In my work, I do a lot of research. Not all of it is online but a fair amount of it is. Sometimes when I am doing the online part, a keyword will return several relevant results. When that happens, I will open up to half a dozen of these sites at once in separate tabs within the browser. This used to be the most efficient method for the way I work until I noticed a disturbing trend on many web sites: It is practically guaranteed that at least one (usually three or four) out of the half dozen will start playing a video all on its own.
It is a feature called video autoplay, and it is extremely annoying because I can think of no time or reason where I would want a video to just start playing on a page, so there is no rhyme or reason for sites to do it. I had to find a way to make it stop, so I did, and now I am going to share with you what I learned about stopping the autoplay video feature on three of the most popular browsers: Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
It would be great if web site hosts would respect our autonomy on our very own computers and not set their videos to automatically play as soon as we hit the page. I can’t imagine that they want to annoy us to the point we turn away from them altogether. Why do they do it, then?
I’m pretty sure they do it because we probably wouldn’t click to play it if they didn’t. Just think about it – if you were given an option to not play the commercials that pop up every ten minutes or so on TV, wouldn’t you do it? As it is, we often flip through to see what’s on other channels, put it on mute, or pause it to go get a snack or something. If we’re playing the show back on our DVR’s, we almost certainly fast forward through the commercial blocks.
Web content providers need a way to pay for what they give us for free, too. I appreciate and accept their right to put commercial content in front of my face when I land on their sites. I may even read a couple or few blocks and even click on one out of curiosity. It’s just that the autoplay video is so especially annoying, it always backfires on the site owner in my case because when that autoplay video starts, I will pause, mute, or whatever action is available to shut it up ASAP and then not pay a bit of attention to any other ad on the page. And if there is any delay at all in that video shutting up, I will just leave the page and never return to the site.
So, as I said earlier, the only solution is to find a way to stop the autoplay on every single web site that comes my way, and I went looking for a hack for that on the two browsers I use: Firefox and Chrome. Knowing that a lot of Mac people still use Safari, I found information for that browser, too, when I decided to write a post about it.
Flash and HTML5
Keep in mind that there are two kinds of videos that you have to guard against – Flash and HTML5. The latter is slowly becoming more popular and taking the lead. This means that some Flash or general plug-in blockers will be effective on fewer and fewer sites running videos on autoplay. You need to be sure to block both video types.
Also, if you are a fan of Flash player games like King’s Sagas (including the king of Facebook games, Candy Crush Saga) as well as games like Farmville 2, you may have to either list them when you set up your autoplay blocking or grant permissions to the site the next time you come to it. That’s not always the case, but if you go to a site that you want to let run Flash and it doesn’t work after applying one of these fixes, go back to the fix and look for a way to let a site run it.
Now let’s look at how to do all of this on Firefox, Chrome, and Safari browsers.
Since March 2013, when it broke away from the pack with 51.7% usage among web surfers, Chrome has been the most popular browser in the world. In November 2016, it was used by 73.8% of devices on the World Wide Web.
Like all of the web browsers reviewed in this report, Chrome is free. It gets kudos for speed and for rendering video in HTML5. It does not necessarily get high praise for guarding your privacy. It does a fine job protecting you from identity thieves – in concert with your Internet security suite – but Chrome is a product of Google, who wants to know anything and everything about us. Some people choose another browser because of this, although most of us know the battle against data gathering is futile on most any browser.
Blocking Flash Video on Chrome
When it comes to blocking flash video autoplay, Chrome makes it easy to do that plus to make sure the sites you want to run flash video can. Here is how to do it:
- Open your Chrome browser.
- Click the menu icon in the top right corner of the browser window.
- Choose settings.
- Scroll to the extreme bottom of the page and click the link within the text, “Show advanced settings …”
- Scroll down to “Content Settings” (mine shows up under the “Privacy” section).
- A window pops up; scroll down, down, down to “Flash.”
Here, you have three choices:
- Allow sites to run Flash,
- Ask first before allowing sites to run Flash (recommended), and
- Block sites from running Flash.
Let’s look at these three items a bit more closely:
- Just as it says, the first choice lets all flash video run automatically when you land on a web page. Since you’re reading this article, that’s almost certainly not the one you want
- The next option is to be asked every time you hit a new page with Flash video whether or not you want to allow it to play. Chrome (Google) thinks this is the setting you should use, but do you want to be asked at every page whether or not you want the video to play? Personally, I want to pretend the memory hogger is not there unless it is something I genuinely want to see. If you feel the same, this option isn’t for you, either.
- The last selection will block all Flash from running without my permission. Am I going to miss something if I take this option? Probably not. When I go to a news story with video available, I will see it when I get there. If I want the video version, I will click to play it. If I prefer to read without sound and pictures, I can get to my story right away without delay. So this is what I’m choosing.
If you agree and chose the third option under Flash controls, “Block sites from running Flash,” you might want to go ahead and click on the “Manage Exceptions” button. That’s the area to enter Facebook, Zynga, YouTube, and whatever other sites you will always want Flash working all the time. It’s also where you will return to if you go to your game and it isn’t playing.
Blocking HTML5 Video on Chrome
Web site videos are increasingly played in HTML5 coding. Blocking Flash video will not block HTML5 video. To do that on Chrome, you need a browser extension. To find one, you can search the web or you can go to the Chrome menu once again:
- From the Chrome menu, choose “More Tools” and from there, “Extensions.”
- Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “Get More Extensions.”
- Now, in the box to the left under the words, “chrome web store,” type in, “block HTML5 video.”
- In the list are two extensions that will do that for you: Disable HTML5 Autoplay and Video Autoplay Blocker by Robert Sulkowski. Read the reviews, decide which one you think will work best for you, install it and then follow the instructions to open and apply the block.
Usually a distant second to Chrome in the browser wars, Firefox by Mozilla is still the browser of choice for a lot of people (like me). In fact, most of the developers I know tell me it is the superior browser in spite of Chrome’s surge in popularity. Their professors taught them to code primarily for Firefox for that reason, and some will use nothing else.
One thing I do like about Firefox in regard to stopping autoplay videos is that you can stop both HTML5 and Flash video autoplay with one simple tool: An add-on called Flashstopper. This makes it easy and fast to stop those intruders into my browser space by simply downloading and installing once and done.
Once upon a time, Mac users thought Safari was a dandy browser. And, if they wanted to block video from playing automatically on a web page, they used a handy extension called ClickToPlugin. It stops both Flash and HTML5 videos.
In the very recent past, however, Apple changed OS X configurations so that this and other extensions cannot be further developed to keep up with the new versions of Mac operating systems. If you have the latest version of Mac OS X installed, ClickToPlugin will not work for you, and there is no other way to block the HTML5 video autoplay. You can still stop Flash videos by managing “Preferences” to “stop plug-ins,” but HTML5 is not a plug-in and every day more sites use HTML5 for their videos than Flash, making the Flash block less and less effective.
Maybe the folks at Apple want to make sure you experience the web the way the web site owners intend it for you instead of the way you prefer. Whatever the reason for this change, it and several others are why many Mac owners now have Firefox or Chrome installed on their machines as an alternative to Safari.
While setting up your autoplay video blocks on Chrome, Safari, and Firefox may take a couple or few minutes (in the case of Safari you might go to one of the other browsers, but those download and install times are short), it will save an average web user three hours of useless clicking over an average work life span to shut down videos you don’t want to play. That may not sound like a lot right now, but it’s time you will never get back all the same.