htmHELL
May 8, 2018 9:19 PM   Subscribe

Google's Attempt at Fixing Autoplay Videos Has Broken Countless Games [Waypoint] “Here’s what happened. Over the weekend, Google pushed out a series of changes to its enormously popular Chrome web browser, hoping to fix one of the Internet’s great annoyances: autoplaying videos with sound. A noble quest, but one with unexpected consequences; as soon as the feature went live, it broke all kinds of web content that relies on audio, including games. A key component of those games—sound—now doesn’t work, unless the designers intervene. In trying to address the legitimate problem of autoplaying videos—a shitty marketing and advertising tactic to trick you into “viewing” a video—Google messed with and changed the open standards all sorts of other developers had been working with.”

• Chrome’s autoplay update fractures web-game history [Rock Paper Shotgun]
“Several developers have filed bug reports, reporting the breaking of existing sites as an unintended side-effect to be rectified. Hopefully Google are listening hard enough to at least rework the feature. An end to autoplaying videos and audio is definitely a step in the right direction, but some sort of easily accessible toggle might be a better way to go about this for the time being. This is a good reminder as to why we have universal standards for web browsers. As well-intentioned as this change for Chrome is, it also fundamentally changes how many sites work on Chrome and Chrome alone. If they’d rolled out the feature as a per-site toggle, or done something to increase awareness of the change as implemented, much of this drama could have been averted. Instead, the all-seeing corporation’s sudden and unilateral decision has created a mess that it’s up to the little people to clean up. How very cyberpunk.”
• In blocking autoplay videos, Chrome is breaking many Web-based games [Ars Technica]
“While Google did warn Web developers of coming changes to Chrome autoplay back in September, McClure points out on Twitter that the WebAudio vagaries that affect game developers were only added to Google's documentation in February. This stealth change doesn't seem to have been heavily promoted by Google, forcing game developers to pay constant and precise attention to Google's documentation to see it coming. Most developers didn't, leading to widespread complaints from Web-based developers big and small that their games are suddenly not working in Chrome. Meanwhile, content on what Google says are "over 1,000 sites where the highest percentage of visitors play media with sound" (such as, ahem, Google's own YouTube) are being automatically whitelisted to avoid these disruptive changes. Changing an existing HTML5 game to work under the new browser isn't a huge headache for most game developers, provided they still have access to their original code and the servers hosting it.”
• Latest Chrome update may have broken millions of web-based games [The Daily Dot]
“The developers affected by the update aren’t necessarily opposed to Google preventing autoplay videos from blaring audio—they just want the tech giant to come up with another solution. Foddy suggests a mute button in tabs that is enabled by default (you can already manually mute individual tabs on Chrome) or by adjusting code to make it more friendly for games that already have a “click to play” button. “Or they could allow annoying ads to be blacklisted, the way actual adblockers work,” Foddy said. “I’m sure there are dozens of options that would preserve our cultural heritage while muting annoying ads.” “The reason this change is objectionable is that when we make games for the web, which is built on international open standards, we expect them to remain playable for a long time (if not forever),” he continued. “All this work exists on independently-run servers and complies with open web standards, and Google does not have the moral right to unilaterally kill it… Especially not when the only reason for it is that there are some annoying ads out there.””
• Bennett @bfod
“This really is an unprecedented moment for a tiny web browser team destroying a mountain of cultural work built on open standards. Hard to think of anything in history on an equivalent scale, with so little moral justification.” ~ 10:45 p.m. May 8, 2018
posted by Fizz (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sure they all have very logical objections, but I hate autoplaying videos so much that I don't care.
posted by tavella at 9:29 PM on May 8, 2018 [52 favorites]


Acceptable collateral damage IMO. But temporary, patches are coming. And unfortunately those shitty marketers and advertisers will also eventually adapt and thwart this new architecture.
posted by Rash at 9:31 PM on May 8, 2018 [14 favorites]


Sometimes the ends justify the means.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:33 PM on May 8, 2018 [4 favorites]


