US Department Of Justice Lawsuit Against Google Could Kill Firefox

From LinuxReviews
Jump to navigationJump to search
Firefox-tan.png

A US Department of Justice lawsuit against Google on the grounds that they are a "monopolist" could result in the death of the one realistic free software web browser alternative that's not based on the Google-controlled Chromium code-base and its Blink rendering engine. Mozilla will need to find some other partner willing to pay them $400 million a year if they are forced to cancel their sweet "royalty" contract with Google.

written by 윤채경 (Yoon Chae-kyung). published 2020-10-22last edited 2020-10-23


Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, gave a really good summary of how much control Google has online in a hearing in the US Senate on June 16th, 2019. Footage from CSPAN (public domain).

The US Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Google for being a "Monopolist" with the goal "to Restore Competition in Search and Search Advertising Markets" on October 20th, 2020. There's one point in this lawsuit that should be somewhat concerning to free software users who use the Mozilla Firefox web browser:

"In particular, the Complaint alleges that Google has unlawfully maintained monopolies in search and search advertising by:

  • Entering into exclusivity agreements that forbid preinstallation of any competing search service.
  • Entering into tying and other arrangements that force preinstallation of its search applications in prime locations on mobile devices and make them undeletable, regardless of consumer preference.
  • Entering into long-term agreements with Apple that require Google to be the default – and de facto exclusive – general search engine on Apple’s popular Safari browser and other Apple search tools.
  • Generally using monopoly profits to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on devices, web browsers, and other search access points, creating a continuous and self-reinforcing cycle of monopolization."

The US Justice Department's demand that Google stops using its "monopoly profits to buy preferential treatment" for its search engine may sound like a noble cause. Perhaps it is. However, there is one potential side-effect that may potentially strengthen Google's monopoly in the web browser space.

The Mozilla Corporation is the maker of the very popular Mozilla Firefox web browser. It is one of the very few web browsers left that's got its own web rendering engine. The newly released Microsoft Edge for Linux web browser is nothing more than a skin for the Google-controlled Chromium web browser with a few additional features. The same holds true for the Brave Web Browser, NAVER whale and Google's own Chrome browser.

A close-up inspection of the Mozilla Corporation's finances reveals why the lawsuit against Google could kill Mozilla Firefox as a unfortunate side-effect. The Mozilla Corporation has not released an annual report for 2019 so we will have to look at the financial statement for 2018. It shows that Mozilla made $430 million from "Royalties" in 2018, down from $539 million in 2017. Mozilla was forced to fire 70 employees in January 2020 and another 250 employees in August 2020 so it is safe to assume that their royalties revenue was lower in 2019 than it was in 2018. Mozilla will be publishing their annual report for 2019 in November.

The Mozilla Corporation does not spell out specifically where the "Royalties" they earn come from. They do share this in their annual report for 2018:

"Mozilla has entered into contracts with search engine providers for royalties which expire through November 2020.

Approximately 91% and 93% of Mozilla’s royalty revenues were derived from these contracts for 2018 and 2017, respectively, with receivables from these contracts representing approximately 75% and 79% of the December 31, 2018 and 2017 outstanding receivables, respectively."

Mozilla Foundation and Subsidiary, Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements 2018

Google isn't the only search engine paying Mozilla to be the default search engine in Mozilla Firefox, it does default to other search engines in a few markets. It's safe to say that the vast majority of Mozilla's revenue comes from Google.

Mozilla extended their search engine deal with Google until 2023 in August with an estimated price-tag of around $400 million per year. There is a real risk that the US Department of Justice lawsuit will force Google to cancel that contract. That would leave the Mozilla Corporation in a very tough spot unless they manage to get a similar contract with Microsoft's Bing search engine or another player big enough to cough up $400 million per year.

"By restricting competition in search, Google’s conduct has harmed consumers by reducing the quality of search (including on dimensions such as privacy, data protection, and use of consumer data), lessening choice in search, and impeding innovation. By suppressing competition in advertising, Google has the power to charge advertisers more than it could in a competitive market and to reduce the quality of the services it provides them. Through filing the lawsuit, the Department seeks to stop Google’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition for American consumers, advertisers, and all companies now reliant on the internet economy."

It would be sad, and ironic, if the end-result of the US Department of Justice's lawsuit aiming to "restore competition" is that Mozilla goes bankrupt. That would leave Chromium-based browsers as the only realistic choice for non-Apple users (Web browsers on Apple products are based on Apple's very similar WebKit rendering engine).

