Mozilla, the non-profit organization behind Firefox, has implied that tech giants such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google, steer users to their own browsers. The company claims companies that control the popular operating systems and web services use their position to basically deprive consumers of choice.
Mozilla released a report titled "Five Walled Gardens: Why Browsers are Essential to the Internet and How Operating Systems Are Holding Them Back". The report focuses on how people use web browsers. Needless to mention, the most popular web browsers today are Chrome, Safari, and Edge. Firefox isn’t far behind, but Mozilla claims the three most popular browsers enjoy a bigger user base because of their parent companies.
The report argues tech giants employ a variety of methods to make it difficult or impossible to switch web browsers. This not only lowers the quality and experience, but may also increase risk. Mozilla has outlined five examples of "consumer harm from operating system self-preferencing."
- Limited or frustrating choice: An operating system provider making it difficult or impossible for a consumer to switch browsers ultimately removes their ability to choose for themselves. It also hampers existing competitors and deters new products from entering the market and providing an increased choice.
- Lower quality: Where the monetary price for consumers is zero (as is the case for browsers), providers might be expected to compete on quality. But without effective competition from independent browsers, consumers may receive products that are of lower quality.
- Lower innovation: Linked to quality is innovation. Consumers miss out on developments (for example, improved features and functionality). A reduced likelihood of disruptive innovation might be accompanied by reduced choice for consumers.
- Poor privacy: Consumers can be left with a product that subjects them to compulsory data sharing, misuse of data, or other privacy harms. These outcomes can be an indication of low quality caused by ineffective competition.
- Unfair contracts: Without proper choice, consumers may be forced to enter into contracts that might be exploitative or unfair.
Needless to mention, such claims aren’t new, and more importantly, aren’t entirely unsubstantiated. Microsoft with its Windows, Apple with its iOS and macOS, and Google with its Android, have been previously accused of steering users and indirectly limiting their choice of web browsers. These companies have also faced lawsuits for what is considered to be arm-twisting consumers or cleverly restricting and influencing their choice.