3 years ago Adobe announced their plans to end their development and support for Flash Player on December 31, 2020, the “end of life” date. More recently they’ve authored an EOL General Information page, in a bit of a hurry judging by an abundance of typos.
Haphazard or not, this page contains some clear points, which have raised a few eyebrows. Most notably, there is an implication that Adobe is now bundling a killswitch into Flash Player, which will allow them to prevent the program from functioning past the end of life date.
Update December 10, 2020; Adobe has announced a 12-day grace period between the EOL date of December 31, 2020 and Killswitch date of January 12, 2021 :
Defunct product or not, Adobe still continued to release Flash Player updates regularly. If you check their release notes page you can see for yourself that Adobe has stood by their word to continue distribution for Flash Player until the end of life date. Granted, some of these release notes are almost hilariously short. One really has to wonder what issues could possibly warrant this degree of attention, even this late into a product’s lifecycle.
In today’s scheduled release, we’ve updated Flash Player with important bug fixes.The entirety of the release notes for the August 11, 2020 update
A possible reason as to why Adobe has felt the need to continue these updates, became apparent when Adobe released their general information EOL statement. Formatted like an FAQ page, the statement provides answers for 7 questions explaining what Adobe’s terms for EOL are. In particular, there is a section which addresses previous versions of Flash Player:
4. Will Adobe make previous versions of Adobe Flash Player available for download after 2020?
No. Adobe will be removing Flash Player download pages from its site and Flash-based content will be blocked from running in Adobe Flash Player after the EOL Date.
Adobe always recommends using the latest, supported and up-to-date software. Customers should not use Flash Player after the EOL Date since it will not be supported by Adobe.
Not only are previous versions of Flash Player being removed from the website, but Flash Player itself will be blocked from running Flash-based content beyond December 31. It does not matter if you had downloaded Flash Player prior to this date, you will from now on be walled off from any and all Flash-content.
Seeing as Flash Player can run without an internet connection, it does not seem that this date-check will merely be a server-based validation. Thus the natural conclusion is that Adobe has bundled in a piece of code that will be able to perform this date-check from within Flash Player itself. A killswitch, if you will.
So as it turns out, Adobe’s continued attention to Flash Player has not been them comforting Flash Player on its deathbed, so much as building it a sturdy coffin. This is further emphasized by the following section:
5. If I find Flash Player available for download on a third-party website, can I use it?
No, these versions of Flash Player are not authorized by Adobe. Customers should not use unauthorized versions of Flash Player. Unauthorized downloads are a common source of malware and viruses. Adobe has no responsibility for unauthorized versions of Flash Player and customers’ use of such versions is entirely at their own risk.
Adobe really does not want to distribute Flash Player beyond the EOL date, and furthermore makes it clear that they do not want anyone else distributing Flash Player either. In Adobe’s defense, this is more so them trying to avoid being held accountable for any damage that may be caused by malicious vendors (i.e. computer viruses), but this section immediately following the previous one suggests that Adobe at least considers these decisions to be in a similar vein.
It bears mentioning, that Adobe will be offering alternative commercial solutions for any enterprise customers who might be adversely affected by these EOL decisions. They even have a separate page for enterprise customers.
How does this concern you? Unless you are a big enterprise you can expect personal or governmental websites that have not transitioned to non-Flash formats to cease functioning correctly, at the very least. Most browsers are dropping support anyway, this is just Adobe themselves taking steps to ensure Flash Player has a quick and silent death.
What does this mean for the archiving community? The Flashpoint team has taken their own precautions. By using the oldest version of Flash Player which is still compatible with all the archived Flash-content, they will minimize the risk of using a version that has a killswitch built into it. And the Ruffle team is still hard at work making their own Flash Player emulator. Best to do here is spread the word about their efforts. so people don’t delete all their Flash content assuming it to already be as good as gone.
Among all the uncertainties, one thing is for certain: The story of Adobe building a killswitch into what once was their premier product will certainly become a cautionary tale for the future.