Mozilla has published a tracker, ‘Platform Tilt’, to document and track issues that put third-party browsers like Firefox at a disadvantage as compared to popular browsers like Chrome on Android and Safari on iPhone, on January 19, 2024.
Noting practices that create unfair competition for third-party browsers, Mozilla wrote in a blogpost, “…there’s a long history of companies leveraging their control of devices and operating systems to tilt the playing field in favor of their own browser. This tilt manifests in a variety of ways. For example: making it harder for a user to download and use a different browser, ignoring or resetting a user’s default browser preference, restricting capabilities to the first-party browser, or requiring the use of the first-party browser engine for third-party browsers.”
The primary objective around Platform Tilt repository is to publish these “tilts” and engage with the vendors of the concerned platforms such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft to resolve them. In its blogpost, Mozilla has urged other browsers to publish their concerns in a similar fashion.
What does the Platform Tilt dashboard reveal?
The dashboard outlines multiple technical issues concerning Apple, Google, and Microsoft, which Mozilla claims, put Firefox at a disadvantage as compared to the concerned first-party browsers.
Some of the issues cited include:
- App store forbids third-party browser engines: This issue refers to Rule 2.5.6 of the Apple App Store Review Guidelines which forbids usage of third-party browser engines such as Mozilla-developed Gecko which runs Firefox.
- Importing browser data on android: This refers to restrictions placed on importing browsing information like history, bookmarked sites, and cookies from Chrome to third-party browsers on Android.
- Chrome as a default browser on Android: Here, commentators have highlighted that several features on Android in the pre-installed Google application undermine a user’s default browser choice by always opening links to external websites in Chrome, irrespective of the default browser choice. Mozilla has suggested that all built-in applications that open external links should open them in the user’s default browser.
- Default browser is set to Edge by several Windows flow: Mozilla has raised contention with the Windows operating systems persistently suggesting Microsoft Edge as the “recommended” browser for Windows and “offer affordances to change the default browser to Edge”. “This messaging is a moving target, with examples added and removed from Windows over time, often on UI surfaces that appear automatically on update or otherwise, making it difficult to enumerate specific examples,” the discussion stated.
The other issues documented on Platform Tilt relate to lower quality of third-party web pages on Android, challenges faced by users in setting a third-party browser as a default one on iOS and Windows, importing browser data in iOS, and other restrictions to third-party applications on iOS.
Why does it matter: Google and Apple have been fighting lawsuits pulling them up for anticompetitive practices that undermine user choice and place unfair restrictions on third-party apps in India, United States, European Union, and Japan, among others. In September 2023, the European Commission designated Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, ByteDance, Meta, and Microsoft as gatekeepers under the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). As reported by MediaNama earlier, “The DMA is a type of ex-ante regulation that, along with the Digital Services Act (DSA), aims at reining in the market power of Big Tech companies by preventing them from imposing unfair conditions on businesses and consumers and opening up their platforms to competitors.”
In January 2024, Google listed out a series of changes it’s making to its services to comply with the DMA. The company has said that it will give prominence to comparison sites in its search results, enable users to set up their default search and browser choices in an easy manner, and will also introduce steps to allow data portability to third-party services. Read more about the changes here.
Similarly, Apple also has stated that the company will allow developers to use browser engines, other than WebKit, for browser apps and apps with in-app browsing experiences, based on certain security requirements. For example, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, use the Blink engine for their apps outside of iOS, and Firefox uses Gecko. Read more about Apple’s announcement here.
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