Apple, Google, Microsoft and others have essentially locked users into their web browsers through the default settings in their OS platforms, giving platform makers an unfair advantage over competitors, according to a new report from Firefox maker Mozilla.
Mozilla researchers found that every platform manufacturer “wants to keep people in their walled garden” by directing mobile and desktop users to Apple Safari, Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. “All five major platforms today (Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon, Microsoft) associate their respective browsers with their operating systems and set them as the default operating system on the primary home screen or docking station,” Mozilla wrote in a 66- the page.
Mozilla claims that while many people report knowing how to install a browser in theory, “many people never actually install an alternative browser in practice.”
Browser users also fear that the switch will cause them to lose years of data, such as passwords, bookmarks, and history, and since OS developers aren’t helping to make that data easier to migrate, further switching is hindered . “This increases the power of the operating system, which can choose to either suffocate the competition (by doing nothing or even prevent switching) or help users (by making data transfers easier),” Mozilla claims.
Forcing users into a pre-selected browser also stifles innovation, Mozilla said. “Lack of browser diversity leaves people at risk when it comes to improved security and privacy.” “Browsers are powered by a ‘browser engine’ that significantly affects the browser’s capabilities,” Mozilla said.
Apple, Mozilla notes, requires all developers implementing iOS browsers to use Apple’s own Safari WebKit engine. When WebKit security issues occur, all iOS browser users are equally vulnerable until Apple finds, fixes, and publishes fixes. “This is just one reason why a cross-browser suite is desirable,” Mozilla said.
Without a doubt, Firefox feels left behind. In 2009, Firefox usage peaked at 32%, overtaking Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE 7) at the time. Along with the long list of add-ons available for it, Firefox has been praised for its speed and security measures compared to IE. Soon after the launch of the cross-platform Google Chrome in 2010, however, Firefox began to lose ground.
Jack Gold, principal analyst at research firm J. Gold Associates, said that previous versions of Microsoft’s browsers, such as early Internet Explorer, offered a poor user experience, were slow and often did not display all web pages correctly unless are officially supported by IE. This has led many users to switch to Chrome, Firefox and others.
“But those days are almost over, as most users wouldn’t complain about the browsing experience they get today from installed browsers,” Gold said via email. “I really don’t see a compelling market for third-party browsers for the majority of users. This is the real challenge to Firefox and others. And the leaders (Apple, Google, MSFT) will always point to the supposed advantages over the competition.
Today, the fact that Apple, Google, Mozilla and Samsung are the only major browser engine manufacturers left should be an obvious clue that users simply have no other innate choices, Mozilla said.
Google weighs in
A Google spokesperson responded to Mozilla’s report by saying that regardless of platform, people choose Chrome because it’s fast, secure and offers the best experience.
“We also make it easy for people to switch default browsers and have meaningful browser options, unlike Microsoft, which puts up barriers to cross-browser switching, or Apple, which requires browsers to use the WebKit engine, ultimately limiting consumer choice The spokesperson said in an email response to Computerworld.
“And we’ve made the base code for Chrome available to everyone for free; in fact, it is now 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 the browser of their choice.”
Microsoft declined to comment; Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Google indicated that about 66% of Windows users and 26% of Mac users choose Chrome as their browser, even though it is not pre-installed on those operating systems.
The company also criticized Windows 10 and 11 for making it more challenging for users to switch or use default browsers outside of Edge, a claim that is previously reported. According to him, Windows also uses app URLs that require users to open links from mail or apps in Edge, even when the user has set a different default browser.
Globally, Chrome today holds a convincing lead over all other browsers in the mobile and desktop markets, according to Statista. in Movable, Chrome holds a 62% market share. Apple’s Safari is in second place with 26%. Firefox claims less than half a percent market share.
On desktop computers, Firefox fared slightly better with a 7.7% market share. But Chrome claims a solid lead there as well with 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 that Google and Apple have “efficient duopoly‘ on mobile ecosystems, giving them the ability to control operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.
The CMA said that 97% of all mobile browsing in the UK in 2021 took place on browsers powered by Apple’s or Google’s browser. “Apple bans alternatives to its own browser on its mobile devices; a limitation that is unique to Apple,” the CMA said.
Mobile devices typically have either Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari pre-installed and set as the default at purchase, giving them a key advantage over rivals, according to the report. “Apple and Google 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 specific OS design tactics by platform manufacturers essentially remove the user’s ability to choose any other browser. For example, in mid-2022, Windows 11 presented users installing the operating system with a message highlighted in blue that read: “Use Microsoft’s recommended browser settings.” The pre-selected option is accompanied by a checkmark, while the “Do not update your browser settings” alternative is accompanied by a confusing icon, Mozilla said.
The use of the words “settings” and “update” suggests that the user may be harmed if they choose this option because, for example, it may not work with the latest version, Mozilla claims.
“We believe that if people had a meaningful opportunity to try out alternative browsers, they would find many of them to be compelling replacements for the default package with their operating system,” Mozilla’s report said. “Platforms can and should do better for users and developers.”
Google cites its open standards
Google noted that their investment in an open source browser and in open web standards has made the web more interoperable and better for developers. Its open standards, he said, have also benefited developers, who can create new browsers that differ in user features without worrying that websites won’t work properly on different devices or in different browsers.
As for Apple and WebKit, Google sided with Mozilla, saying that Apple’s claims that developers use WebKit for their security have been refuted by the CMA. Also, Webkit has been shown to fix bugs more slowly than other major browsers, according to Google.
The bottom line, Gold said, is that the browsers that ship by default on systems have an advantage in the market, especially in that many users don’t care or even know how to switch.
“Is this a monopoly practice? Many think so and Microsoft and Apple were fined, as now Google is also fined, especially in the EU,” said Gold. “And while Google may say their browser is the fastest, most users probably won’t notice that much of a difference.” It’s a bit like saying Apple M1 [chip] is faster than Intel Core chips — it only matters in the final calculations.”
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