INTERNET

The Evil Of Google Chrome Extensions

And then a little bit more via Vocativ's "Bad Grammar" Chrome Extension

INTERNET
It will never end.
Mar 09, 2016 at 6:28 PM ET

In one of the greatest corrections of the web publishing era, Wired magazine on Wednesday amended an article to acknowledge that Donald Trump’s name was accidentally replaced with the phrase “Someone With Tiny Hands” throughout one of their pieces. The culprit? A rogue Google Chrome extension.

For the unaware, Chrome extensions are lightweight plug-ins for Google’s Chrome web browser, which anyone can download, mostly for free. You can also create and submit extensions to the Chrome Web Store, which is like an app store for your browser. The “Someone With Tiny Hands” extension was created by Dan Sinker, an editorial technologist who heads the Knight-Mozilla open news project and is the clever soul behind the hilarious @MayorEmanuel parody Twitter account. He’s also someone who enjoyed Wednesday immensely, if his Twitter account is anything to go by.

Fun, anarchic Chrome extensions that screw with how you see the web are nothing new. Sinker follows in the footsteps of Fusion’s Patrick Hogan, who was similarly inspired to do editorial evil by Donald Trump. His Trumpweb extension, which inserts a randomized Trump quote in between the words “Donald” and “Trump” wherever they appear, was genuinely hilarious for the 15 minutes after installation, after which most right-thinking people probably uninstalled and moved on with their lives. Forgetting that you’ve installed extensions like this, however, can wreak havoc, as Wired showed this week. And they weren’t alone.

Tiny Hands and Trumpweb are just a sample of a number of Trump-related extensions, most of which replace “Donald Trump” with something else, or simply erase him from webpages altogether. None of these extensions are meant to be malevolent or cause pain to those who download and install them. They’re just good clean fun. It’s mostly when journalists forget about the extensions that things get embarrassing. Just ask Vocativ: On the same day that Fusion released their Chrome extension, a Vocativ senior editor who forgot to uninstall it had a moment of very vocal panic in the newsroom, as a prominent headline appeared to contain Donald “INSERT RIDICULOUS QUOTE” Trump, emblazoned across Vocativ’s homepage.

Some Chrome extensions, however, are genuinely evil. (“Don’t be evil” has been dropped by Google as a mantra). One such extension was found to have exposed the personal data and browsing history of as many as nine million users by inserting extra scripts into the code. Another screengrab extension had a sleeping scraper code that would activate after a delay, and steal personal data.

Surely there’s a middle ground? How about an extension that serves to madden only people who truly deserve maddening? Like, say, pedants—specifically the worst kind of pedant who corrects every its/it’s or your/you’re discrepancy in your tweets, Snapchats or text messages. The kind of person who’ll print off your emails and leave them on your desk dotted with red pen marks. How about a way to aggravate those apostrophe vigilantes, the unsolicited sub-editors of your life?

WE DID IT. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Vocativ’s bad grammar Chrome extension (created by very responsible interactive developer Gerald Rich) randomizes all appearances of its/it’s, your/you’re and there/there/their on the webpages of anyone who has it installed. Imagine if this extension were to, say, end up on the browser of your editorial team’s most remorseless, mouthy pedant, such that every time they corrected errors, saved, and refreshed their page, brand new errors would appear, like joke birthday candles that just won’t blow out. Hilarious. You probably shouldn’t make this happen, though. It would be, as Someone With Small Hands would say, “BAD”.

Of course, this being the open web, we don’t want to restrict your trolling. And what’s more, maybe you want to troll someone like me, an Irishman in an American newsroom, who daily has to remove the letter “u” from words like “colour” and “favourite” for a readership who can’t cope with the extraneous vowels found in English English, and has to reverse dates from the globally sensible day/month/year to the inexplicable, isolationist month/day/year format. To that end, the code is live in a GitHub repo here so you can add taunts and iterate on our extension to your black, foul-smelling heart’s content.

Go forth, evildoers, and make the internet great again.