Last week we learned that in the near future, browser plugins won’t automatically work out of the box in Chrome and Firefox. Instead of running automatically whenever a website calls for a plugin function, they’ll be “click to play,” meaning the user will have to give permission for the plugin to run with each instance. According to Google and Mozilla, this new rule will apply to each and every browser plugin in existence on the entire planet, save one. Flash will still run automatically, requiring no prompt from the user. With Flash, it’ll be business as usual.
This has the look and smell of a business play all the way through, although that might not be immediately evident when reading what ad giant Google and open source Mozilla have to say. At first glance, their reasoning makes sense. Flash is just too darn ubiquitous. It’s everywhere; buried in everything. Including Flash in “click to play” would put too much of a burden on the user.
This makes sense until the little gray cells start chattering.
Even though the use of Flash is in decline and has been for several years, it isn’t going to go away anytime soon, no matter how much Steve Jobs wanted to dispatch it into oblivion. Too many people are making money on it. It helps pay the bills in a way ad blocking plugins don’t.
Google, still writing the book on online advertising, has a dependency on Flash. Like Android, Chrome is a tool for keeping Google dominant in search, which keeps them dominant in online advertising. No changes will ever be made in Chrome that adversely affect Google’s bottom line.
Again, the Mountain View company has a dependency on Flash. They may currently offer HTML5 video as an option to their ad clients, but neither they nor the online advertising industry are ready to fully embrace it, not yet anyway. HTML5 is a very unstandard standard and doesn’t implement across all browsers with the ease of Flash. So long as browsers continue to enable it, Flash remains the one-size-fits-all solution from those who make our choices for us.
The bucks are relatively smaller, but otherwise the situation is exactly the same at Mozilla. When Firefox is downloaded and installed on a machine, by contract Google is the default search engine. Each time a Firefox user searches through the search bar and then clicks on a search ad, Firefox gets paid. As a result, Mozilla is able to employ a lot of developers, all of whom want to keep their jobs. Flash ads typically pay a premium. Enough said?
Even Microsoft, which has banned plugins completely from Internet Explorer, comes with a custom version of Flash built-in. Internet Explorer defaults search to Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which makes money on Flash ads too.
Admittedly, this is all speculation. Educated guessing, if you will. If I keep following this train of thought, however, I have to wonder about possible hidden motives for freezing out all other plugins. Indeed there are plenty of legitimate reasons to discontinue their use; security, resource use, system stability, to name but a few. But these are all known issues and have been since the plugin’s inception.
Why are the browser barons jumping to change this now? Could it have something to do with the fact that maybe 30% of the Internet is using some sort of ad-blocking plugin? Would “click to play” mean users of Adblock Plus would be required to click through every ad on every page? If so, certainly the plugin’s developers will devise a workaround, but this detour might as well be a roadblock as far as the casual browser user is concerned. Did you ever try to talk your sister through the process of configuring SMTP on Thunderbird?
According to Forbes, recent events are causing many people to turn to ad blockers for reasons other than mere annoyance with Madison Avenue:
“…disclosures about NSA monitoring has Web surfers thinking more about their online privacy according to surveys, and the actions they can take to prevent tracking, including ad blocking.”
That’s not good news for the advertising folks either.
If I’m getting this right, the two major “alternative” browser makers are both beholden to Google. They’ve both decided to make life miserable for all plugins except Flash, which will receive most-favored-plugin status, meaning high dollar Flash ads will be showing. Plugins such as Adblock Plus will be rendered fairly useless for most users, meaning high dollar Flash ads will be showing. Internet Explorer has taken that a step further, doing away with plugins entirely while hard wiring Flash into the system, meaning high dollar Flash ads will be showing.
I’m only thinking aloud. Am I missing something?