5.00
(4 votes)

avatar

Anonymous user #1

one month ago
Score 1++
I didn't thought of that... That's depressing.
avatar

Intgr

one month ago
Score 0++

Mozilla's official response: https://blog...-s-v-google/

"Unintended harm to smaller innovators from enforcement actions will be detrimental to the system as a whole, without any meaningful benefit to consumers — and is not how anyone will fix Big Tech. Instead, remedies must look at the ecosystem in its entirety, and allow the flourishing of competition and choice to benefit consumers."
avatar

Anonymous user #2

one month ago
Score -1++
What you mean Google controlled? Chromium is open source, brave and others browsers are forks and don't answer to Google. Just like your precious pale moon don't answer to mozilla
avatar

Chaekyung

one month ago
Score 1++

There's a much larger difference between Pale Moon and Firefox than there is between say Brave and Chrome. Pale Moon forked off Firefox a decade ago and it's been using it's own fork ever since.

Brave, Microsoft Edge and the other Chromium-based browsers take the Chromium code-base as it's provided by Google and slap some skins and extensions on top of it. Brave's not a Chromium fork, just like GNU IceCat isn't a Firefox fork (GNU IceCat is literally a few images, some extensions and a bash script for building it).

You're very naive if you actually think that "open source" means anyone can show up with a patch and get it submitted upstream and you're equally naive if you think Brave has the resources to actually fork Chromium and maintain it's own version. There's a reason why they aren't doing that.
avatar

Anonymous user #4

one month ago
Score 0++

Let's just say it's heavily influenced by Google. If you were to compile chromium from source code it has google as default search engine, and synchronization system with google services. Vendors like Brave and Yandex replacing it with their ecosystems. Mozilla doesn't include much "out of the box", and that's why it is the browser of choice when it comes to privacy preserving forks like Tor or Icecat. I also spoke at defcon with Tor folks, the dude referred to Brave as a joke, since chromium wasn't built with proxy support in mind: using chromium-alike browser with socks5 requires you to setup environment variables for Linux, and change system settings for windows.

~ Also all chromium based browsers have extension store controlled by google, which was found guilty of deleting some adblockers (particularly ublock origin) ~

Modern browsers complexity could be that of OS kernel and with this analogy, it'd be sad if there would only be Linux, Windows and Mac. It's just great to know that if you aren't found of Linux but have unix philosophy in mind, you can switch to FreeBSD, OpenBSD and alike.
avatar

Anonymous user #3

one month ago
Score 2++
how about moz://a spending less money on useless stuff, huh?
avatar

Gnu4ever

one month ago
Score 0++
this
avatar

Anonymous user #5

one month ago
Score 1++
In a way, Mozilla is also Google controlled via revenue but not web engine
avatar

Anonymous user #6

one month ago
Score 0++

Well Google needs to clean up their act but maybe there needs to be some non restrictive funding for the Mozilla Foundation from Google/Others than can pass Muster with the regulators. But the Mozilla foundation Needs to fix their about:config antics and that constant changing of settings options as that relates to auto-playing videos and such on Youtube/Other sites as well.

I seriously wish that Mozilla, being a nonprofit, would think about folks with dyslexia and aphasia and all Non Profits that Produce Browsers and Word-processing applications need to be required, and government funded as well, to produce context sensitive spelling checkers and built in dictionary and thesaurus capabilities for folks with dyslexia and aphasia. And I need not only the correct spelling choices(At Right Click) but also the definition of the word as well, especially with the aphasia issues.

If the Google direct funding is cut to Mozilla then maybe there can be some alternative funding/grant sources for non profit software foundations, provided they make their products context sensitive spelling aware for folks with disabilities! And really Firefox's spelling system can not even keep that limited spelling dictionary set to US English spelling and I'm constantly set a Canadian English(Linux Mint/Fire fox).

Maybe Google and Firefox can just redo that agreement in a manner that complies with Antitrust regulations and if Mozilla is a nonprofit does not Google get any tax write-off against any funding for Mozilla. Maybe the Antitrust folks can force the DE-Googling of Chrome/Chromium and that may be better used by everyone if Google's control over that ecosystem is under Justice Department/Antitrust Division monitoring and Court Compliance.
avatar

Anonymous user #7

one month ago
Score 0++
WebKit isn't very similar to Chromium. Blink is already far diverged from WebCore, and V8 was made from the scratch.
Add your comment
LinuxReviews welcomes all comments. If you do not want to be anonymous, register or log in. It is free.