Browsers and conflicts of interests
Written on 14 Jul 2017 − last updated on 22 Dec 2018 history
Discussions: /r/firefox. Feedback: #2.
What do you get when you search for ‘Firefox’ in a new Windows 10 installation?
A big fat ad for Microsoft Edge:
This is a full-screen screenshot on a 1920×1080 screen (right-click and select ‘view image’ for the full size). Firefox is juts barely visible at the bottom.
It doesn’t end there, Microsoft also “helpfully” displays a warning that this file “could harm your computer”:
According to Microsoft, “The SmartScreen Application Reputation service checks the reputation of a file”, and should display this only for files with no significant reputation. Somehow I find it hard to believe that the Firefox installer fits this bill…
Wait, there’s more! When changing the default browser from Edge to Firefox we get yet another ad, baked right in to the settings screen:
Other people – who have used Windows 10 for more than the ten minutes I used it – have been treated to more anti-Firefox ads:
Oh, and Microsoft also banned browsers from its Windows Store.
It doesn’t end with Microsoft. For years Google displayed a Chrome advertisements on Google search (although it looks like they have stopped doing it now).
Chrome’s new ad blocker (or ‘ad filter’ as they call it) is also rather suspect. We now have Google – whose primary revenue comes in through ads – determining what ads you get to see. How often do you think it will filter Google ads?
Clearing all cookies in Chrome didn’t clear Google cookies; they added an option for it in a later version, but by default “clear all cookies” will still retain Google-related cookies. It also won’t clear local storage, meaning that “clear browsing data” is rather ineffectual to prevent tracking.
Recently someone claimed that YouTube deliberately slowed the performance of Edge. I don’t think this claim is true – there are valid reasons for overlaying an empty div – but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Google/YouTube definitely could do so if they want, which is a marked difference from just a few years ago.
I don’t think we want to have a company to have that amount of power. They’re mostly behaving well right now (mostly…) but are you sure they will still in five years? Ten years? Thirty years? Past experiences with companies such as Big Blue, AT&T, Microsoft, etc. seem to have been forgotten.
These concerns are hardly new; Microsoft bundling their Internet Explorer browser (as well as some other products, such as Media Player) with their Windows operating system was a subject of much complaining and litigation in the past, eventually leading to the (in)famous BrowserChoice.eu. Whether the BrowserChoice.eu screen was a good solution is up for grabs; many people found it annoying. But it seems to me that a single screen offering you a useful choice is a lot better than the several annoying fake warnings that Windows 10 shows.
I haven’t used Windows – or any Microsoft product – in years, but it looks like it’s still the same old crap. All of this makes paying the Microsoft tax on my ThinkPad even more sour :-(
One reason Microsoft can now get away with their Internet Explorer shenanigans is because a lot changed in the last ten years, and Microsoft is no longer as dominant as it once was: Internet Explorer market share is small, and macOS – and to a lesser extent Linux – offers competition to Windows.
For some reason people’s perception of Google seems more cavalier; part of the reason for that is because it doesn’t have the dominance Microsoft once had (Chrome ‘only’ has about 60% market share at the time of writing), but I suspect that another important reason is that you don’t directly pay for most Google products. Search, Gmail, Chrome: it’s all free of charge. Some of it (like Chromium and Android) is even (partly) Open Source (or ‘Free Software’, if you prefer). This is kind of neat, but seems to do little to protect most people’s actual freedoms, and in the end it’s important to remember that it’s not about the money you pay, but about your freedom.