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Archive for August, 2014

Web Browsers and Google’s Monopoly

I recently realized that I hate every modern web browser. There are no good browsers any-more. Maxthon used to be one of my favourites, now I hate it. Opera used to be a favourite, now I hate it the most. Internet Explorer used to be decent, but now it’s awful. Chrome and Firefox are not great, but they do at least do the job.

Those are all the major web browsers available for Windows – there are some other minor ones with substantially less usage than Maxthon. Of course, there’s also Mac’s and the primary web browser used on Macs is Safari. So, there are five major web browsers, if you count Opera, and of those five Google has a monopoly over four of them.

Now let’s break this down into percentages (to the nearest integer):

The ones Google has a Monopoly over:

Chrome – 46%
Firefox – 19%
Safari -10%
Opera – 1%

The ones Google does not have a Monopoly over:

Internet Explorer – 21%
Other – 3%

Source

Now you’re probably wondering what do I mean by “Google has a monopoly”? In all four of the web browsers and Maxthon and some other minor browsers Google is the default search engine without giving the consumer a choice. This is not by accident, Google pays Mozilla, Opera, Apple and for that matter Maxthon too for this privilege. The default search engine in Internet Explorer is Bing – evidently Google has not yet offered enough money to Microsoft to buy their way into IE’s default search setting.

This isn’t the worst part – it’s very difficult to manually change the default search engine in Firefox – it can be done, but it’s not easy and certainly a “regular” user would not be able to do it. Some search engines, like ixquick and duckduckgo have a link to do this for the customer – but if you wanted your default search engine to be thepiratebay or some other website of your choosing it’s not going to be easy for you!

It is impossible to change the default search engine in Opera to anything other than one of the 5 built-in search options (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Amazon, Wikipedia). Also, you cannot delete any of the 5 defaults.

Safari is also notoriously difficult – on my iPhone the only search engines I can change to are Bing and Yahoo! and on Mac’s it’s the same story – you can’t add the competitors and make them the default.

Internet Explorer since version 9 has made it near impossible to change off Bing and it changes itself back to Bing without warning if you edit the registry to change it. IE11 blocks ixquick’s extension that adds the search engine. In fact the only search engines you can add are eBay and GraysOnline!

Somewhat ironically, Chrome is the only major web browser in which changing the default search engine to something else is easy and straightforward. It’s worth mentioning that it is very easy to change your search engine in Maxthon to whatever to want as well. So you either can’t change, or can’t easily change the default search engine in Firefox, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer; and this is no accident. It’s no coincidence, don’t be naive and believe otherwise.

So Google has a monopoly over about 78% of web browsers, by volume of users. This is before we count, if we could, the number of Internet Explorer users who set their homepage to Google.

Now it would be, I won’t say nice, but better if this is where the Google-monopoly ends. But it’s not. Next we have ad-blocking, now there are two major plugins people use AdBlock and AdblockPlus (ABP). And before I go any further I want to say that AdBlock is a really good plug-in available for Chrome, Safari, Opera and Firefox. IE is the only major browser that it isn’t available for.

It’s worth mention, and this is one reason why I’ve mentioned Maxthon several times now, that Maxthon 1 had thousands of 3rd-party plug-ins before Google ever conceived the idea to develop Chrome. In fact, even before there was Max1, in 2002 when there was MyIE2 and it was the browser I used it supported 3rd-party plug-ins. Anyway, Chrome was released in 2008 and now it too has thousands of 3rd party extensions, and Google blocks some of the ones it doesn’t like such as “Youtube Unblocker”. But “ProxMate” which does the same thing Google allows. Maxthon, to my knowledge, doesn’t block any add-ins, which is why they give a disclaimer. Note that I’m no longer a Maxthon user, so I could be wrong – but blocking add-ins certainly never used to be the case.

Google Search Example

I don’t really need to buy Windows 8.1 – I actually have a license for it already. This is a real-world demonstration of a plug-in called AdblockPlus (ABP) on its default settings. You can’t even see the first search result – maximized browser at 1920×1080! There are no 3rd party ad-blocking extensions for the latest Maxthon, but it does have it’s own built in plug-in called AdHunter. AdHunter doesn’t block any Google AdSense ads, so if you had done this Search in Maxthon Cloud it would look exactly the same as what you see above.

