How to block autoplay videos in web browsers

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Automatically playing videos (or “autoplay videos”) are one of the newest annoying things about the Web. They’re distracting; they can sometimes interfere with videos/audio one’s already playing (music, etc.); and on mobile devices, they eat up one’s already-limited data allocation. This last one makes autoplay videos especially egregious; site creators already know users have limited mobile data, so why force something as large as videos to automatically play? (It’s also a good way to annoy mobile users and lose traffic.)

Despite Google’s heavy reliance on online ad revenue, they’ve decided to do something about this. Google recently announced that with the release of Chrome 64 (due in January 2018), autoplaying videos will only play when either the user expresses interest in the video (tapping/clicking on the site sometime during use) or with the sound muted. Chrome 63 will also add a setting that lets users permanently mute sound on individual sites.

While that’s a welcome step forward, some might want more options than just what Google’s providing—such as blocking autoplay videos completely from loading, period. There’s also Firefox users who might want the same options. Fortunately, such options already exist.

I’ll focus just on HTML5-based videos; Flash-based videos are already dying out online, or blocked from automatically loading by most current browsers. I’m also leaving out Edge, as I didn’t find much in autoplay blocking features.

Chrome and Firefox

Disable HTML5 Autoplay plugin

This plugin, available for Chrome (desktop version only) and Firefox, prevents HTML5 based videos from playing automatically.

It covers most instances of autoplay videos I’ve found, though some can slip through.

Unfortunately, as of September 26, the Chrome version of this extension is no longer maintained; the developer mainly cites Google’s autoplay plans as why. While the plugin still works, users might want to consider another option.

uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin settings tab
uBlock Origin settings.

The uBlock Origin ad blocker (available for Chrome and Firefox) offers various features. However, it can also prevent media of a certain size from loading, including videos. To access this:

  • Right-click on the uBlock Origin icon in the toolbar, and select Options.
  • Under Settings > Default behavior tab, select the checkbox next to “Block media elements larger than [ ] kb.” In the entry box, enter a desired size; I entered 1000 (which is 1MB).
  • Close the tab.

Media elements over the selected size won’t load, and that should include any videos. Pages can display an option to click to load media over the size limit, however. Clicking on the uBlock Origin icon also displays a video file icon with an “x” through it; toggling the video file icon will allow blocked media to load.

Firefox mobile version

Firefox’s mobile version offers the ability to turn media autoplay off. On Android, select Settings (the vertical pair of dots to the far right of the address bar) > Advanced. Under Media, toggle “Allow autoplay” to off, then close the window.

The desktop version offers a similar but less user-friendly setting. Enter “about:config” in the address bar, then search for the setting “media.autoplay.enabled” and double-click to disable it.

Chrome flags

For users comfortable with messing with deeper Chrome settings, there’s a setting in Chrome’s experimental flags to turn off autoplay.

Type “chrome://flags” into the URL bar, then scroll down (or use search) to find “autoplay policy.” Choose from the drop-down menu “document user activation is required.” A browser restart is usually required, but afterwards, it should prevent autoplay from running.

Safari

Apple’s built into Safari’s desktop version (as of Safari 11/macOS High Sierra) the ability to turn off autoplay videos. Macworld has instructions on how to activate this feature.

(Updated 11/28/17)

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