Firefox’s fight for the future of the web

Guardian Technology 17 Nov 2019 09:00
Mozilla’s Firefox logo displayed on a smartphone. Photograph: SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Why do you choose the browser you use? Maybe you think it loads pages more quickly. Maybe it’s made by the same firm as your device and you think it’s more compatible in some way. You prefer the graphics, perhaps, or it just happened to be pre-installed on your machine. Maybe you’re not even aware that there’s a choice.

In reality, two-thirds of us have been funnelled into using Google’s Chrome, but browser choice also hides a contest about the openness of the web and how data is collected about users. One organisation that has always put such issues to the forefront is Mozilla.

The not-for-profit foundation, which has as its aim the promotion of “openness, innovation and participation on the internet”, is best known for the Firefox browser, which it started developing in 2003. But the foundation was set up to shepherd the Mozilla organisation, which was formed in 1998 to oversee the development of a suite of web tools developed from another browser – Netscape Communicator.

Baker’s pitch is that only Mozilla is motivated, first and foremost, to make using the web a pleasurable experience. Google’s main priority is to funnel user data into the enormous advertising engine that accounts for most of its revenue. Apple’s motivation is to ensure that customers continue to buy a new iPhone every couple of years and don’t switch to Android.

It’s not just Google that benefits. It may treat Facebook as a bitter rival, but both companies have a shared interest in limiting the ability of users to shape how the web works.

“Apple’s stance is ‘you should trust us and we’re different and better,’” says Baker. “I believe that’s a serious commitment right now at Apple. And that works – as long as everything that you want and need is OK coming through Apple and you can pay for it all. But the minute there’s something heterogeneous, or there’s something that doesn’t fit with Apple, or there’s something new, then you’re out of luck.

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