Monday, October 30, 2017

It's time to Firefox again


On a previous post, I listed ways we are being tracked without consent by search engines, browsers, mobile apps, social networks, TVs, games, devices, etc. Hopefully by now, you understand why we all should be concerned with security, ethics and privacy.

But before we discuss privacy and why we should reconsider Firefox, I thought it would be interesting to do a quick recap on web browsers, this omnipresent tool in our lives.

Market Share

Today, Firefox has about 13% market share. A huge decrease if we consider that it originates from Netscape, which had close to 80% of the market two decades ago.

Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/268254/market-share-of-internet-browsers-worldwide-since-2009/

To understand how that happen, let's take a quick look at the browser market history

The First Browser War

Back in 1995, Netscape sailed in calm waters until a Internet Explorer 1.0 was released by Microsoft. That was the beginning of what's called the first browser wars.

According to Wikipedia:
  • By mid-1995, Netscape Navigator was the most widely used web browser and Microsoft had licensed Mosaic to create Internet Explorer 1.0 which it had released as part of the Microsoft Windows 95 Plus! Pack in August.
  • Internet Explorer 2.0 was released as a free download three months later. Unlike Netscape Navigator it was available to all Windows users for free, even commercial companies.
  • Internet Explorer 4 changed the tides of the browser wars. It was integrated into Microsoft Windows, which gave it a large installation base.

Quickly, the Windows-IE integration brought excellent results to Redmond. Now, Microsoft had two advantages in the browser market:
  • Resources - Microsoft had way more financial resources than the relatively small company that essentially had a single product (Netscape Navigator)
  • IE was bundled with Windows - since Windows had over 90% share of the desktop operating system market, IE quickly gained adoption.

Fast dominance, Slow innovation

But the market share dominance certainly was not good for consumers. A period of slow innovation started:
Microsoft was able to dominate the market share easily as customers had it as the default browser. This also brought an end to the rapid innovation in web browsers; until 2006 there was only one new version of Internet Explorer since version 6.0 had been released in 2001.

The market remained stalled for a few years until a new contender entered the market: Google Chrome.

The Second Browser War

The Chrome browser was released on December 11, 2008, using the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari and a faster JavaScript engine called V8. Google replicated Microsoft's aggressive strategy and embedded Chrome in Android. Quickly we saw Chrome surpassing Firefox and IE to reach the top spot:

Chrome Advances

Let's be honest: Chrome indeed brought us many advances. To name some: simple bookmarks and settings synchronization, web standards support, malware blocking, plugins, incognito mode, speed, stability, desktop apps, its web store, extensions, themes, automatic web page translation, release channels, frequent release cycles, etc. That's a lot!

But remember, they weren't the first to create most of these features. Firefox (and Opera) had most of those features way before them:
  • themes;
  • a web store;
  • extension support;
  • plugin support;
  • incognito mode;
  • web standards support;
  • developer tools;
  • do not track;
  • automatic updates;

The Strategy

The history repeated itself: a company with OS dominance embed  their browser and foster it as the best for you on all its channels. Example, if you go to Google.com today using Firefox you will see:
 

Source: google.com (using Firefox)

Because Chrome is embedded in Android (the most popular mobile OS), has tight integration into other Google services and to ads like the above, people keep ditching alternatives and just using Chrome.

The problem

As always, problems begin when you dominate the market share. Impartial practices, disrespect to open standards, privacy concerns and all sorts of other issues happen. Common complaints in the past are now back with Chrome:

The solution

The solution is a more open Web, not a web governed by one or two companies but internet for people, not for profit. It has to include open standards, open formats, strong security and privacy that protect the users.

It's internet for the people, not for profit

Source: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/

Unfortunately, the web today has problems. Security, ethics and privacy are not being respected and we should work together to improve it. And it will start with us, the users. It should start with our search engines and with our browser.

Firefox

That's why my browser of choice is Firefox. Because I want my privacy respected, because I want a more open web, because I support open-source software, because it has excellent development support and it's super fast!

Enhanced Tracking Protection

To get better, Mozilla has been working on the Enhance Tracking Protection feature. Starting on Firefox 63, users will be able to block all third-party cookies so they are not tracked while browsing the web.


Fast, Lightweight and Private

Bonus: Firefox Focus

I've used many browsers on different mobile devices and honestly, never have been completely satisfied. Lately, I've been using Firefox Focus and if you want speed, privacy in a lightweight browser, you got it there:
Source: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/focus/

Conclusion

We are being tracked without consent by search engines, browsers, mobile apps, social networks, TVs, games, devices, etc. Hopefully by now, you understand why we all should be concerned with security, ethics and privacy.

There are alternative search engines and browsers that respect your privacy. Why not try and spread the word?

See Also

Security and development: how much is being done?
Security is only as strong as the weakest link
The Laws of security
Privacy and Ethics
Security Boundaries
Mobile data sharing is 'out of control'
Firefox - Enhance Tracking Protection
DuckDuckGo - A search engine that does not track you
Firefox Focus

For more security posts on this blog, please click here.