Google finally chops 'www' from Chrome's address bar despite backlash over 'confusing' change

Google has begun truncating the visible URL in Chrome for desktop and Android, rolling out the change in version 76, released this week.

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Google has finally chopped the 'www' from Chrome's address bar after delaying the controversial move due to a backlash.

The move to remove 'www' was initially planned for last year, when Google announced it would cut "trivial subdomains" from the address bar in Chrome 69.

Now Google has begun truncating the visible URL in Chrome for desktop and Android, rolling out the change in version 76 of the browser, released this week.

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By default sites in Chrome now no longer display the "https" scheme or the "www" subdomain, with the visible address starting after this point. To view the full URL, users now have to click the address bar twice on desktop and once on mobile.

Google has argued the move is driven by a desire for greater simplicity and usability of Chrome.

"The Chrome team values the simplicity, usability, and security of UI surfaces. To make URLs easier to read and understand, and to remove distractions from the registrable domain, we will hide URL components that are irrelevant to most Chrome users," said Chrome security product manager Emily Schechter on the Chromium bug tracker.

However the announcement provoked a fresh wave of criticism, from those who say the move will confuse users and even potentially make it easier for them to inadvertently connect to fake sites.

"Just when my organization is shifting towards broader Chrome usage, this change is very unfortunate," wrote one user in reply

"It causes confusion in that what the user sees as the URL in the omnibox is not reflected in the actual value when copied, it does not match the SSL certificate, and there are many sites that do not automatically map the naked domain to www."

There are also some who claim Google's motivation in changing how the URL is displayed may be to make it harder for users to tell whether they are on a page hosted on Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages subdomain.

Others have argued it's a positive change, simplifying the browser for the large number of non-technical users and restricting the URL to the portion of the address that is most relevant from a security standpoint.

Google says it has also built a Chrome extension that doesn't obfuscate the URL to "help power users recognize suspicious sites and report them to Safe Browsing".

Despite the backlash from some online, Chrome isn't the first browser to truncate the URL in this way, with Apple's Safari similarly hiding the full address. 

The practice of truncating URLs in this way could be coming to more browsers in future. Schechter says the practice has been incorporated into a web URL standards document published by the WHATWG, a group whose members include the biggest browser makers — such as Google, Apple, Mozilla and Microsoft — and which sets standards for web platforms.

You can read more about the general features in Chrome 76 here or the improvements aimed at developers here.

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