Browser startups target Google Chrome, Apple Safari
Web browsers were at the center of the first major antitrust case challenging the power of big tech companies more than two decades ago. Today, a new generation of regulators and competitors are once again wondering whether gateways to the Internet are too tightly controlled.
Back then, in the 1990s, the target was Microsoft Corp. Today, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Apple Inc, together control more than 80% of the market thanks to Chromium and Safari browsers, respectively.
In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority said in June it was looking into competition between browser developers on mobile devices as part of an antitrust probe into Apple and Google.
After complaints from a group of software developers, dubbed Open Web Advocacy, the European Commission added a section focused on browser developers to the recently passed Digital Markets Act, which is expected to impose penalties on companies that do not have not adopted its recommendations by 2024.
Several startups are also trying to break in, claiming they can make the browser experience more app-friendly and hoping the competitive landscape is changing. Microsoft has mounted a new push with its Edge browser, which effectively replaced Internet Explorer.
Some market participants have stated that Chromium and Safari became dominant because they were faster and more secure than their competitors, and it was relatively easy to switch between different browsers.
A Google spokesperson said people choose to use Chromium because it’s “fast, secure, and offers the best experience,” adding that Google has made the browser’s underlying code free for others to use.
An Apple spokeswoman said the company “has a vested interest in supporting a robust ecosystem of third-party web browsers and applications, and will continue to promote innovation and choice while ensuring privacy and user safety”.
Software developers said web browsers were key elements in the strategies Apple and Google used to dominate internet markets over the past decade.
The Chromium hosts nearly two-thirds of the world’s Internet activity and is a major traffic driver to Google’s lucrative search engine.
The company sometimes withheld new features that risked reducing traffic to the search engine, people familiar with the rulings said.
The Google spokesperson said the company regularly experiments with new features in Chromium and prioritizes user experience, performance and security when making product decisions.
“Google is encouraged to do Chromium a big Google search box,” said Josh Miller, CEO of Browser Company of New York Inc, which creates a competing product called Arc that he says aims to address the workflows and needs of the average Internet user.
The Browser Company raised US$15m (RM67.31m) this month in a funding round led by Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, which included Shopify CEO Inc, Tobi Lutke, and Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, valuing the nearly three-year-old company at US$350 million (RM1.57 billion).
Google presented Chromium in 2008, and with its minimalist presentation and fast-paced performances, it immediately found an audience, surpassing Internet Explorer in market share less than four years after its debut, according to data from Statcounter.
A first decision from Google Chromium the team’s combination of URL and search bars in a single field helped the browser become a major source of traffic for the search engine, the company’s biggest source of revenue.
Bernstein analysts estimated that Google was on track to pay Apple around US$15 billion (RM67.31 billion) last year for the right to have its default search engine in Safariintroduced in 2003.
Chromium has also grown in importance for Google as the company works to phase out software tools called cookies that advertisers use to target individual internet users.
The competitive landscape is different than it was in the 1990s, when Microsoft’s rivals complained that the company had artificially skewed the market in its favor by consolidating Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system, triggering an antitrust lawsuit.
Federal prosecutors eventually dropped claims related to those tactics, and Microsoft settled the lawsuit by agreeing to change some of its business practices.
While the two Google Chromium and that of Apple Safari browsers have so far escaped the attention of antitrust authorities, competitors have recently been more vocal with lawmakers and regulators about alleged market abuses.
Some competitors said Google, which is facing a lawsuit from the US Department of Justice targeting its dominance in online search, has used subtle cues and tricks that make it harder for third-party search engines and browsers to distribute their products through Chrome.
A Google spokesperson disputed complaints that Chromium interferes with competitors.
Meanwhile, some software developers have called Apple’s policy of banning browsers other than Safari to run their own software programs, known as browser engines, on Apple mobile devices.
Competing browsers on Apple devices must be built using WebKit, the open-source software that powers Safari.
A section of the European Union’s Digital Markets Act focused on browser engines and their potential for anti-competitive abuse.
An Apple spokeswoman said WebKit is important for protecting privacy and security, as well as promoting efficiency and performance.
She said users can easily change their default browser on company devices.
In the United States, some smaller browser makers see promise in proposed antitrust legislation backed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) that is designed to prevent big tech companies from favoring their own products over competing services .
The Mozilla Foundation, which developed the firefox browser, bought a full page ad in The Washington Post last month to express support for the bill, writing that big tech companies have made it difficult for users to “discover, install and use firefox as preferred browser.
“The efforts of big tech companies to favor their own browsing products make it very difficult to increase choice,” said Mika Shah, vice president of product and policy at Mozilla Corp. “Browsers, in particular, are really personal.”
Most of Mozilla’s revenue comes from a long-standing agreement to make Google the default search engine in firefoxa deal that is set to expire next year.
DuckDuckGo, which offers a privacy-focused search engine, told US lawmakers investigating big tech companies that it recently concluded it had no choice but to build its own browser to compete with Google. – Bangkok Post, Thailand/Tribune News Service