Five Walled Gardens: Why Browsers are Essential to the Internet and How Operating Systems Are Holding Them Back

Mozilla has published new research into how consumers across a number of different countries and continents install and use browsers. It shows the importance of web browsers to consumers, with the vast majority of people surveyed using them each day. It also shows that although many people report knowing how to install a browser in theory, lots of people never actually install an alternative browser in practice. A similar trend can be seen between the number of people reporting to know how to change their default browser versus the number who do this in practice. Crucially, people raise concerns about privacy and security, but they similarly fail to act on these concerns.

This places the responsibility for consumers in the hands of software providers, and particularly the operating systems which gatekeep consumer access to products like browsers. Unfortunately, operating systems are incentivized to preference their own browsers at the expense of consumer choice and independent alternatives.

The report also explains that online choice architecture plays an important role in consumer behavior. Operating systems regularly design their systems to undermine rather than facilitate consumer choice: they can make it difficult to change default settings; they can make it hard to install new browsers; they can deploy nudges and deceptive messaging to push consumers to their own products.

Why does this matter? Well, not only are consumers deprived of choice, but they can also receive lower quality products and less innovation. They might be forced to use products which are worse for privacy and security. Removing choice and competition harms consumers and society and as a whole. Regulators, policymakers and lawmakers must act now before it is too late.


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