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Chrome 86 experiment will obscure URL paths to stop phishing

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In its war on the URL bar, Google has announced that in Chrome 86 it will be running an experiment that hides part of the URL path to help users figure out which website they’re on. The firm says that this helps users identify potentially malicious websites but also makes URLs a bit less obvious, which could see more people come to rely on Search.

To test the new feature, Google is randomly switching this feature on for random people. Those who get opted into the experiment will have two ways to view the full URL, either by hovering over the URL to expand it or by right-clicking on the URL and selecting ‘Always show full URLs” in the context menu. If you choose to always show the URLs, they will remain fully visible on all future sites that you visit.

Those with Enterprise-enrolled Chrome browsers will not be included in this experiment, this move should help tech support in the workplace to better assist colleagues.

If you want to test out the feature out of curiosity, download Chrome Canary or Chrome Dev, open chrome://flags and enable the following flags then restart Chrome:

  • #omnibox-ui-reveal-steady-state-url-path-query-and-ref-on-hover
  • #omnibox-ui-sometimes-elide-to-registrable-domain
  • Optionally, #omnibox-ui-hide-steady-state-url-path-query-and-ref-on-interaction to show the full URL on page load until you interact with the page.

As alluded to previously, the move may be a sincere attempt to prevent phishing, however, it also makes the URL bar more irrelevant. For new users coming online, having the URL bar partially obscured could lead to more people doing search queries to get to websites rather than typing the exact URL, this, in turn, could lead to more traffic over on Google Search.

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