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Mozilla urges action to undo browser locks for platforms • londonbusinessblog.com

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“The experience of mobile browsers as basic tools and the perceived lack of differentiation between them means that the browser preinstalled on a device has a huge advantage,” it writes in the report. “This benefits the operating system and not necessarily the consumers. Many people are hesitant to switch to a new browser because they quickly become accustomed to their pre-installed browser and have no strong incentive to look for an alternative, or may be prevented from discovering one. This long-term conditioning of consumer behavior means that moving away from a satisfying pre-installed browser is an active choice that requires some cognitive effort. If people are busy or if the process is too confusing, people will postpone a change or decide not to go through with everything. For many people, it’s easier to just continue with the status quo or postpone the decision to a later date.”

The report also makes an interesting connection between desktop and mobile browser usage – with Mozilla saying that “almost all” users of Firefox’s (alternative) mobile browser also use Firefox on their desktop computers.

“Our research shows that in the US, less than 6% of people who use a desktop browser other than Firefox report using Firefox on their smartphone,” it notes. “This suggests that the more people who use Firefox or another alternative browser on their desktop computers, the more likely they are to try that browser on their mobile device.”

That, in turn, implies that Microsoft’s aggressive promotion of its own browser software to Windows users — and especially the anti-Firefox messages it injects into its desktop operating system — is helping to reduce Firefox’s share of the mobile browser market. (despite Microsoft not having a mobile platform in games these days).

However, it is clear that there is a combination of factors that makes competing on mobile particularly difficult for indie browser makers. And the report highlights how the mobile space is challenging because it is a more tightly controlled and/or integrated (and thus unified) experience than desktop operating systems..

For example, Google uses contract restrictions with OEM partners to maximize the share of Android devices that come with its own branded services, such as the pre-installed Chrome browser, despite Android being open source. (And, of course, the tech giant has become antitrust over some of these restrictions — like in the EU, where it’s been forced to offer a choice screen that promotes search engine rivals).

However, consumer familiarity (and comfort) with Big Tech products can clearly work in lock-step with lock-ins – although, again, platforms may very well try to shape that outcome by actively overselling integration benefits through suggestive messages (and/or creating friction for alternatives).

“Our research shows that many consumers have the perception that Chrome is the browser that works best on Android phones, and that products from the same company will perform better together (e.g. Gmail will work better in Chrome),” notes Mozilla , referring to Google’s use of such posts as part of its “multi-product promotion,” for example.

“It is also closely related to web compatibility issues and the extent to which operating system vendors restrict or allow the interoperability of third-party browsers, including access to the same features and APIs that their own browsers provide,” it continues, also critically speaking. on Apple banning alternative browser engines from the App Store that limit differentiation to compete with Safari, as rivals must also develop on Webkit (which historically slowed down their ability to compete and continues to limit how much difference they can offer) .

“Feature development is at a standstill for alternative browsers on iOS because Apple, which controls both the browser engine and the operating system, is not making some of the necessary APIs and functionality available to competitors, limiting differentiation.”

Choice undermined

Mozilla’s report also points to cases where even when a consumer has managed to select an alternate browser as the default browser, a platform can still revert to a choice of self-interest — bypassing their choice to reboot their browser in certain circumstances. diving, such as when performing a ‘lookup’ after selecting text in iOS (noting that “traditionally, web search results would always open in Safari no matter which default browser is selected by the user”); or opening a web link in the Windows search bar or icon – which opens Edge (“again regardless of the browser’s default setting; or using the search widget on Android – which “always opens results in a Google browser”.

“This demonstration of OCA highlights just some of the practices used by operating systems to prefer their own browser and undermine consumer choice. Lawmakers and policymakers in some countries have begun to take action against misleading patterns to protect consumers. And others have begun to address the lack of effective competition in digital markets, including by introducing regulations. But few have understood the link between these issues and the importance of browser competition, or studied the role of OCA practices as a way to implement (or thwart) consumer choice and well-being,” Mozilla said.

“We believe that if people were given a meaningful opportunity to try alternative browsers, they would find many interesting replacements for the standard that came with their operating system. These opportunities have been suppressed for years by online choice architecture and commercial practices that benefit platforms and are not in the best interests of consumers, developers or the open web. It is difficult to underestimate the impact of years of self-preference and undermining of consumer choice, including its effect on consumer behaviour. It is also difficult to estimate the disruptive innovation, alternative products and features, and the independent competitors that have been lost as a result of these practices.”

Mozilla’s report doesn’t address specific recommendations for regulatory interventions to force platforms to “do better for consumers and developers,” as it says — because it says it plans to continue work on solutions in the coming months. publish – but it urges lawmakers to act to prevent “further harm to consumers from continued inaction and competitive stagnation”.

“As these companies have not fared better so far, regulators, policy makers and legislators have invested significant time and resources in researching digital markets. They should therefore be in a good position to recognize the importance of browser competition and act to prevent further harm to consumers from continued passivity and competitive stagnation,” it suggests.

“We call on them to enforce the laws that already exist and the laws and regulations that will come into effect soon. And where existing laws and regulations are lacking, we call for them to be introduced and to draw attention to the importance of the internet for the future. Regulators, policymakers and legislators in many jurisdictions can use this moment to create a new era in the Internet’s story — an era in which consumers and developers benefit from real choice, competition and innovation.”

As mentioned above, the EU has taken antitrust measures regarding Google’s Android contract restrictions, which have resulted in users in the EU being given a choice screen, at least for the default search engine. However, Mozilla’s report is generally dismissive of existing remedies that have been mentioned online choice architecture and software design, arguing: “The remedies that have been deployed so far have had many limitations and have largely failed.”

The conclusion is supported by the lack of a meaningful shift in Google’s market share for mobile search in Europe – where it has a 96.6% market, down just 0.3% since 2018 when the Commission gave the company a fined $5 billion and ordered it to try infringing consumers, as the nonprofit Google alternative, Ecosia, recently noted.

Google rival DuckDuckGo has also called on regulators to go much further in regulating choices screen remedies – arguing that the design and integration of such tools should allow for a truly ‘one-click’ and universally accessible experience if they hit the competition needle. against ingrained platform force.

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