Welcome to web development, where anything you build will fall apart in six months, left broken by the endless churn of browser updates and API changes.
posted by Pyry at 9:38 PM on May 8, 2018 [18 favorites]


Firefox is once again looking better every day, even taking into account all the extension breakage caused by its own API churn.
posted by flabdablet at 9:57 PM on May 8, 2018 [10 favorites]


The “htmHELL” here are autoplay videos. Ideally this will be fixed in such a way that these people get their games working, but from where I’m sitting this is a fantastic new feature.
posted by lackutrol at 10:17 PM on May 8, 2018 [6 favorites]


I mean, my more human response to this is that this is just another indicator of how interconnected everything is, and how both weeds and pretty flowers are growing out of the same fetid soil. I can’t speak to this from the perspective of game players and developers, since I don’t touch that community much anymore. I do, however endure autoplaying videos on a regular basis, and they are the worst.

Meanwhile, content on what Google says are "over 1,000 sites where the highest percentage of visitors play media with sound" (such as, ahem, Google's own YouTube) are being automatically whitelisted to avoid these disruptive changes.

This, however, gets me a bit more. You know where I encounter the largest number of autoplaying videos?
  • CNN
  • YouTube
  • The Netflix app
  • The YouTube app
Two of these are presumably on the white list. Two won’t be touched. (YouTube has a buried preference pane, Netflix has nothing.) While I appreciate the idea that the developers are working on this problem, the fact that the other end of the company is very much pro autoplaying video makes me believe that it isn’t the bad design that’s being declared war on - it’s just one more type of advertising that’s outside of their control. I’d much rather they have broken things in order to fix a broken design.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:37 PM on May 8, 2018 [15 favorites]


I noticed recently that they want you pay for YouTube Red if you want videos to keep playing when the tab is minimised. I wonder if it's related.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:22 AM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


Surely Google, with all its AI expertise, should be able to tell a stupid autoplaying video on a news site apart from a web-based game which requires sound? Aren't they supposed to be making cars that can tell a traffic light apart from a child in the road?

My local newspaper site has to be one of the worst for this. Every story is accompanied by a large autoplaying video which is either a) badly produced or b) badly produced and has no relevance to the story whatsoever. Once you've negotiated stopping the video before it starts, closing all the cookie reminders and pop-over "like our Facebook" and "add us on Whatsapp" ads, dodging the random links to the paper's most lurid and violent content half-way through the article, you can read the article. Which then turns out to be clickbait or advertorial for a nightclub 40 miles away. And they say the local press isn't dying.

There has to be an audience out there for local media content that isn't either monetised to within an inch of its life or Facebook-powered "UGC" nonsense.
posted by winterhill at 2:16 AM on May 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


So Google “changed the open standards”? I would like to add a big ol’ [citation needed] sticker on that.

The 2014 HTML5 standard, introducing the video element, talks about the autoplay setting as a “hint”. It also included a note about how users may “override the automatic playback”:
Authors are urged to use the autoplay attribute rather than using script to trigger automatic playback, as this allows the user to override the automatic playback when it is not desired, e.g. when using a screen reader. Authors are also encouraged to consider not using the automatic playback behavior at all, and instead to let the user agent wait for the user to start playback explicitly.
Incidentally, this note is still present in the latest HTML 5.2 recommendation on embedded content.

There is also this sentence, present in both linked HTML specifications (emphasis mine):
User agents do not need to support autoplay, and it is suggested that user agents honor user preferences on the matter.
Anyone who assumed autoplay to always Just Work™ wasn’t keeping themselves to the specification in the first place.

The real question is: how much control over the whitelist is given to the users? Or is it just Chrome deciding for you? I wouldn’t know, because I am still happily using Firefox.
posted by Martijn at 2:34 AM on May 9, 2018 [21 favorites]


I just want a decent (mobile) browser that renders absolutely no media unless I okay it. I don't want to see an image, I want a big box marked "imagename.jpg" that I can click on to load the image. Same deal for video. Same deal for sound.

