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posted by martyb on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the all-your-user-agent-are-belong-to-us dept.

Chrome Phasing out Support for User Agent

Google announced its decision to drop support for the User-Agent string in its Chrome browser. Instead, Chrome will offer a new API called Client Hints that will give the user greater control over which information is shared with websites.

[...] When Netscape came out,[...] it adopted the User-Agent string and added additional details such as the operating system, language, etc. These details helped websites to deliver the right content for the user, though in reality, the primary use case for the User-Agent string became browser sniffing.

[...] Browser sniffing continued to play a significant part in determining the browser capabilities for many years, which led to an unfortunate side effect where smaller browser vendors had to mimic popular User-Agents to display the correct website - as many companies only supported the major User-Agent types.

With JavaScript popularity rising, most developers have started using libraries such as Modernizer, which detects the specific capabilities of the browser, as this provides much more accurate results.

As a result, the most significant usage for the User-Agent remained within the advertising industry, where companies used it to 'fingerprint' users, a practice that many privacy advocates found to be problematic - mainly as most users had limited options to disable/mask those details.

If advertisers (other than Google) are unable to fingerprint our browsers we might be condemned to having fewer ads on our web pages to watch.

[A more in-depth article is available on ZDNet; the entire Client Hints proposal is available on GitHub. This is subject to modification — but it has been under development since at least January of 2019 — so don't wait for it to get formally adopted if you have any issues with it; get your feedback in soon.-Ed.]


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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by SomeGuy on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:39PM (4 children)

    by SomeGuy (5632) on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:39PM (#975562)

    User agents have been a pain for a long time. But they are part of HTTP.

    There are actually STILL some web sites out there that block my web browser because my "OS" part of the string just happens to contain "Windows 95". Change it and it lets me in just fine. I tried contacting one of these sites and just got back the usual shit along the line of "derr we block that because viruses, u shud upgrade because teh security deeerr drool, drool, drool." The irony is several of these sites are vintage computing related.

    On the other hand, sometimes changing IU strings could force some sites to give me an actual USABLE interface that was not full of retarded bullshit.

    So, the real question is what happens to any web browsers that don't do the same thing as Gurgle Crumb? Will they be blocked from internet access altogether?

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  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:46PM (2 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:46PM (#975563) Journal

    What would happen, I wonder, if a user agent indicated one of the text mode browsers? [wikipedia.org]

    Maybe a web site would know that you are too unfortunate to have JavaScript, blinking seizure inducing animated GIFs, local storage, and other such wonderful features; and the site would taylor the content accordingly. Suppose you could falsely indicate that browser as your user agent in order to avoid the web site sending you JavaScript and animated GIFs, etc.?

    --
    I need to spend more effort optimizing performance within while(false) loops.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @09:04PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @09:04PM (#975602)

    User agents have been a pain for a long time. But they are an optional part of HTTP.

    FTFY