“The experience of mobile browsers as native utilities and the perceived lack of distinction between them means that having a browser pre-installed on a device is a major benefit,” the report said. “The operating system benefits from this and not the consumers. Many people are reluctant to switch to a new browser because they quickly get used to their pre-installed browser and don’t have a strong incentive to look for alternatives, or may be prevented from finding one. . This conditioning of consumer behavior over a long period of time means that moving away from a satisfactory out-of-the-box browser is an active choice that requires some level of cognitive effort. When people are busy or the process is too confusing, people stop making changes or choose not to do it at all. For many, it is easier to continue with the status quo or postpone the decision until later.”
The report also revealed an interesting link between desktop and mobile browser use – Mozilla said that “almost all” users of the (alternative) mobile browser Firefox also use Firefox on their desktop computers.
“Our research shows that less than 6% of people in the US who use a desktop browser other than Firefox use Firefox on their smartphone,” it says. “This suggests that as more people use Firefox or another alternative browser on their desktop computers, the more likely they are to try that browser on their mobile devices.”
This, in turn, mirrors Microsoft’s aggressive promotion of its own browsing software for Windows users — and specifically the anti-Firefox messages it’s putting into its desktop operating system — by reducing Firefox’s share of the mobile browser market. As a contribution (although these days Microsoft doesn’t have a mobile platform to play with).
What is clear, however, is that a combination of factors is making mobile competition particularly difficult for indie browser makers. And the report underscores how challenging the mobile space is, as it’s a more controlled and/or integrated (and thus bundled) experience than desktop operating systems.
For example, Google uses contract restrictions with OEM partners to maximize the share of Android devices that come with their own branded services, such as the pre-installed Chrome browser. While Android is open source. (And the tech giant was certainly in hot water of suspicion about some of those restrictions — like in the European Union, where it’s been forced to offer a choice screen to bolster search engine competitors.) .
Clearly, however, consumer familiarity (and comfort) with big-tech products can work in lockstep with lock-in — although, in turn, the platform creates friction for (and/or through) suggestive messaging options. ).
“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 perform better together (Gmail, for example, will work better in Chrome). ‘ Mozilla notes, citing Google as an example of using such messages as part of its ‘cross-product advertising’.
“It’s also closely related to issues of web compatibility and the extent to which operating system vendors limit or allow third-party browsers to interoperate, including providing similar functionality and APIs to their own browsers,” it said. also discusses banning alternative browser engines from its App Store, which limits differentiation to compete with Safari, as competitors must also evolve on WebKit (which has historically slowed their competitiveness and limited what difference they can make).
“Development of features for alternative browsers on iOS has stalled because Apple – which controls both the browser engine and the operating system – does not provide certain required APIs and features to competitors, limiting differentiation.”
Likes are underestimated
Mozilla’s report also highlights instances where a consumer has been able to select an alternative browser as their default, with a platform still reverting to a self-serving option – changing their browser to their own in certain circumstances. Bypass your selection for re-presentation, e.g. B. when performing a “search” after selecting text in iOS (noting that “historically, web search results always open in Safari, even if the user has selected the default browser”); Or opening a web link in the Windows search bar or icon – which opens Edge (“also regardless of the default browser setting; or using the search widget on Android – which “always opens results in a Google browser”).
“This OCA demonstration highlights some of the practices used by operating systems to prioritize their own browsers and undermine consumer choice. Lawmakers and policymakers in some countries have misled to protect consumers. have started to act against the pattern. And others have begun to address the lack of effective competition in digital markets, including the introduction of regulations. However, very few have recognized these issues and the importance of browser competition. have identified the relationship between OCA practices or examined the role of OCA practices in fulfilling (or failing to meet) consumer choice and welfare,” argues Mozilla.
“We believe that if people had a worthwhile opportunity to try alternative browsers, they would find many attractive alternatives to the default browsers bundled with their operating systems. These opportunities have been exploited through online voting architectures and business practices over the years. suppressing those that benefit the platform and are not in the best interests of consumers, developers, or the open web. It’s hard to overstate the impact of years of self-preference and consumer choices, including their impact on consumer behavior. Disruptive Innovation It is also difficult to gauge alternative products and features, and independent competitors lost through these practices.”
Mozilla’s report doesn’t go into specific recommendations for regulatory intervention to force the platform to “be better for consumers and developers,” it says — as it will focus on remedial actions in the coming months. and plans to publish the work – but urges lawmakers to act to prevent “further harm to consumers from continued inaction and competitive stagnation.”
“Because these companies have not outperformed to date, regulators, policymakers and legislators have devoted significant time and resources to studying digital markets. You are therefore encouraged to recognize the importance of browser competition and encourage consumers to pass on the deadlock and stagnation of competition. You have to be in a good position to act to avoid damage,” she suggests.
“We call on them to implement the laws and regulations that already exist and those that will come into force soon. And where existing laws and regulations are lacking, we challenge them to introduce them and highlight their importance for the future of the internet. Regulators, policymakers and legislators in many jurisdictions can seize this moment to herald a new era in Internet history – one in which consumers and developers will benefit from real choice, competition and innovation.
As mentioned above, the EU took antitrust enforcement action in relation to Google’s Android contract restrictions, resulting in EU users being offered an options screen – at least for the default search engine. . However, Mozilla’s report generally dismisses existing treatments, which encompass online options architecture and software design, arguing, “The treatments implemented to date have many limitations and have largely failed.”
His conclusion is supported by the lack of a meaningful change in Google’s mobile search market share in Europe – where it accounts for 96.6% of the market, down from just 0.3% since 2018, when the Commission awarded the company a $5 billion fined and convicted Most recently, nonprofit Google alternative Ecosia was cited in the case of offending consumers.
Google rival DuckDuckGo has also urged regulators to go much further in regulating screen treatments – arguing in recent years that the design and integration of such devices really should be “one click” and universally accessible. The experience should empower them if they really want to move the competitive needle against the underlying platform power.
Commenting on the limitations of the current elective architecture treatment, Jennifer Taylor Hodges, Mozilla’s head of US policy, said: “OCA measures should be carefully considered and transparently implemented. At the very least, they should be done in consultation with stakeholders. should be tested, extensively tested and data shared on their performance. None of the previous election screen actions would meet any of these requirements.
“What the report highlights is that there is already a lot of research and happening on consumer behavior. These experts and academics, along with market players like Mozilla, should have a say in the treatment of OCAs. are developed.”
This report has been updated with comment from Mozilla’s head of US policy