Q: I had Google Chrome for Windows set so Web pages couldn’t start playing videos, but I have noticed over the past few months that the clips play anyway. I didn’t change any of the browser settings, so what happened?
A: You may not have changed the browser’s settings, but the websites you use may have changed the way they handle video. For years, many sites used additional plug-in software like Adobe Flash to show videos — and most Web browsers had settings to stop the plug-in software from automatically playing the clips when the page loaded.
However, many sites have gradually switched from using the video plug-in software and are now using HTML5, which is a language for creating Web pages that embeds the clips in the page. Because the plug-in software you are blocking in the browser settings no longer controls the video, the clip often starts rolling when the page loads.
While most browsers do not include easily reached settings to stop the autoplay videos, you do have some workarounds. For Google Chrome, one option is to go to the online Chrome Web Store and search for the free Disable HTML5 Autoplay extension.
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Once you install the extension, it should prevent audio and video clips on Web pages from playing automatically. You can turn the extension off or on from its icon in the Chrome toolbar. A version of the Disable HTML5 Autoplay extension is also available for those using the Opera browser.
Troubles with 911 for cellphone users
Q: I saw on the news that a bunch of cellphone users couldn’t connect to the 911 emergency number the other week because of an “outage.” Why is dialing 911 different on a mobile phone than on a landline?
A: When someone dials the national 911 number, a nearby call center for emergency services (known as a public safety answering point, or PSAP) picks up the call and the operator dispatches medical technicians, the police, firefighters or personnel from another appropriate agency in the area. This month, calls from AT&T Wireless users in at least 14 states would not go through to the emergency network from AT&T’s own cellular airwaves for several hours, possibly because of a malfunction with the software routing the calls to the 911 centers.
Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, issued a statement the day after the disruption to say the agency was looking into the cause. However, AT&T is not the first or only wireless carrier to have problems connecting customers to 911 services. Among the previous cases, an FCC investigation into a Verizon outage and a failure to provide emergency-call service to some subscribers in 2014 resulted in a $3.4 million settlement.
A page devoted to 911 wireless services on the FCC’s website explains the challenge of handling emergency calls from wireless phones instead of wired landlines. The agency notes that because “wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address” like landlines. While the mobile phone can provide the location of the nearest cell tower, those coordinates may not be specific enough for a 911 dispatcher to use for directing a responder.
When calling 911 from a wireless phone, be sure to give your exact location and phone number immediately in case you are disconnected.
To help pinpoint calls, almost all carriers use Enhanced 911 services to provide the dispatchers with more precise information, like the geographical coordinates of the mobile phone, but some PSAP centers do not yet have the technology to receive the data. The major national carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all have information on emergency-calling services on their sites.