Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
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A Man Without a Web Browser
1/2/18 2:04:36 AM

So those of you who know me personally know that I recently switched from Chromium to Firefox. I obviously haven't commented on that change here. Why? Well there is actually a really good reason for my silence and I'm going to tell you why.

The long and short of it is that Firefox Quantum represents a huge performance and compatibility improvement. However the organization which manages and maintains it, Mozilla, has been making some really questionable moves as of late so I'm already looking for an alternative. The first symptom of this problem reared it's ugly head with the Cliqz data slurping scandal. While this was a test pilot in which an addon was being pre-installed in a small percentage of Firefox downloads for users located in Germany (according to Mozilla), it still represented a step that chilled privacy advocates such as myself to the core. But hey, no big deal, right? That was a one time thing and everybody fucks up. Shit happens. Most people ended up giving them a pass here, myself included. The reality here is that this was a limited pilot and Firefox was still a better bet for privacy advocates than anything even remotely related to Google such as Chrome or Chromium.

But then the now infamous Mr. Robot debacle happened. No matter what way you slice it, this is fucked. The gist of this scandal is that Mozilla decided to auto install a Mr. Robot themed addon onto the browsers of users that had not opted out of something called Shield Studies. Thankfully I had opted out of this service as I tend to turn off all telemetry related functions for the official release version of any piece of software I use. My fellow users who had not woke up one morning to find this addon installed in their browser with absolutely no guidance on why it was there or what it was doing.

This represents a problem for two reasons. First the Shield Studies feature doesn't tell you that you are effectively pimping your eyes out to Mozilla for marketing related purposes. It bills itself as a way for users to help improve the browser. This addon did nothing of the sort. Secondly the very idea that Mozilla has the power to add or remove addons from your browser at will without requiring any direct consent from the end user is extremely disturbing. Not even Google has those kinds of balls. So this all puts me in an awkward position. I'm still using Firefox 57. I'm a huge fan of the improvements that it has made. I still severely distrust Google along with Chrome and Chromium as a result. However I now also distrust Mozilla. So all of those factors effectively put me into a position where I am now looking for an alternative to the alternative.

At this point, I don't have any urge to go back to Chromium as that represents nothing less than a huge step backwards for me. The fact I was using Chromium before switching to Firefox should also make it clear that Chrome ceased being an option for me a long time ago. So where does that leave me? Well according to one of my favorite websites, Alternative To there are actually quite a few options out there. Some of the alternatives like Iridium are actually promising. There is also Brave of course which is one of the more popular alternatives. Though it blocks ads by default it also replaces them with ads of its own via an opt-in mechanism. Iridium also presented me with some compatibility issues during my initial round of testing, but seemed promising. Sadly both of these are based on Blink though. That of course is the name of the engine that drives Chrome and Chromium. In addition Brave gets even more objectionable due to their ad based revenue model. I have no use for any browser which establishes alternative revenue sources that piggy-back on data harvested from user activities. I also require a browser to have access to a healthy ecosystem of extensions. Brave fails on all these counts though Iridium actually has access to current Chrome extensions.

So for the moment that leaves me taking a long hard look at Waterfox. It's based on Firefox/Gecko but has all the bullshit removed. It also has access to the Firefox ecosystem of addons and extensions and the current version supports all of the extensions I use in Firefox today. Sadly because its a fork that is updated with each major release, it lags Firefox by a major version which of course means that it does not have the benefit of the improvements in Firefox Quantum that inspired me to switch off of Chromium to begin with. Thankfully that situation will resolve itself in the coming weeks once Waterfox gets around to integrating those changes. Once that happens, I fully expect to switch to Waterfox as my primary browser on all available platforms.

The bottom line here is that privacy is important. The software ecosystem in place today makes it really tempting for entrenched participants to milk their privileged access to user data and activity for additional revenue. We can't let things like this slide. We have to make our voices heard and vote with our downloads, clicks and donations. When it comes to privacy and security in today's fast moving world of tech the old adage "Give him an inch and he will take a mile" has never been more relevant.

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