Chrome to follow Firefox, stifle site notification appeals in version 80

With the release of Chrome 80 in February, users will see "a new, quieter notification permission UI" that reduces interruptions of notification requests.

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Google / Gerd Altmann (CC0)

Google yesterday said that in four weeks Chrome would follow Firefox's lead and tamp down on intrusive requests by websites to dun users with notifications.

"To protect notifications as a useful service ... Chrome 80 will show, under certain conditions, a new, quieter notification permission UI [user interface] that reduces the interruptiveness [sic] of notification permission requests," wrote PJ McLachlan, a Google product manager, in a Jan. 7 post to a company blog.

Chrome 80 is scheduled to release Feb. 4.

What Firefox is doing

Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, just rolled out version 72 this week. High on the list of new features for the browser: An end to intrusive, page-obscuring pop-ups from sites asking to send the user future notifications.

Firefox 72 will prevent most of these pop-ups from appearing. Instead, the browser will display a small cartoon speech bubble in the address bar, then briefly jiggle it for attention. The user can ignore it - leaving the bubble in place - or at any later time interact with it to show the pop-up and choose whether to accept notifications from the site.

Mozilla's complaint about the site notification appeals rested on two facts. First, the vast majority of the requests are denied - ultimately, 99%, according to the firm's research - and second, the pop-ups disrupt the user's workflow.

Chrome's take on the same problem

Google set a more conciliatory tone. Calling notifications "an essential capability" for some web applications, McLachlan also said it's Google's goal to "protect notifications as a useful service for users."

Chrome 80 will treat site requests similarly to Firefox 72. Rather than allowing sites to place pop-ups on the page requesting permission to send notifications, Chrome 80 will slip into what Google called a "quiet UI" that features an alarm bell icon with a strike-through. On Chrome for the desktop, the icon will appear near the right edge of the address bar. (On mobile Chrome, it will show near the bottom of the screen.) The first time Chrome presents the quiet UI, an in-browser dialog, which can be dismissed, will explain the feature.

Users will be able to engage the new notification request UI manually using a new option found in Settings > Advanced > Privacy and security > Site Settings > Notifications. Toggling the "Use quieter messaging (blocks notification prompts from interrupting you)" switch turns on the pop-up blocker.

Google will also automatically enable the quieter UI for some users. Those who "repeatedly deny" the notification requests will be auto-enrolled, McLachlan said without going into specifics. Google will automatically silence some sites as well.

"Sites with very low acceptance rates will be automatically enrolled in quieter prompts," McLachlan added. "They will be automatically unenrolled once the user experience is improved."

McLachlan criticized sites that request notification permission right off the bat, saying that those websites often have very low acceptance rates. "We recommend that websites wait until users understand the context and see benefit in receiving notifications before prompting for the permission," he wrote.

Google has frequently used Chrome to force websites to make changes that the search giant believes are beneficial to the web in general. A prominent example was Google's push to get sites to adopt HTTPS. The Mountain View, Calif. company will use that same tactic here, punishing sites that don't meet its guidelines - whatever they end up being - on notification appeals. It can wield the stick because of Chrome's domination of the browser market: In December, 66.6% of all personal computer browser activity was credited to Chrome, overwhelming any rival (the closest competitor was Firefox, with a paltry 8.4%).

Firefox's approach didn't bother trying to influence websites on their notification practices for the simple reason that few would make changes under threat from Mozilla and its small browser share. Chrome, on the other hand, must be obeyed; to refuse risks largely losing control of notification requests.

Google has a reason for wanting notification entreaties to be less intrusive and disruptive: Anything that keeps users focused on tasks such as web searches - which then display Google's ads - and not distracted by extraneous chores will better the firm's bottom line.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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