Google’s upcoming Chrome 66 will add a long-requested feature when it debuts: automatic autoplay muting. The next major Chrome release won’t play audio from a website unless certain specific conditions are met. The change should eliminate those lovely moments when a random tab decides to start shouting at you around 3 AM.
Google has been steadily improving the way Chrome handles user interruptions. Chrome 64 added the option to permanently mute specific websites (the mute persists across browser sessions), and the company launched a new built-in ad blocker back in February. Earlier versions of Chrome could mute entire tabs, but this new autoplay block is more sophisticated and attempts to understand whether the user wants autoplay video to function.
Here’s how the new system works. Autoplay is now only allowed in the following circumstances:
The second option means that opening a dozen links in background tabs won’t result in an avalanche of loudly conflicting ads, but the third wasn’t well-defined. What does it mean to show an interest in media?
Google’s section on Autoplay had a bit more detail, stating that a user must frequently engage with media on a site as measured by its Media Engagement Index, or MEI. The MEI explanatory document lays out the relevant autoplay criteria in more detail. First, the media must be significant, with a minimum frame size, playback time (all criteria must be met for at least seven seconds), and audio track. Videos that don’t meet these criteria are not counted for the purpose of determining whether a user is interested in autoplay video.
If the embedded video does meet this criteria, the user must still choose to interact with it and must have visited the site at least five times before autoplay will be enabled. The final MEI score is calculated by dividing the number of significant video playbacks by the total number of visits. If the MEI score is higher than 0.7, the site will be allowed to autoplay video.
Google describes the MEI as “meant to allow media heavy websites (e.g. YouTube, Netflix) that rely on autoplay for their core experience. It is a non-goal to allow websites with a ‘good media behavior’ to autoplay without restrictions because of the MEI.”
There’s another change baked into how Chrome 66 handles media, though it’s attracted much less attention than the above. The new browser will also expose more information about the media decode capabilities of the host PC, in order to serve video streams that better match the capabilities of the playback device. That’s not as sexy as killing autoplay, but it should improve streaming performance in sub-optimal conditions.