Web browsers were at the center of the first major antitrust case challenging the power of big tech companies more than two decades ago. Now a new generation of regulators and rivals are once again wondering if gateways to the internet are too tightly controlled.
who together control over 80% of the market through their Chrome and Safari browsers, respectively.
In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority said in June it was examining competition between browser developers on mobile devices as part of an antitrust investigation into Apple and Google.
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After complaints from a group of software developers, dubbed Open Web Advocacy, the European Commission added a section focused on browser developers to the recently passed Digital Markets Act, which should impose penalties on companies that do not have not adopted its recommendations by 2024.
Several startups are also trying to break in, claiming they can make the browser experience more app-friendly and hoping the competitive landscape will change. Microsoft has mounted a new push with its Edge browser, which has effectively replaced Internet Explorer.
Some market participants said Chrome and Safari became dominant because they were faster and more secure than competitors, and it was relatively easy to switch between different browsers.
A Google spokesperson said people choose to use Chrome because it’s “fast, secure and provides the best experience,” adding that Google has made the browser’s underlying code free for others.
An Apple spokeswoman said the company “has a vested interest in supporting a robust ecosystem of third-party browsers and web applications, and will continue to promote innovation and choice while ensuring that life privacy and user security are protected.
The software developers said web browsers are key parts of the strategies Apple and Google have used to dominate Internet markets over the past decade.
The Chrome browser hosts nearly two-thirds of the world’s internet activity and is a major driver of traffic to Google’s lucrative search engine. The company sometimes withheld new features that risked reducing traffic to the search engine, people familiar with the rulings said. The Google spokesperson said the company regularly experiments with new features in Chrome and prioritizes user experience, performance and security when making product decisions.
“Google has an incentive to make Chrome a great Google search box,” said Josh Miller, president and CEO of the Browser Company of New York Inc., which creates a competing product named Arc that he says aims to address to the workflows and needs of the average Internet user.
The Browser Company raised $15 million this month in a funding round led by the Instagram co-founder
and CEO of Slack
valuing the nearly three-year-old business at $350 million.
Google introduced Chrome in 2008, and with its minimalist look and speedy performance, it immediately found an audience, overtaking Internet Explorer in market share less than four years after its debut, according to data from Statcounter.
An early decision by Google’s Chrome team to combine URL and search bars into a single field helped the browser become a major source of traffic for the search engine, Google’s biggest source of revenue. company. Bernstein analysts estimated that Google was on track to pay Apple around $15 billion last year for the right to have its default search engine in Safari, which was introduced in 2003.
Chrome has also grown in importance to Google as the company works to phase out software tools known as cookies that advertisers use to target individual internet users.
The competitive landscape is different than it was in the 1990s, when Microsoft’s rivals complained that the company had artificially skewed the market in its favor by bundling the Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system, triggering an antitrust lawsuit. Federal prosecutors eventually dropped claims related to those tactics, and Microsoft settled the lawsuit by agreeing to change some of its business practices.
While Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari browsers have escaped the brunt of antitrust scrutiny so far, competitors have recently spoken out with lawmakers and regulators over alleged market abuses.
Some competitors said Google, which faces a Justice Department lawsuit targeting its dominance in online search, has used subtle cues and tricks that make it harder for third-party search engines and browsers to distribute their content. products through Chrome. A Google spokesperson disputed complaints that Chrome interferes with competitors.
Meanwhile, some software developers have criticized Apple’s policy of prohibiting non-Safari browsers from running their own software, known as browser engines, on Apple mobile devices as anti-competitive. Competing browsers on Apple devices must be built using WebKit, the open-source software that powers Safari.
A section of the European Union’s Digital Markets Act focused on browser engines and their potential for abuse in anti-competitive ways.
An Apple spokeswoman said WebKit is important for protecting privacy and security, as well as promoting efficiency and performance. She said users can easily change their default browser on company devices.
In the US, some smaller browser makers see promise in the Sen-backed antitrust bill.
(D., Minn.) which is designed to prevent big tech companies from favoring their own products over competing services.
The Mozilla Foundation, which developed the Firefox browser, bought a full-page ad in The Washington Post last month expressing support for the bill, writing that big tech companies have made it difficult for users to “discover, install and use Firefox as their preferred browser.
Efforts by big tech companies to favor their own browser products make it “very difficult for there to be more choice,” said Mika Shah, vice president of product and policy at Mozilla Corp. “Browsers, in particular, are really personal. »
Most of Mozilla’s revenue comes from a long-standing agreement to have Google be the default search engine in Firefox, an arrangement that is set to expire next year.
DuckDuckGo, which offers a privacy-focused search engine, told US lawmakers investigating big tech companies it recently concluded it had no choice but to build its own browser to compete with Google. .
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