The slow demise of Adobe Flash continues as Chrome blocks Flash ads

Google's Chrome browser began blocking Adobe Flash advertisements by default on Tuesday, pausing animations unless users click on the ads to play them. Google says the move will speed up web browsing, improve battery life on mobile devices, and keep users more secure.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/File
Google Chrome will block Adobe Flash advertisements from loading by default. Here, people stand with laptops in front of the Google logo in a photo illustration taken on October 29, 2014.

Adobe’s once-ubiquitous Flash technology has been losing popularity for years now, as websites phase it out in favor of newer, more flexible standards such as HTML5 video.

This week, Flash’s death by a thousand cuts continues: Google’s Chrome browser began blocking Flash ads on Tuesday, pausing animations unless users click on the ad to allow them to load.

Google’s rationale, laid out in a blog post in June, is that Flash makes web pages take longer to load, draining battery more quickly on mobile devices and generally degrading users’ online experiences. Animated ads that use HTML5 will still load automatically, since they use fewer system resources and often don’t take as long to load. Google even wrote a software tool to convert Flash ads to HTML5, in an effort to help out advertisers.

More than 63 percent of all web users use Chrome, according to web developer site W3Schools, so having Flash ads blocked on Chrome is a big deal. From a user perspective, the change is probably a good thing: not only will pages load faster, but loopholes in the software will no longer be available for hackers to exploit. (Earlier this year, Mozilla temporarily disabled Flash by default in the Firefox browser after a critical vulnerability was discovered that could have allowed an attacker to crash, or even take over, a system.)

Yet Flash’s slow demise may not necessarily be good for the web as a whole, argues Julia Greenberg at Wired. Instead of placing Flash ads with small publishers who depend on the revenue to stay afloat, publishers could lean more heavily on Facebook and Google’s AdWords platform. “That could ultimately mean fewer choices for readers,” she writes.

Still, advertisers have the option to convert animated Flash ads to HTML5, allowing them to play unimpeded on Chrome or any other browser. And since HTML5 is supported across all modern computers, tablets, and smartphones, developers won’t have to code separate versions of advertisements for different platforms.

There’s been a healthy debate going on this year between publishers, advertisers, tech companies, and users about how Internet advertising should work. Many users, creeped out by online ads’ intrusiveness and the collection of personal data, have opted to install ad-blockers, which improve security and speed up browsing, but also starve sites of the revenue they need to survive. In response, some sites have tried running messages asking users to disable their ad-blockers, and some sites have partnered with companies such as Adblock Plus to allow “unobtrusive ads” to be displayed by default.

Now, with Flash ads disabled on Chrome by default, online advertisers must come up with new methods of reaching users. Most sites rely on advertising revenue as their bread and butter, so they need their ads to be seen by users – or at least loaded by those users’ web browsers.

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