I swear older versions of Android Chrome had a "only load images on wifi" setting. That's long gone. None of the not-mainstream mobile browsers that claim to have this feature actually have it working. And even then, that's a very very limited version of what I actually want.

There may be kinks to iron out here, but I'm sure they'll get ironed out. This is definitely a step in the right direction, though.
posted by Dysk at 2:36 AM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


> I just want a decent (mobile) browser that renders absolutely no media unless I okay it. I don't want to see an image, I want a big box marked "imagename.jpg" that I can click on to load the image. Same deal for video. Same deal for sound.

Agreed. I wish there was an option to block animated GIFs in particular - some of them can weigh in at multiple megabytes and eat up any limited data allowance a user might have on their phone package.
posted by winterhill at 3:38 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not using Safari is the new IE.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:21 AM on May 9, 2018


I just want a decent (mobile) browser that renders absolutely no media unless I okay it.

uMatrix is a free open source add-on from the same guy who makes the uBlock Origin ad blocker. It lets you block all media by default and customize settings on a site-by-site basis as well as offering separate settings for CSS, images, video, etc., though there isn't a separate category for sound. Unfortunately it doesn't let you click on an image to load just that image.

In the thread I linked to above lollusc says that it works in Firefox for Android; it's cross-browser on the desktop, so it may work in other mobile browsers too.
posted by XMLicious at 5:28 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Anyone who assumed autoplay to always Just Work™ wasn’t keeping themselves to the specification in the first place.

Such as, for instance, YouTube. They *really* want those videos to autoplay. I ran firefox up until version 58 hit with "media.autoplay.enabled" set to false. It was approximately 100% effective in stopping auto-play videos, but it broke some sites (twitch, vimeo) so there was an extention to turn it on and off. The new and improved firefox can no longer run that extension, but there are other ones that do almost as good a job. Anyway youtube would stutter a bit on page load trying everything it can to get the video to autoplay, and then tell me "if the video doesn't begin playing, please restart your device."

Apparently they are so desparate to play those videos at you as soon as the page loads that they took this completely non-standard and mystifying move of letting them play without audio. As if to make them slightly less annoying in the hopes you won't block them completely? Seems a bit... evil?
posted by sfenders at 5:44 AM on May 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


Duolingo microphone only works on Google Chrome. Does Duolingo still work on Chrome? Anyone know?

I have been considering installing Chrome as an alternate browser - I have Windows PC so right now I have three browsers installed, two involuntarily (Edge and Explorer, they reinstall with every update). I definitely don't want a fourth if I can't use it to get Duolingo's microphone feature.

I wonder how influential the gamers who may be leaving Chrome are in terms of impacting browser choice? It seems to me that the simple solution for many people will be to opt for a different browser. Long term it might make sense for me to have one browser for gaming, and a different browser for news and a third browser for research.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:47 AM on May 9, 2018


There's a setting in chrome that disables autoplaying videos completely. It has existed for a long time. This update is nothing but an attempt to save autoplaying videos by trying to guess which ones you want to seee
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:47 AM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


I ran firefox up until version 58 hit with "media.autoplay.enabled" set to false. It was approximately 100% effective in stopping auto-play videos, but it broke some sites (twitch, vimeo) so there was an extention to turn it on and off. The new and improved firefox can no longer run that extension, but there are other ones that do almost as good a job. Anyway youtube would stutter a bit on page load trying everything it can to get the video to autoplay, and then tell me "if the video doesn't begin playing, please restart your device."

aHA! Thank you for solving a mystery for me; I could not for the life of me work out why YouTube always showed me the "restart your device" warning on this Firefox but not on others I thought I'd configured the same way; media.autoplay.enabled was indeed set to false on this one. No clue when or why I did that.

It's set to true now, and in the course of doing that I've just noticed media.block-autoplay-until-in-foreground and set that to true. Liking that very much so far.

