Mozilla: Apple, Google and Microsoft lock you in their browsers

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Apple, Google, Microsoft and others have essentially locked users into their web browsers through the default settings of their operating system platforms, giving platform makers an unfair advantage over competitors, according to a new report from Firefox maker Mozilla.

Mozilla researchers found that each platform maker “wants to keep people in their walled garden” by directing mobile and desktop users to Apple Safari, Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. “The five major platforms today (Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon, Microsoft) bundle their respective browsers with their operating systems and set them as the default operating system in the main home screen or dock position,” Mozilla wrote in a 66-page report.

Mozilla claims that while many people claim to know how to install a browser in theory, “many people never actually install an alternative browser in practice.”

Browser users are also concerned that the change will cause them to lose years of data such as passwords, bookmarks and history, and since operating system developers are not making it easy to port this data, the subsequent switching is hindered. “This amplifies the power of the operating system, which can choose to stifle competition (by doing nothing or even prevent change) or to help consumers (by facilitating data porting),” Mozilla explained. .

Forcing users into a pre-selected browser also stifles innovation, Mozilla said. “Lack of browser diversity leaves people exposed when it comes to improving security and privacy. Browsers are powered by a ‘browsing engine’, which significantly impacts the ability of a browser,” Mozilla said.

Apple, Mozilla noted, requires all developers deploying iOS browsers to use Apple’s own Safari WebKit engine. When security issues arise on WebKit, all iOS browser users are equally vulnerable until Apple finds, fixes, and releases fixes. “This is just one reason why a range of browsers, using different browser engines, is desirable,” Mozilla said.

Without a doubt, Firefox feels left out. In 2009, Firefox usage peaked at 32%, surpassing Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE 7) at the time. Along with a long list of available add-ons, Firefox has been praised for its speed and security measures over IE. Shortly after the cross-platform launch of Google Chrome in 2010, however, Firefox began to lose ground.

Jack Gold, principal analyst at research firm J. Gold Associates, said previous versions of Microsoft browsers, such as early Internet Explorer, provided poor user experience, were slow and often did not display all web pages correctly. unless they are formally supported. by IE. This caused many users to switch to Chrome, Firefox and others.

“But those days are pretty much over because most users wouldn’t complain about the browsing experience they get from installed browsers today,” Gold said via email. “I really don’t see an attractive market for third-party browsers for the vast majority of users. That’s the real challenge facing Firefox, et al. And the leaders (Apple, Google, MSFT) will always point out the supposed benefits of compared to the competition.

Today, the fact that Apple, Google, Mozilla and Samsung are the only remaining major browser engine makers should be a clear clue that users simply have no other innate choices, Mozilla said. .

Google weighs

A Google spokesperson hit back at Mozilla’s report, saying that regardless of platform, people choose Chrome because it’s fast, secure and provides the best experience.

“We also allow people to easily switch default browsers and have meaningful browser options, unlike Microsoft, which puts barriers to switching to different browsers, or Apple, which forces browsers to use the WebKit engine, ultimately limiting user choice,” the spokesperson said in an email response to Computerworld.

“And we made the underlying Chrome code available to everyone for free; in fact, it’s now being used to power competing browsers including Microsoft Edge, Brave, Samsung Internet, and Arc,” the spokesperson continued. “Most Android devices come with more than one browser, and browsers can use any browser engine they choose.”

Microsoft declined to comment; Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Google pointed out that around 66% of Windows users and 26% of Mac users choose Chrome as their browser, even though it’s not pre-installed on those operating systems.

The company also criticized Windows 10 and 11 for making it harder for users to change or use default browsers outside of Edge, a claim that was reported before. Windows, he said, also uses app URLs that force users to open links from mail or apps to Edge, even when a user has set a different default browser.

According to Statista, worldwide, Chrome today holds a huge lead over all other browsers in the mobile and desktop market. In portable, Chrome has a 62% market share. Apple’s Safari comes in second with 26%. Firefox claims less than half a percent market share.

On desktop computers, Firefox is doing a little better, with 7.7% market share. But Chrome also claims a solid lead there, with a 67% market share. Edge is second with 11%, followed by Safari with 8.5%, according to Statista.

UK competition agency sees ‘duopoly’

In June, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Google and Apple had a “effective duopolyabout the mobile ecosystems that give them control over operating systems, app stores, and web browsers on mobile devices.

The CMA said 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happened on browsers powered by Apple’s or Google’s browser engine. “Apple prohibits alternatives to its own browser engine on its mobile devices; a restriction that is unique to Apple,” the CMA said.

According to the report, mobile devices also typically have Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari pre-installed and set as default upon purchase, giving them a key advantage over competitors. “Apple and Google both have strong positions in mobile web browsing, with a combined supply share of around 90% for their browsers,” the CMA report said.

Citing European Commission research in its report, Mozilla said platform makers’ specific operating system design tactics essentially remove a consumer’s ability to choose any other browser. For example, in mid-2022, Windows 11 presented users installing the operating system with a blue-highlighted message that read, “Use browser settings recommended by Microsoft.” The pre-selected option comes with a checkmark, while the alternative “Do not update your browser settings” comes with a confusing icon, Mozilla said.

The use of the words “settings” and “update” implies that the user may be harmed if he selects this option because, for example, he may not be running the most recent version, has said Mozilla.

“We believe that if people had a meaningful opportunity to try alternative browsers, they would find many compelling substitutes for the default that came with their operating system,” Mozilla’s report said. “Platforms can and should do better for consumers and developers.”

Google cites its open standards

Google noted that its investment in an open-source browser engine and open web standards has made the web more interoperable and better for developers. Its open standards, he said, have also benefited developers who can build new browsers that differentiate themselves on consumer features without worrying that websites won’t work well on different devices or in different browsers.

As for Apple and WebKit, Google sided with Mozilla, saying Apple’s claims that developers use WebKit for its security have been refuted by the CMA. And Webkit was slower to fix bugs than other major browsers, according to Google.

The bottom line, Gold said, is that the browsers that ship by default on systems have a market advantage, especially since many users don’t care or even know how to switch.

“Is it a monopolistic practice? Many think so, and Microsoft and Apple have been fined because Google is now also fined, especially in the EU,” Gold said. “And although Google might say its browser is the fastest, for most users they probably wouldn’t notice such a difference. It’s kind of like saying the Apple M1 [chip] is faster than Intel Core chips – it only matters at the extremes of computing.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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