Google, Apple Offer Salvation from the Horrors of Autoplay

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Tech giants are under a lot of pressure these days to make the world a better place—to ferret out Russian hackers trying to fix elections; to combat gender bias in hiring; to stamp out sexual harassment; and to lend their voices to the protests over President Trump’s immigration policies.

Despite efforts they’ve made on these weighty issues, they still draw considerable ire. But two of the biggest tech companies, Google and Apple, are now getting an outsized dose of sugar, just for some little fixes they’re making to their browser controls.

They are allowing users to close the Hellmouth called Autoplay.

If you have never experienced Autoplay you may not understand why the defeat of this video advertising feature is being welcomed like a comprehensive, bipartisan solution to the U.S. health insurance morass.

But imagine that you’re trying to concentrate on a story on a top-notch U.S. newspaper website about an issue you really care about, and your computer suddenly starts shrieking loudly about Cedar wax floor cleaner or something like that.

The video ad itself may be nowhere in sight; even if you see it, it has no pause button to stop the audio havoc. You never clicked on the ad or rolled over it. If you do see the ad, you cannot evade it by scrolling down the page. It revives like Jason, wreaking terror in your ears. Autoplay is not content to play the ad’s audio only once. After a few seconds of blessed relief, the screaming resumes.

A Google blogpost this month, in a masterwork of understatement, acknowledged that Autoplay has been “one of the most frequent user concerns” because it can “make unwanted noise while browsing.”

Google announced in mid-September that its Chrome browser will give users the option of disabling audio on sites they choose. The default settings will block Autoplay if the video ad includes sound, unless the user has signaled that they want to see and hear the ad.

The full Chrome modification won’t be available until January of 2018, but Apple offered immediate relief for users of its Safari browser this week, when it introduced its updated operating system High Sierra, which is now available to download free.

Although High Sierra offers a host of refinements, such as virtual reality support, encryption and security improvements, crash protection, and faster backups, some reviewers saw the new OS launch as a bit of a ho-hum event. The one clear exception was the new user controls on Autoplay.

“There’s one good reason to update to macOS High Sierra,” read the headline for a story in The Verge by Jacob Kastrenakes. “Silence,” the subhead whispers.

For those who bypass the lengthy process of upgrading to High Sierra for now, Kastrenakes points out that Mac users can still get their Autoplay muted by updating to Safari 11.

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