Google has stripped ‘www’ from the latest version of Chrome. The search giant confirmed that the “trivial” subdomain will no longer be displayed in the browser search bar. However, there are concerns that this latest URL change may have untended consequences, with one developer calling it a “hacker/takeover dream”.
Google has a tendency to alter and regulate the URLs of other websites – whether we like it or not. One of the biggest changes has been Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP for short) which masks the original URL of a page along with some slow-loading elements. While this has resulted in a generally faster browsing experience, it also makes it difficult to share the URL or visit the original website.
Now, Google has taken it one step further in Chrome version 69 by stripping out the ‘www’ in domains typed into the address bar. A Google staffer explained the reason for the change on the official Chrome bugs forum:
“www” is now considered a “trivial” subdomain, and hiding trivial subdomains can be disabled in flags (will also disable hiding the URL scheme)
Other forum users were quick to slam this explanation. As one wrote:
This is a dumb change. No part of a domain should be considered “trivial”. As an ISP, we often have to go to great lengths to teach users that “www.domain.com” and “domain.com” are two different domains, and that they may not necessarily go to the same destination. The marketing world has done a lot of damage convincing people that “www” is both ubiquitous and non-essential, when in fact, for some domains, the use or lack of it can be quite important to getting to the correct location.
Another user despaired that it was a “Very Very bad decision”. Others voiced anger at Google for making subdomain usage decisions “for other entities outside of Google”.
Stripping out ‘www’ from web addresses provides phishing sites with a new way to hijack unsuspecting users. For example, a fake banking site could be set up that looks very similar to the real thing, but without the ‘www’ subdomain. As one user noted, “https://citibank.com.sg and https://www.citibank.com.sg are not the same site, and the first doesn’t redirect to the second.”
It also presents basic functionality issues for existing websites. For example, ‘http://www.pool.ntp.org’ takes you to a site about the project, while ‘http://pool.ntp.org’ takes you to a random ntp server.
To compound the issue, Google has stripped “m” from mobile-optimised web addresses. Users were quick to cite multiple examples where this could be problematic. For example: the domain ‘m.tumblr.com’ is shown as ‘tumblr.com’, despite being two totally different sites. Plus, sometimes you just want to visit the desktop version on mobile – stripping ‘m’ from the search bar makes this more difficult. (Google has since announced that this issue will be fixed for Chrome 70.)
Thankfully, it’s possible to remove this ‘feature’ from Chrome 69 in the settings. Click here and change “Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Scheme and Trivial Subdomains” to Disabled. The full URL will now be displayed. You can also check the full URL by clicking inside the address bar.
With any luck, this decision will be reversed by the time Chrome 70 rolls around. We’ll be keeping an eye on this for further developments.