Google’s Stake Through the Hearts of Obnoxious Autoplay Videos

Yesterday, in “Apple’s New Cookie Policy Looks Like a Potential Disaster for Users” — — I lambasted Apple’s plans to unilaterally deeply tamper with basic Web cookie mechanisms (including first-party cookies) in a manner that won’t actually provide significant new privacy to users in the long run, but will likely create major collateral damage to innocent sites across the Internet. 

I also mentioned that in my view Google has taken a much more rational approach — focused on specific content issues without breaking fundamental network paradigms — and in that context I mentioned their plans to tame obnoxious autoplay videos.

We all know about those videos — often ads — that start  blaring from your speakers as soon as you hit a site. Or even worse, videos that lurk silently on background tabs for some period of time and then suddenly blare at you — often with loud obnoxious music. Your head hits the wall behind you. Your coworkers scatter. Your cat violently pops into the air and contemplates horrific methods of revenge.

As it happens, Google has just blogged on this topic, with a rather mundane post title covering some pretty exciting upcoming changes to their Chrome browser.

In “Unified Autoplay” — — Google describes in broad terms its planned methodologies for automatically avoiding autoplay in situations where users are unlikely to want autoplay active, and also for providing to users the ability to mute videos manually on a per-site basis.

Frankly, I’ve been long lobbying Google for some way to deal with these issues, and I’m very pleased to see that they’ve gone way beyond a basic functionality by implementing a truly comprehensive approach.

For most users, once this stuff hits Chrome you probably won’t need to take any manual actions at all to be satisfied with the results. If you’re interested in the rather fascinating technical details, there are two documents that you might wish to visit.

Over on Chromium Projects, the write-up “Audio/Video – Autoplay” — — goes into a great deal of the nitty-gritty, including the timeline for release of these features to various versions of Chrome.

Another document — “Media Engagement Index” — — explains the learning and deployment methodologies for determining when a user is likely to want autoplay for any given video. This appears to have probably been an internal Google doc — that was switched to public visibility at some point — so it’s especially Googley reading.

There are two important stakeholder categories here. One is well-behaved sites who need to display their videos (including ads — after all, ads are what keep most major free sites running). And of course, the other stakeholder is that user who doesn’t want their lap ripped open by the claws of a kitty who was suddenly terrified by an obnoxious and unwanted autoplay video.

The proof will be in actually using these new Chrome features. But it appears that Google has struck a good working balance for a complex equation incorporating both site and user needs. My kudos to the teams.