Mozilla urges action to unlock platform browser lockouts – TechCrunch
“The experience of mobile browsers as basic utilities and the perceived lack of differentiation between them means that the browser pre-installed on a device has a huge advantage,” he wrote in the report. “This benefits the operating system and not necessarily consumers. Many people are hesitant to upgrade to a new browser because they quickly get used to their pre-installed browser and don’t have a strong incentive to seek an alternative, or may be prevented from switching. ‘uncover one. This conditioning of consumer behavior over a long period of time means that moving away from a satisfying pre-installed browser is an active choice that requires some cognitive effort. If people are busy or the process is too confusing, they delay change or decide not to do everything. For many people, it’s easier to just continue with the status quo or postpone the decision.”
The report also makes an interesting connection between desktop and mobile browser usage – Mozilla claiming that “nearly all” users of Firefox’s (alternative) mobile browser also use Firefox on their desktop computers.
“Our research shows that in the United States, less than 6% of people who use a desktop browser other than Firefox report using Firefox on their smartphone,” he notes. “This suggests that the more people use Firefox or another alternative browser on their desktop computer, the more likely they are to try that browser on their mobile device.”
This in turn involves Microsoft’s aggressive promotion of its own browser software to Windows users – and in particular the anti-Firefox messaging it injects into its desktop operating system – as helping to reduce the share of Firefox in the mobile browser market (although Microsoft doesn’t have a mobile platform in play these days).
However, it’s clear that there’s a combination of factors that make it particularly difficult for independent browser makers to compete on mobile. And the report highlights how challenging the mobile space is because it’s a more tightly controlled and/or integrated (and bundle-branded) experience than desktop operating systems..
Google, for example, uses contractual restrictions with OEM partners to maximize the proportion of Android devices that ship with own-brand services such as its Chrome browser preloaded, despite Android being open source. (And the tech giant has, of course, found itself in antitrust hot water over some of these restrictions – such as in the EU, where it was forced to offer a choice screen promoting rivals. search engines).
However, consumers’ familiarity (and comfort) with Big Tech products can clearly work alongside lockdowns – although, again, platforms may well seek to shape this outcome by actively overselling the benefits of big tech. integration through suggestive messaging (and/or creating friction for alternatives).
“Our research shows that many consumers feel that Chrome is the browser that works best on Android phones, and that products from the same company will work better together (for example, Gmail will work better in Chrome),” notes Mozilla – pointing to Google. the use of these messages as part of its “multi-product promotion” for example.
“It is also closely tied to web compatibility issues and the extent to which operating system vendors restrict or allow third-party browser interoperability, including access to the same features and APIs offered to their own browsers” , he continues, also critically discussing the ban on Apple. its App Store’s alternative browser engines that limit differentiation to compete with Safari since rivals must also grow on Webkit (which historically has slowed their ability to compete and continues to restrict the difference they can offer).
“Feature development remains at a standstill for alternative browsers on iOS because Apple – which controls both the browser engine and the operating system – does not make some of the necessary APIs and features available to rivals. thus limiting differentiation.
Mozilla’s report also highlights instances where even when a consumer has successfully selected an alternative default browser, a platform can still revert to a self-serving choice – circumventing their choice to resurface their browser under certain circumstances. , such as when performing a ‘search’ after selecting text in iOS (which he says would “historically always open web search results in Safari, regardless of the default browser selected by the user “) ; or by opening a web link in the Windows search bar or icon – which opens Edge (“again regardless of the default browser setting; or by using the search widget on Android – which “will always open results in a Google browser”.
“This demonstration of OCA highlights some of the practices used by operating systems to privilege their own browsers and undermine consumer choice. Lawmakers and policymakers in some countries have begun to take action against misleading schemes to protect consumers. And others have begun to address the lack of effective competition in digital markets, including by introducing regulation. However, very few have acknowledged the link between these issues and the importance of browser competition, or studied the role of OCA practices as a means of enforcing (or thwarting) consumer choice and well-being,” explains Mozilla.
“We believe that if people had a meaningful opportunity to try alternative browsers, they would find plenty of compelling substitutes for the default that came with their operating system. Those opportunities have been suppressed for years by choice architecture online and business practices that benefit platforms and are not in the best interest of consumers, developers, or the open web It is hard to underestimate the impact of years of self-preference and undermining of the consumer choice, including its effect on consumer behavior It is also difficult to estimate the disruptive innovation, alternative products and features, and independent competitors that have been lost as a result of these practices.
Mozilla’s report doesn’t go into specific recommendations for regulatory interventions to force platforms to “do better for consumers and developers,” as it puts it — because it says it plans to publish more work on remedies in the coming months — but he urges lawmakers to act to prevent “further harm to consumers from continued inaction and stagnating competition.”
“As these companies have so far failed to do better, regulators, policymakers and legislators have spent considerable time and resources investigating digital markets. They should therefore be in a good position to recognize the importance of browser competition and act to prevent consumers from suffering further harm from continued inaction and stagnant competition,” he suggests.
“We are asking them to enforce the laws that already exist and the laws and regulations that will soon come into force. And where existing laws and regulations are lacking, we ask that they be introduced and their importance to the future of the Internet highlighted. Regulators, policymakers and legislators in many jurisdictions can use this moment to create a new era in Internet history – an era in which consumers and developers benefit from real choice, competition and innovation.
As noted above, the EU has taken antitrust enforcement action regarding Google’s Android contract restrictions, leading to a screen of choice for EU users, at least for the engine default search. However, Mozilla’s report is generally dismissive of existing lawsuits that have presented online choice architecture and software design, arguing: “The remedies that have been deployed so far have had many limitations and have been largely unsuccessful.”
His conclusion is supported by the lack of significant change in Google’s market share for mobile search in Europe – where it has a 96.6% market, down just 0.3% from 2018, when the Commission fined the company $5 billion and ordered it to sue violating consumers, as Google’s nonprofit alternative Ecosia recently pointed out.
Google rival DuckDuckGo has also called on regulators to go much further in regulating choice screen solutions – arguing in recent years that the design and integration of these tools must enable a truly “one-stop-shop” experience. click” and universally accessible if they really want to move the needle of competition against the power of the rooted platform.
Commenting on the limitations of current Choice Architecture remedies, Jennifer Taylor Hodges, Mozilla’s US Policy Manager, told us, “OCA remedies must be carefully thought out and transparently implemented. At a minimum, they should be created in consultation with stakeholders, thoroughly tested, and data on their performance should be shared. None of the previous choice screen remedies would meet any of these requirements.
“What the report highlights is that a lot of consumer behavior research already exists and more is underway. These experts and academics, alongside market players like Mozilla, should have a say in how OCA remedies are developed.
This report has been updated with comments from Mozilla’s US Policy Manager