Shouty autoplaying ads are not an issue for me because uBlock Origin and a household filter; unlike Google, I have no commitment whatsoever to making my browsers the least bit advertising-compatible.
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh, that's why Hatnote's Listen to Wikipedia site suddenly stopped working for me in Chrome. That was a really mysterious and annoying afternoon.
posted by gesso at 6:19 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Heh, they broke the front page of the website I work for, which is awesome because we've been trying to convince them to get rid of that autoplaying video for months now.

This comes on the heels of them breaking over a thousand of our videos because after years they decided to enforce a much more rigid interpretation of an audio spec with no notice.
posted by davros42 at 7:57 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


> how much control over the whitelist is given to the users?

In Safari, it's an easily accessible user setting (Preferences > Websites > Auto-Play). Every site with detected content is added to the Auto-Play list and can be individually set to "Allow All Auto-Play", "Stop Media With Sound", and "Never Auto-Play". There is a master field where you can set the default behavior of any newly-visited website.

This is very nice, because Safari does not anticipate your whitelist on your behalf, never mind anticipate it based on what Apple wants for you. Before you first launch Safari the default behavior is set to prevent autoplay on any video with sound. Launch the browser, open preferences, set "When Visiting Other Websites" to "Never Auto-Play", and peace can be yours.* If you want to selectively whitelist a game site, it's a trivial task.

If Chrome doesn't do this, it's not because it's difficult, it's because Google can't be fucked to try. Providing this control is less important than the prominent "Make Google The Default Browser" button in Preferences, or explaining what "Protected Content" is in the Preferences > Advanced > Content Settings > Protected Content toggle.

*(Peace not guaranteed because of the website owners doing their damnedest to treat a user preference as a bug to work around.)
posted by ardgedee at 8:09 AM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


Chrome will be eternally compromised by Google's ownership of it. Google's interest in Chrome is as an installable embedded platform for Google's online properties. For as long as Google continues to want to own and control both ends of online content and user information, their web browser will continue to be cutting edge where new technologies serve or can potentially serve Google's needs, but conspicuously overlook anything that threatens that control. Chrome was the last of the big four browsers to incorporate any form of the Do Not Track API, and you can be sure that in the future any browser features that have to balance content owner interest against user interest is going to prefer the content owner.

This is not a polemic against using Chrome. Safari is my daily browser but I always have Chrome open for various reasons, including for web development -- its tools are just too well evolved relative to everybody else's. But when web devs sling around the perennial topic of "which browser is the modern Internet Explorer", my vote is Chrome. Not because it's currently the worst browser (it isn't), but because it is the browser for which a major corporation is attempting to optimize the World Wide Web for, and in turn ensure user lock-in and competitor lock-out.
posted by ardgedee at 8:36 AM on May 9, 2018 [11 favorites]


Slight derail: But have there been any studies on the effectiveness of autoplay videos/advertising? Do these annoying things actually lead to clicks or generate any kind of revenue aside from their placement and sale on the website to begin with?
posted by Fizz at 8:57 AM on May 9, 2018


flabdablet: "t's set to true now, and in the course of doing that I've just noticed media.block-autoplay-until-in-foreground and set that to true. Liking that very much so far."

Hmm in Fx 60 that seems to be the default setting. Nice.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:00 AM on May 9, 2018


They didn't include a button that says "Allow autoplay on this site"? So that it breaks your favorite site only until you enable autoplay for that site?
posted by pracowity at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2018


"Anyone who assumed autoplay to always Just Work™ wasn’t keeping themselves to the specification in the first place."
This isn't just about the autoplay attribute. This is about creating and playing back sound with the WebAudio API and it does break the spec there. It breaks every site that initializes an AudioContext on page load regardless of whether it uses that to play sounds immediately or after user input, with no way to unmute the audio. The bottom line is this breaks thousands of existing sites that are using the API in completely reasonable and expected ways including sites developed specifically to show off Chrome's support for open web technology.

