News & Opinion | May 5, 2019 1:15 pm

Former Google Engineer Reveals the Secret Plot to Kill Off Internet Explorer 6

YouTube engineers used video banners to warn of "phasing out" support for IE6

Composite Image (Photo credit: InsideHook)
Composite Image (Photo credit: InsideHook)

In the summer of 2009, engineers at YouTube were frustrated with Microsoft’s aging, Internet Explorer 6 web browser, so they decided to hatch a secret plan to effectively kill it off. At the time, IE6 still made up nearly 20 percent of all traffic to the video portal, however. To usher in the quick death of IE6, the YouTubers clandestinely created a banner that would only be seen by IE6 users, warning them that the site would be soon “phasing out” support for that version of the Microsoft browser.

The idea was an immediate hit both inside and outside the company—there was no shortage of dislike for the increasingly obsolete IE6. One small issue: Google, which had acquired YouTube a few years prior, had in no way approved of the plan. And once Google’s lawyers caught wind of the YouTube engineers’ freelancing, they panicked, worrying about anti-competitive lawsuits that might claim YouTube was sabotaging IE6 to benefit its parent company’s alternative, Chrome. The engineers were already one step ahead of them, though. They’d made sure to randomly promote a number of browser alternates—Firefox, Chrome, Opera, even IE8—in their banner warnings.

“Content with the demonstration, the lawyers quickly retreated back to their desks without any further concerns,” says Chris Zacharias, a former Google and YouTube engineer who first revealed the secret plan. “Within one month, our YouTube IE6 user base was cut in half and over 10 percent of global IE6 traffic had dropped off while all other browsers increased in corresponding amounts. …The results were better than our web development team had ever intended.”