ABP on the other hand has a policy called Allowing acceptable ads in AdblockPlus just follow the link to read it. Now the policy does make sense – and basically it says that it doesn’t filter “non-intrusive advertising” by default and sets out the criteria for advertising to be “non-intrusive”. All the ads I’ve marked above are removed if you use the AdBlock plug-in in the available browsers, or if you change the setting in ABP. It isn’t actually known how many people use Ad blocking, however some have estimated it at 20%.

For those of you reading my blog – I don’t have any ads on my site, so there’s nothing you’re not seeing. And I take issue with bloggers that claim they “need ads on their blogs”. No one needs to pay you for your dumbass fucking blogs, get over youself. I’ve never asked anyone to pay my goddamn hosting bill, ever. It also, in case you’re wondering, is my policy NOT to routinely use pop-up links for external sites. I don’t want to annoy my viewers, and if I did want to use ads I’d have the goddamn decency to at least be respectful. If you can’t pay your hosting bill then you shouldn’t have a blog in the first place – or go host it on a free site, there’s plenty of them.

And to the rest of the assholes out there who bitch about ad-blocking and claim that those who use it are “stealing” or “abusing your websites” I have this to say: My web browser is MY goddamn useragent, not yours. It’s my right, not your right, to select what it can and cannot download. You do not have the right to tell it to go to ads.doublelick.net/… and download shit, and play audio and pop-up windows, if I don’t want it to. This is why I hate modern web browsers. MyIE2 and Maxthon 1 and 2 blocked all pop-ups by default – by default all pop-ups would load in new tabs and never in new windows. This is still the case with Maxthon. This behaviour can be set, relatively easily in Firefox in about:config by changing browser.link.open_newwindow to 3. It can’t be set in Chrome – I use an add-in to do this for me, it isn’t perfect but it’s better than nothing. The other thing that Mx used to let me do was disable page options on a tab-by-tab basis (javascript, sound, images, etc) again, this can only be achieved with a plug in now. I’m an adult and I’ve been an adult for 13 years so I get to choose if and what my useragent does, it’s my prerogative not anyone else’s.

It seems that Adblock is more popular than ABP on Chrome, but that on Firefox ABP is more popular. Overall let’s say it may be a 50-50 split. And there’s other anti-ad plug-ins too, so let’s estimate ABP’s market share of the ad-blocking market to be around 30-40% (of people who use ad-blocking). That would mean that Google has an interest in 30-40% of that share by having their ads [i]displayed by default[/i] in ABP! As if their Monopoly isn’t already large enough.

Don’t forget when Google launched AdSense in 2003 it was their stated policy that text-ads would be less intrusive – but over time just look how much more obtrusive they’ve become – especially Youtube ads.

The EU requires that Microsoft present EU customers with a “browser choice” when installing windows, and not to have IE installed by default. That policy itself actually hurts competition because IE is the only one of the major browsers that doesn’t come bundled with Google as the default Search engine. It’s not my opinion that the Google search shouldn’t be offered to web browser customers – it’s my opinion that everyone should get a choice when they first launch their web browsers to choose for themselves from a list of search engines that includes all of Google’s main competitors.

There are better search engines than Google. Next blog on the topic I’ll go through them, and at least one of them will have a link (a link, not an ad) in my page footer where the Maxthon link currently resides. For now I’ll simply tell you what they are: Ixquick, StartPage, DuckDuckGo, Blekko and possibly Yippy. Both DuckDuckGo and Blekko allow their customers to switch off all ads on their respective sites in the settings – Google could sure take a page out of their book. All of them, except Yippy, have a strong and solid privacy policy with Ixquick/Startpage having the strongest. If you want a direct drop-in replacement for Google that respects your privacy then use StartPage. And I strongly suggest the AdBlock plugin to all who are interesting in browsing the web without constant advertising annoyances.