March 17, 2018. The day the world began to approach technology more cautiously. Of course, I am talking about the day the news broke out that Facebook was selling millions of its users’ data to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge. The leak of this information instilled fear in many people because they didn’t know who was receiving their personal data and what the recipient’s intentions were with this data. It’s safe to say from that moment until now that there has been a revolution in digital privacy — and not just with Facebook, but with other platforms and companies as well, like Google.
Let’s shift gears for a moment. Your browser. It’s become a critical component to you everyday life. Your browser serves as the chauffeur between you and any piece of information on the Internet. If you’re like 62.7% of other internet users, Google Chrome is most likely your browser of choice. Chrome has had an absolute stranglehold on the browser industry for the better half of a decade, most of which can be attributed to relentless advertising and brand trust through Google’s other applications. The competition is weak after that: Safari comes in at a rough 15% share and Firefox accounting for a mere 5.7%.
Earlier this year, Google announced that they would be releasing a new version of Chrome’s Extension system. This new update called Manifest V3 aims to suppress the functionality of ad-blocking plugins for non-enterprise users. 9to5Google adds that this update will prevent ad-blocking extensions from pre-blocking ads and, instead, Chrome itself will determine whether or not an ad should be blocked. This move isn’t as surprising as some may think. After all, Google’s primary source of revenue comes from (you guessed it) advertising.
Google Chrome is also the biggest culprit when it comes to fingerprinting. Fingerprinting, in its simplest terms, is a browser’s ability to create and identify a persona based on records of browsing data. Chrome lays cookies (small files containing data about sites you visit) virtually everywhere you go on the internet. Chrome then collects the data from these cookies, analyzes what sites you’ve accessed and targets ads to you based on that information. This isn’t anything new. However, during this revolution in digital privacy, Google and Chrome users should be mindful of the thought, “What else is Google doing with my personalized data?”
The Case for Firefox
While Chrome has been receiving loads of negative press in 2019, Firefox has been getting praise from outlets all across the media spectrum. Mozilla’s new advertising campaign for Firefox has been emphasizing the importance of user privacy. Since ads aren’t the primary foundation of Mozilla’s business model, they don’t have to refrain from letting users enable ad-blocking extensions. And, as of last month, Firefox debuted anti-tracking by default in its latest update. This means websites are not able to set cookies unless you explicitly tell Firefox it’s okay (take that Google!). As it stands, the new Firefox only exists for desktop, but Mozilla is in full pursuit of revamping its mobile app on Android to get a piece of the mobile share.
Switching from Chrome to Firefox is relatively seamless. A reservation some might have about switching to Firefox is that they don’t want to give up Chrome because of it’s speed. A couple years ago that would’ve been a valid argument. But, since Firefox launched their Quantum engine in early 2018, load times between the two browsers have become virtually indistinguishable and benchmark tests have proven it. “But what about all the bookmarks I’ve saved over the years? Are they just going to disappear?” Not at all. Transferring bookmarks is as easy as clicking a button to export them in Chrome and clicking a button to upload them into Firefox.
Firefox is making a comeback. I abandoned Chrome a few weeks ago on my laptop and made Firefox my default browser for the first time since 2013. As of right now, I don’t see myself going back. Firefox has all the features I leveraged in Chrome with the bonus of anti-tracking. I haven’t noticed any difference in load times on the sites I frequently visit. The UI is intuitive and easy to navigate. The overall experience doesn’t feel to different from Chrome, which to me is more of a positive than a negative. I liked Chrome’s features and user experience and it translates seamlessly to Firefox. In other words, you don’t have to re-learn how to browse the internet.
The Phoenix Firefox will rise again.