And it's not so great from the user side either. As a regular web user, if I want to say, block autoplay on YouTube, I can't do that with this feature because it's on the special whitelist of approved autoplay sites. And if I want to allow a site that I like to play audio there's no UI to unmute or whitelist that site. There's not even an indication that anything's been blocked. My only options in that case are to disable the feature entirely or figure out how to satisfy Google's mysterious Engagement Index on that site.

This change really hits the sweet spot of developer hostile and user hostile. The idea of preventing autoplay is great but they really screwed up on the implementation. Here's just one example of a better way.
posted by umrain at 1:25 PM on May 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


Oh, I see. With all the talk about web games being affected, which typically do not use "autoplay" even if they do automatically play stuff, and "preventing autoplay videos from blaring audio", I thought they were blocking only the sound and that talk of the autoplay attribute was entirely beside the point. So it's slightly less bad than that.

They are doing something halfway sensible, not autoplaying some videos -- the ones with sound, meaning the ones least likely to be ads -- and then just as an added bonus breaking the audio API, whitelisting their friends, and going to extreme lengths to deny the user control over any of it.
posted by sfenders at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2018


I just want a decent (mobile) browser that renders absolutely no media unless I okay it. I don't want to see an image, I want a big box marked "imagename.jpg" that I can click on to load the image. Same deal for video. Same deal for sound.

I realized I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram on my phone not because the content is always so great but because the apps just work. I never accidentally click on an ad. Audio doesn't unexpectedly come out of my phone. I don't see popups inviting me to sign up for newsletters and browser notifications, or sign up for the premium version that I don't need, or rate the app in the app store.

There are ads, but the interface doesn't keep reflowing and scrolling itself to insert them. There are headers and footers, but they don't randomly adjust themselves and block out content.
posted by smelendez at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2018


Here's just one example of a better way.

Well, I got this far in that article:

"People still want autoplaying video clips on their web pages ... "

Nope, nope, nope.
posted by JackFlash at 2:08 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


Things on my curmudgeonly old person gripes about the internet list that will almost always make me immediately close the tab and never return:

1. Autoplaying videos and audio of any kind.

2. Anything that pops up at all and suddenly obscures what I'm doing or forces me to view some stupid interstitial pane. You dumbasses, landing pages were out in 1999.

3. Anything that pops up and has no easy way to close it or doesn't respond to the escape key. Fuck this in particular. ctrl-w is almost always the next step, because I usually don't actually care what's behind it at that point.

4. Any image that doesn't respond to zoom. Worse, when you click on an image it pops up a smaller version in a popup with a huge bezel and border because you're not viewing it on a phone or a 4k wall display or something.

5. Any version of this embedded CSS/whatever image viewer that responds to zooming by making the bezel and text bigger and reflows the image smaller. UI designers? You will bath in fresh stinging nettle for centuries for this one in particular. Zooming smaller should not make your image larger. Please stop making me alt-click for "view image" to actually be able to "view image". It's super annoying.

6. Fucking stop it with the parallax background images and pages already. It was a neat trick, once or twice. Look, you can still go design a modern platformer game, ok? Just please stop doing it to web pages.

7. Pop up with any kind of unasked for login by detecting a google or facebook login cookie. I'm looking right at you, Medium and Pinterest. The "Hey, we've noticed you here before, let's make things official!" message is super creepy. And Pinterest? It's SUPER SHITTY you log in and detect/display a google account WITHOUT PERMISSION if a user ignores your login prompt. So fuckin' Lame.

