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  • The macOS High Sierra Report: Blocking Autoplay Stupidity

    June 13th, 2017

    I’ve written from time to time about the difficulties in making money from online ads, and it only gets worse. When banners didn’t do the job, they became animated. When animated banners didn’t do the job, they became full-blown multimedia presentations. But in the endless effort to boost ad revenue — or at least get people to pay attention — the nature of the ads have become more and more offensive.

    Sometimes you access a site, and a large ad drops into view, and the background is often grayed out. It’s not a pop-up; most browsers turn those awful things off by default. It’s an interstitial ad, and you can only rid yourself of it after a set amount of time, or by pressing an “X” that you might have to search for.

    Yet another offensive online ad comes from the usual process that begins on a Mac or a PC when you insert an optical disc with some sort of audio or video presentation on it. Unless you’ve altered the preference, it will begin to play a few seconds after the media is loaded. So someone had the bright idea of doing the same thing with online ads.

    Now I honestly don’t know where it started — and it doesn’t really matter anymore — but one day I visited one of my favored sites, only to have my ears assaulted by an unwanted video. Actually, it was a news clip from CNN, but it was preceded by an ad that resembled the usual TV spot.

    But I didn’t select it, I didn’t press Play by mistake. I didn’t do anything but open a text article to read. I quickly clicked the Stop button to turn it off and went about my business.

    Some time later, I was recording an episode for one of my radio shows. During those sessions, I will occasionally do a little fast online research to find a relevant fact, or raise a subject I should question a guest about. Well, every so often, I will be talking about something, which means my mic is live, and something will begin to play in the background. I’ll shut it off quickly, and do a retake.

    At other times, I might be listening to the playback of some online program, only to be interrupted, once again, by the dreaded autoplay.

    Yes, I know about browser plugins that can dispatch Autoplay. But stay with me.

    With macOS Sierra, Apple made it easy to kill the audio in Safari, by clicking the speaker icon in the address bar. But it doesn’t stop the audio from starting; it’s just an easy way to click Stop.

    I would love to have a conversation with the people who run sites from CNN, HuffPost, Macworld, USA Today and countless others that offend visitors this way. Do they really think people don’t care about putting up with the unwanted playback of a multimedia presentation? Is this some trick to force you to pay attention, the better to get you to consider someone’s product or service?

    Well, perhaps the same people who make telemarketing phone calls, I suppose. They somehow believe that if they call you up unsolicited and annoy you with something you didn’t ask for, at a time that might intrude on your privacy, that’s perfectly all right. In the end, there will be enough new business for it to make sense.

    So Apple is going to try to help stop the din of unwanted videos with Safari for macOS High Sierra. Among the new features is Autoplay Blocking, which will stop the automatic playback from those sites.

    Just like that!

    Yet another feature in Safari allows you to automatically open articles with Reader, in a clean format unencumbered by ads. These two features are undeniably useful, particularly when it comes to the product of web developers — or their employers — who don’t care about people or their desire to be treated with respect.

    But as with ad blockers, it will also make it that much harder for people to earn revenue from web ads. What started as a minor irritant has morphed into a major annoyance, resulting in total disrespect for the people who visit such sites.

    Unfortunately, people who play by the rules, and attempt to keep the ads in the background or in sidebars, and aren’t putting such promotions in your face, will suffer financially from the need to stop such unwanted behavior. Thus everyone loses a little bit, or more than a little bit.

    Now I have installed an anti-adblocking plugin on my blogs. You can ignore it if you like, but it’s merely a request for you to adjust your adblocker, if possible, to allow the ads we run to appear. That should help us earn a little extra money, but I’ve also been in touch with a company that makes adblockers, and they will allow our ads to appear if we agree to give them a piece of the action, or pay a monthly fee. I can’t help but feel I’m paying something akin to ransom, but I need the money and so I’ll probably strike a deal.

    In the meantime, Apple is making the right move with its changes in High Sierra. Browsers that don’t offer similar features will probably include them too before long.

    While High Sierra is supposed to be mostly a bug fix and performance update, if you look at the feature set, you’ll find a decent range of enhancements that will make your Mac user experience more enjoyable, and, one hopes, snappier and more reliable. I’m looking forward to it, and the freedom from those autoplay ads will be high on the list of features I’m eager to try.

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