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Google Chrome 94’s Idle Detection

Google Chrome 94’s Idle Detection

Google has released Chrome 94 for desktop and Android and the browser comes a new controversial feature: the Idle Detection API.

As the name suggests, the “Idle Detection” API can detect user inactivity. The term Idle refers to the user who has not interacted with the device or its associated hardware, like the keyboard or the mouse, or through system events such as launching a screensaver or locking the system.


What is the Idle Detection API?

The Idle Detection API notifies developers when a user is idle indicating lack of interaction with the keyboard, mouse, screen, activation of a screensaver, locking of the screen, or switching to another screen. The notification is triggered based on user defined threshold.

The Idle detection API allows a Web application to detect a state when it’s user is not active. This point to a situation when there are no user-driven events generated in the system. This is in contrast to the earlier foreground detection feature which was based on the current tab activity. Instead, the API detects when the user is either away from the device or is inactive irrespective of an active tab.


How does it work?

The Idle Detection API is based on the concept that when the device is in use, there is some level of engagement between the user, the browser, and the operating system. This is represented in two dimensions:

  • The user idle state: Whether the user has interacted with the user agent for some period of time. Based on this interaction, user can be said to be in one of the two states; active or idle.
  • The screen idle state: Whether the system has an active screen lock like a screensaver which is preventing user interaction with the browser. Based on this interaction, user can be said to be in one of the two states; locked or unlocked.

The Idle Detection API requires explicit permission from user before sites can utilize it. This can be found in Chrome 94 settings. The user can specify whether or not sites are allowed to ask “to know when you’re actively using device”.


Possible Use Cases

Despite privacy concerns expressed by tech giants, Mozilla and Apple, some possible use cases has been suggested by the company. Some of those possible use cases of API are:

  • Chat applications or online social networking sites – to let the user know if their contacts are currently reachable.
  • Publicly exposed kiosk apps, for example in museums – to return to a specific page like home view if no one interacts with the kiosk anymore.
  • Apps involving expensive calculations – to limit these calculations to moments when the user interacts with their device.