FROM hybrid working With the growing popularity and mismanagement of data that continues to make headlines, you might think that even the most unsuspecting users would be interested in securing their online privacy.
However, new data passed to the TechRadar Pro by the SimilarWeb digital intelligence platform shows that there is an increase in privacy-focused veterans browsers Mozilla Firefox and Opera stretches out.
Opera’s estimated user acquisition rate (based on traffic to the browser install page) suggests June was a particularly low point, signifying a 23.1% decline in growth from the start of the year. There have been little gains since then, but Opera seems less and less attractive to new users.
Firefox, meanwhile, fared even worse, perhaps as a result of the decision to focus on Mozilla VPN and other privacy products. In August, the number of visits to the browser installation page fell by 7% in January, and hers market share (opens in a new tab) (which used to be 30%) has dropped to just 3.35%.
The raw data shows that Firefox currently only attracts a few hundred thousand new users a month, while Opera only attracts around two million. However, it is believed that the market leader Google Chrome is used by over 3.1 billion (opens in a new tab) people.
Rise of the “large default browser”
The publication of the data by SimilarWeb coincided with report (opens in a new tab) published by Mozilla in late September 2022, which accused Google, Microsoft and Apple of “abusing their privileged position” to “make it difficult or impossible” for users to change browsers set as default by the operating system.
The battle lines have already been drawn this year with European Union antitrust law targeting Google, Apple and Meta in browsers, search engines and other markets. Google also recently the anti-monopoly fine in the amount of EUR 4.34 billion was not lifted relating to restrictions imposed on manufacturers of Android devices designed to “perpetuate the dominant position of their search engine”, according to a spokesman for the EU General Court.
Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge are extremely popular defaults that are almost exclusively based on brand recognition and the status of the default options on many operating systems (Chrome on Chrome operating system and Android and Edge on Windows 11). Other “large defaults” include macOS and iOS versions Safari.
“The default settings can be burdensome for consumers who prefer to use a browser other than the default browser but cannot or do not know how to change the default browser. We know from our research that some consumers use unnecessarily cumbersome workarounds to stick to their preferences, ”the Mozilla report said.
The Mozilla report provides some explanation as to why operating system vendors use this type of strategy, stating that developers of “big default” browsers can profit from user data.
“While consumers do not pay to use their browsers, their browsing history is valuable data for platforms with advertising companies such as Meta, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. It is no coincidence that many of these companies have yet to implement robust anti-tracking technologies in their browsers or withdraw third-party cookies, Mozilla said.
However, the company also acknowledged that Big Tech’s themes go beyond collecting data: operators of “big default” browsers earn substantial sums of money from ads displayed to users closed in their own search engines.
“Google Chrome is hijacked by the Google search engine (based on Google ads) and Microsoft Edge hijacked by the Bing search engine (based on Microsoft ads). Independent browsers are the only companies that are free to use default search settings on behalf of their consumers. They are also one of the few companies that encourage the discovery, evaluation, adoption and innovation of alternative search and advertising experiences. ”
While companies like Mozilla and Opera have had problems recently, the continued demand for “alternative” web browsers is supported by separate data from SimilarWeb.
From January to August, the privacy-focused Brave Browser saw an estimated 272% increase in monthly downloads. Admittedly, Brave recorded 17,827 and 66,340 visits to the installation site in these months, but it is nevertheless a significant growth rate.
These numbers suggest that the continued success of “big default” browsers is probably not only due to the suppression of alternatives, but also a function of user apathy and brand recognition.
While Big Tech is aiming for pure profit, privacy-driven browsers may just be fighting amongst themselves. The increase in installs Brave has seen this year suggests Mozilla Firefox and Opera are losing market share to newer options like the new Brave privacy browser and DuckDuckGo (for which we currently have no data).
Most importantly, the statistics also suggest that the emphasis on web browser privacy may be light traffic but is still able to gain popularity.
Apple’s decision to let users change default browser in iOS 14 is welcome in the fight to trick consumers into their online privacy, but the first step towards complete browser independence is to completely abolish the idea of defaults – something that may never happen when Apple maintains its own “big defaults” the most popular mobile operating system in the US.
In the current situation, Mozilla could have made the mistake of assuming that every “big default” browser user was a potential convert. The apathy of the users will always play in the hands of large and powerful companies; even without suppression tactics, the “big default” browsers will continue to beat the standalone alternatives in monthly growth.
With a solution such as inviting users to choose their own default browser from a list of privacy-oriented alternatives, along with simple, legitimate arguments to do so, this apathy can disappear. It’s just that legislating for something like this seems inconceivable to most lawmakers outside the European Union.
Mozilla, DuckDuckGo, and eleven other companies recently lobbied the U.S. Congress to submit a data protection bill that would cover Big Tech monopolies, default browsers, and unlimited data collection, but the chances of leading traffic anywhere are slim, thanks to Big Tech lobbying resources.
In addition, the lack of “revolving door” regulations (where politicians leave office, often to corporate positions, and use their ties to gain favor with lawmakers) in territories such as Great Britain and Australia This means that online privacy and choice legislation for anonymous browsers can prove to be a very slow process, if not completely insurmountable.
Would privacy-oriented browsers grow more evenly if users had the opportunity to make an informed choice between them? The problem right now is that we may never know.