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Issue #770: April 24-30, 2022

Q:  I very much enjoy your column and read it each time it appears. I run Windows 10 on an HP laptop and Google Chrome is my web browser. When I try to play YouTube videos all I get is what looks like Greek to me. Maybe its lines of code, but I don’t know.

 Here’s a short sample, but it goes on for pages:

html5_readahead_ratelimit\u003d3000\u0026html5_recognize_predict_start_cue_point\u003dtrue\
u0026html5_recover_from_non_fatal_errors_in_player_bytes\u003dtrue\u0026html5_remove_not_ser
vable_check_killswitch\u003dtrue\u0026html5_report_slw_ads_as_error\u003dtrue

 The same occurs no matter the browser/search engine, including Bing or Edge. At one point I had found a way to copy the video into a Gmail and it would open as desired, but I have since forgotten what I did.

 – Bob L.
Shalimar, Florida

A: You’re correct in thinking this is code of some sort, Bob.  I’ll discuss what I think it is below, but first, I’m a little confused over what you said in the last paragraph.  You initially said you get such code when trying to view YouTube videos, but the last paragraph almost seems to imply that you are getting similar code when using search engines.  I suppose in the long run the answer is irrelevant.  What’s more important is getting to the bottom of this very unusual code display.

I’ll state right up front that your issue has me rather baffled.  I’ve never heard of anything like this happening before, and I couldn’t find any references to it by doing Internet searches.  YouTube does a fairly good job of making it difficult to do anything with their content other than simply viewing it – that content being the video, not some underlying code.  It’s possible to get behind the video and do things like examine source links and embedded metadata or save a local copy of the video.  But what’s happening to you seems to go far beyond any of those.

I notice the text “html5” repeatedly embedded within your sample.  “HTML” is the universal acronym for Hypertext Markup Language – the basic language of web pages.  It has a rich syntax that allows for the definition of the structure of a page, including frames, fonts, colors, and most important, the embedded links that connect everything together on the Worldwide Web.  HTML5 is the fifth, and supposedly final major version of HTML.  Unlike previous versions, HTML5 supports media, such as audio and video, making previously used add-ons like Flash obsolete.

I can tell you that despite the presence of the “html5” string in your sample, the text you supplied is not HTML code, HTML5 or otherwise.  If I had to guess, I’d say it was a response coming from something that did not know how to handle the commands embedded within the HTML5 code that it was interpreting.

My first thought is that you are running a very obsolete version of Chrome.  Versions of Chrome prior to 60 do not fully support HTML5, and may give unpredictable results.  Now, since Chrome and YouTube are both children of the same parent company, I would rather expect you to get an error saying that the browser is unsupported or out of date instead of page after page of arcane text that only a small percentage of computer geeks could hope to comprehend. 

You implied that you’ve tried this on other browsers besides Chrome with similar results.  So, unless those other browsers are also incredibly out-of-date, it’s likely there’s something else going on.  I’m talking about the possibility of some sort of malware infestation.  I can’t, in all honesty, say that I’ve ever heard of malware that does this particular action, and like I said, nothing of substance came up on my searches.  However, until and unless a particular malware is identified and analyzed, one might expect to not get any hits.  So, in addition to updating your browsers to the latest version, I also recommend a thorough malware scans.  In fact, multiple scans with multiple scanners may be in order.


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