Google plans to help Adobe's Flash exercise its right to be forgotten – by gradually stripping the animated content from its search index, starting some time later this year.
Flash was beloved by millions of netizens roughly two decades ago. In the years after its introduction in 1996, Flash provided a development platform that worked consistently across systems despite the quirks of browsers. It offered animation, sound, and interaction that web technology couldn't match at the time. It brought us Homestar Runner, Newgrounds, and more.
But over the past decade, it has fallen out of favor. It suffered a mortal blow in 2010 when then Apple CEO Steve Jobs banned Flash from iOS because of security and performance issues, not to mention Apple's insistence on platform control.
And Flash never really recovered. It's not a truly open-source technology at a time when open source has become the norm. And it has never fully addressed its incredibly terrible security or power consumption problems.
Apple disabled Flash by default for Safari in 2016.
The following year, Adobe, facing with antipathy from Apple and others, said it would stop updating and distributing its Flash Player at the end of 2020.
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More recently, the other major browser makers have scaling back their support: Google disabled Flash by default in Chrome 76, released at the end of July. Microsoft is following Google's lead in its Chromium-based Edge browser, but not old versions of Edge or Internet Explorer. Mozilla disabled Flash by default in Firefox 69 last month.
On Monday, Google gave Flash another push in its leisurely journey toward oblivion.
"Google Search will stop supporting Flash later this year," said Dong-Hwi Lee, a Google engineering manager, in a blog post. "In Web pages that contain Flash content, Google Search will ignore the Flash content. Google Search will stop indexing standalone SWF files."
Lee says most websites and users won't notice anything right away, and that's because Flash no longer does much to help sites rank higher in the Google Search algorithm. But web publishers who still rely on Flash should be looking at other technologies if they want Google Search traffic.
In an email clarifying the web giant's position, a spokesperson said indexed Flash content will not be removed immediately from search results, though it will disappear as the index is updated over time. Pages that include Flash files will themselves continue to be indexed, though the Flash components will be omitted. ®