverts. This process lets the network track users around the web, building up a profile of their browsing habits to better target them for adverts.

Its launch sparked complaints from the advertising industry, which called ITP “sabotage”. An open letter signed by six advertising trade bodies called on Apple “to rethink its plan … [that risks] disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services.”

It also accused the company of ignoring internet standards, which say that a cookie should remain on a computer until it expires naturally or is manually removed by a user. Instead, the industry said, Apple is replacing those standards “with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the internet”.

In response, Apple noted that: “Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the internet.”

Initially, many advertisers believed they had found a technological way around some of the restrictions put in place by ITP. Criteo, which took advantage of that loophole, had initially expected revenue to drop by only 9-13%, the company said. But in December, Apple closed that work-around on its mobile devices as part of the iOS 11.2 update, causing the ad-tech firm to update its projected impact to its current estimate of 22% “relative to our pre-ITP base case projections”.

The company has not given up hope, however. “We are focused on developing an alternative sustainable solution for the long term, built on our best-in-class user privacy standards, aligning the interests of Apple users, publishers and advertisers,” Criteo said in a press release. “This solution is still under development and its effectiveness cannot be assessed at this early stage.”

There is more pain to come for the advertising industry. Google has announced a built-in adblocker for its Chrome, which holds over 55% of the global browser market according to data from Statcounter. Google has been testing the feature since June 2017 and will roll it out to all users in February.

Unlike Safari’s ITP, however, Chrome’s adblocker has been created in partnership with the ad industry. The feature only blocks what the company calls “intrusive ads”, such as autoplaying video and audio, popovers which block content, or interstitial ads that take up the entire screen.

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Apple blocking ads that follow users around web is ‘sabotage’, says industry | Technology

Apple blocking ads that follow users around web is ‘sabotage’, says industry | Technology

For the second time in as many years, internet advertisers are facing unprecedented disruption to their business model thanks to a new feature in a forthcoming Apple software update.

iOS 11, the latest version of Apple’s operating system for mobile devices, will hit users’ phones and tablets on Tuesday. It will include a new default feature for the Safari web browser dubbed “intelligent tracking prevention”, which prevents certain websites from tracking users around the net, in effect blocking those annoying ads that follow you everywhere you visit.

The tracking prevention system will also arrive on Apple’s computers 25 September, as part of the High Sierra update to macOS. Safari is used by 14.9% of all internet users, according to data from StatCounter.

Six major advertising consortia have already written an open letter to Apple expressing their “deep concern” over the way the change is implemented, and asking the company to “to rethink its plan to … risk disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services”.

Tracking of users around the internet has become crucial to the inner workings of many advertising networks. By using cookies, small text files placed on a computer which were originally created to let sites mark who was logged in, advertisers can build a detailed picture of the browsing history of members of the public, and use that to more accurately profile and target adverts to the right individuals.

Many of these cookies, known as “third-party” cookies because they aren’t controlled by the site that loads them, can be blocked by browsers already. But advertisers also use “first-party” cookies, loaded by a site the user does visit but updated as they move around the net. Blocking those breaks many other aspects of the internet that users expect to work, such as the ability to log into sites using Facebook or Twitter passwords.

To tackle this, the new Safari feature uses a “machine learning model”, Apple says, to identify which first-party cookies are actually desired by users, and which are placed by advertisers. If the latter, the cookie gets blocked from third-party use after a day, and purged completely from the device after a month, drastically limiting the ability of advertisers to keep track of where on the web Safari users visit.

‘Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history,’ said Apple. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

It is this algorithmic approach which spurred the six US advertising bodies, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Association of National Advertisers, to write to Apple. In their letter, published by AdWeek, the advertisers argue: “The infrastructure of the modern internet depends on consistent and generally applicable standards for cookies, so digital companies can innovate to build content, services and advertising that are personalised for users and remember their visits.

“Apple’s Safari move breaks those standards and replaces them with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the internet.”

Apple responded to the letter saying: “Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the internet.”

Apple has shown little concern for advertisers’ needs in the past. In 2015, it led that year’s update for iOS with a feature that allowed widespread mobile ad blocking on the platform for the first time. The move arguably kicked off an arms race that led major media companies to increase their use of subscription models, and ceded an ever-increasing portion of the digital advertising market to Facebook and Google, two companies whose models are more resilient to adblocking than many smaller publishers.

Google has also made a move on the adblocking market, testing a built-in adblocker for its Chrome browser, which is used by 54.9% of all internet users according to StatCounter. The feature, which is expected to hit the final release of the browser sometime this year, blocks what the company calls “intrusive ads”: autoplaying video and audio, popovers which block content, or interstitial ads that take up the entire screen.
Unsurprisingly, Google’s own advertising products are not deemed intrusive.

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