8. Anything that manages to trick my noscript and uBlock extensions and evade them. You lock up your public content behind nested ad scripts and obfuscate what to unblock? Instant close. Do not pass go. And if you're obtrusive enough you might even get added to the firewall or hosts file, after I report you to uBlock.
posted by loquacious at 2:52 PM on May 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


I wish I understood the technical problem better. It seems straightforward to modify Chrome so the audio doesn't play (or it's playing but muted) until I positively interact with the tab. Click in the window, for example. That shouldn't require apps be modified at all and for something like an interactive game would be a modest impediment if any. But apparently apps' code has to be modified to actually start audio playing again after being paused. Why did Google go with that implementation? It seems like a mistake. I'm quite prepared to be wrong about that though.
posted by Nelson at 3:58 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Some time ago, I switched to Opera for my main browsing. I have pre-quantum Firefox as a backup and for those situations where I really want to use DownThemAll. I have Chrome for those pages that don't allow viewing with an adblocker: copy link, open that one page, read, and close browser. They may get to inflict ads on me, but they certainly don't get useful user data from my visit.

I am not liking the new era of browser wars.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:29 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


It seems straightforward to modify Chrome so the audio doesn't play (or it's playing but muted) until I positively interact with the tab.

Yes, it would have been much more straightforward than what they did, which seems designed for confusing people. They decided that sites playing or not playing audio and video unpredictably depending on your history and/or Google's un-editable whitelist was a better idea than the more obvious alternative of adding an item to an existing menu designed for exactly this sort of thing.

I keep around a copy of chrome for web developer purposes and for the occasional browsing without an ad-blocker. But I don't use it much, and have turned off auto-updates. So I had an old version of Chrome to test things out on just now. The old chrome had a site-settings menu (click on the little icon to the left of the url) that let you set things to "block", "allow", or "ask". Location, microphone, flash, et cetera could be controlled that way for every site, and you can set a default. You might think that would have been a good place to add a setting for autoplay. There was already one for sound although I didn't think to check if you could set it to "ask" in the old version. Of course you can't in the new.

The latest chrome has removed half of the per-site settings from the first menu you see, including sound, and has completely removed the "ask" option for almost all of them meaning you cannot choose to be prompted for permission to let javascript access your detected location or whatever -- it's just on or off. The "ask" option is still there for only one case that I can see, the one for downloads. So it's not as if they've simplified the code by removing all the UI for asking you.

I imagine all this is probably done on the premise that mobile phone users can't handle any menus, and the desktop browser might as well be identically feature-deprived for branding purposes.
posted by sfenders at 4:43 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I just don't use chrome as much because it pushes video so hard. I rarely watch videos on youtube, certainly don't want videos to autoplay. I hate clicking a link that looks like news and getting a video. This buisness where so many sites want to play a video in the corner - what? nope. On my phone, where data is not unlimited, I especially Do Not Want Video. Yes, I'm a geezer, frugal, a reader. Kids these days.
posted by theora55 at 4:58 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've been using the Chrome extension "Disable HTML5 Autoplay" as a control for this. It's not fine-grained like uMatrix, but it works well. It's installed on my wife's computer, because she doesn't have the patience and antipathy towards ads that I have to fight with uMatrix for every website.

This extension is now unmaintained, because Chrome is building it into the browser, but, I believe in external controls. Youtube doesn't need to autoplay the videos. I'll click the play button myself (sometimes several times, as there's an issue with chained videos and the blocked pre-roll ad video, but hey.)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 5:18 PM on May 9, 2018




> Well, I got this far in that article: "People still want autoplaying video clips on their web pages ... " Nope, nope, nope.

You do not want autoplaying video. Neither do I. But there are many people who want autoplaying video. Yes, literally prefer things that way. I see no reason to make web browsing better for me and worse for them, particularly when it is feasible (and should be trivial for the user) to have both interests catered to with no reliance on third-party tools.
posted by ardgedee at 5:14 AM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


The latest chrome has removed half of the per-site settings from the first menu you see, including sound, and has completely removed the "ask" option for almost all of them meaning you cannot choose to be prompted for permission to let javascript access your detected location or whatever -- it's just on or off.

Y'see, that would be complicated. Donchaknow users would rather have the perfect settings set for them by the all-knowing and wise developers than having to click on a checkbox for themselves? Of course that's easy to do because all users are identical and don't have wildly differing needs, wants and skill levels!

(sarcasm level 250%)
posted by JHarris at 4:36 PM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


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