Firefox: a brink of their own making?

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This post gets its name from Bryce Wray’s post Firefox on the brink which made rounds recently. While I would recommend reading the entire article, the crux is that with Firefox’s declining market share it’s approaching a 2% traffic share on government websites - and if it drops below it’s no longer taken into account in the development of said sites. While government web guidelines aren’t the be-all-end-all, it’s a quantifiable indicator of a larger issue Mozilla has been facing. And it’s of my opinion that not only could at least some of this have been avoided, but that Mozilla may continue on this trajectory.

And I would like to start this out with an apology. I’m not a browser developer, and I don’t have any experience running a browser company or nonprofit. I know that a lot of people put a lot of dedicated work into its development and I feel a little sheepish just coming in and criticizing it – but not sheepish enough to not do so I guess. That said, this comes from the perspective of I wish it wasn’t going so poorly. I used Firefox pretty much exclusively for a very long time (not counting work devices), and while I mainly use a Firefox fork and occasionally use a Chromium/Blink fork I’m still rooting for a Firefox comeback.

Compatibility & Features

The first thing I would like to speak on is Firefox’s capabilities, of which the first to come to mind will often be Firefox’s compatibility issues. While compatibility issues do occasionally plague Firefox they have been relatively rare in the past. In the past number of years until recently I’ve only had two websites I recall having issues: one site I need for work that’s unusable, and one retailer that’s slightly broken. In the last month or so it seems to have ticked up, with a memory leak or two and a few more incompatible sites, as well as Google hampering Firefox on YT (I will touch on this in a bit). Despite it previously being a once-in-a-year kind of deal, with what was likely a couple of unlucky visits in the last month or so - or of course this “brink” accelerating - I increasingly need a Chromium based browser on hand to keep from being locked out of parts of the web.

But speaking of compatibility, there’s some more issues brewing with missing features. A couple months ago I set up a Surface tablet and was surprised to find that x86_64 Firefox lacked proper touch support. One tap equaled one left click, but that was it; no scrolling, zooming, or right click equivalents were available. Sure, touch input might not be the most popular on desktops/laptops, but many laptops have had touch support integrated for probably close to a decade now, and two-in-ones are also a thing. That’s not to mention that anybody younger than me probably started on touch screens, so touch support could be a huge deal and it’s completely unusable unlike Chromium or Webkit browsers which support it very well.

Speaking of unsupported things that are useful, how about progressive web apps on desktop? Well, Firefox implemented them at one point and then just killed them for some unknown reason. It’s been years, and there’s no sign of adding them back in. This, again, is something a lot of people use (particularly if you’re on a Linux Distro or BSD and lack some software support), and it’s entirely missing. Or, an opposite of integrating features into Firefox: Firefox lacks easy support for implementing Gecko into another project. While forks of Firefox as a whole exist, using Gecko as a web renderer in a fashion similar to Electron and other projects is more difficult to implement than something such as Chromium.

The mobile version isn’t free of criticism here either. While I have noticed fewer compatibility issues and am overall more happy with the mobile version than the desktop version, they have also had some odd issues taking away feature support. For example, with extensions they provided support for all desktop extensions until they removed support locking you to only a couple of extensions outside of developer mode, and only years later are they re-introducing a larger pool of extensions. While this was to fix performance issues (though I never experienced issues using them), I feel that it would have been beneficial to fix the issue without limiting extentions in the meantime; or at least have allowed the installation of extentions to be an easy toggle instead of locking it behind a secret development menu and extention packs. Similarly, albeit with less elaboration needed, for a while they also took away the ability to save a page as a PDF on mobile. They re-added it later, and I am unaware of the reason behind its temporary unavailability.

Finally, another criticism of Firefox is that Gecko (the web engine behind Firefox) is considered somewhat less secure than a Chromium based browser. This mainly comes down to Chromium’s sandboxing being considered more secure, especially on mobile. There are likely very few real world situations where Chromium would save you and Gecko wouldn’t, and the first line of cybersecurity is always the user (you’re probably way likelier to be tricked into downloading malware than getting hit by a zero-day). Still though, when combined with missing features a minor security downgrade is yet another technical drawback.

Privacy & Ads

If somebody is recommending Firefox it’s probably for: privacy, freedom from Google, and ideological reasons. Ideological reasons are mostly outside of the scope of this post (though I touched more on it in my Win 11 post), freedom from Google will be discussed in a little while, but right now I would like to talk about privacy (the lack thereof) and ads in a standard Firefox install.

So you installed Firefox to ditch Chrome, congratulations on choosing the Libre option. The first thing you’ll be greeted with after clicking off the about tab that opens up is .. checks notes .. ads? Plastered on your home screen will be ads, when typing in your search bar you’ll be recommended ads, and if you use the built-in link saving tool Pocket you’ll get - you guessed it - more ads. No, this isn’t freeware from 2010, this is the most Libre mainstream browser and it’s chock-full of ads unless you disable them. Yes, I know the counterpoint, they need to fund their development - but I’ll delve into that in a later section.

But I mean ads can be contextual, and they don’t need to collect a bunch of data on you, and what they do collect they’re certainly not selling right? Well, this is a complaint piece and I brought it up so you already know the answer. Of the least offending is the on-by-default telemetry, which collects a surprisingly large amount of data. It’s usually a big no-no to the more privacy-conscious of us (some would say tin foil hatty) such as myself who would prefer to at least be prompted with a toggle to knowingly consent to or decline telemetry. Instead, Firefox defaults to it being on and hides it in the settings, never alerting the average user.

The real issue comes in with Pocket, the read it later tool Mozilla acquired a while back; as well as Fakespot, a tool for spotting fake reviews Mozilla acquired recently and also plans to integrate into Firefox. Among the two, they collect data such as:

  • IP address and browser information
  • Name, email, and similar personal information
  • Ads & Analytics (both by Google)
  • Purchase history
  • Location

In both privacy policies they warn you that they share or sell data to third parties.

So, Mozilla is doing the same stuff Google is doing, but they’re also putting Google into their services to track users directly on their behalf. Firefox for Android is probably the worst offender, given they have implemented Google Analytics directly into the app itself. They also, however, have Google Analytics on their website and a unique tracker on every installer downloaded from their website that they use to track your usage and internally tie to your Google Analytics ID.

So yeah, it looks as if default Firefox is at best doing the same things Google is, and very likely could be less private and more chock-full of ads than a default Chrome install. It’s even got the good ol’ Google Search default front and center and often Google tracking built in as well. And yes, I can hear you say that Firefox can be configured to cut out some of this. It’s a fair point, but still a bit moot. To disable things like pocket you have to dig around in about:config, and even with the more simple toggles a rule of thumb is 90%+ never change even the default toggles, so default Firefox is very much the Firefox most people will be familiar with.

Open Web & Software Freedom

The ideology thing that’s mostly not the topic of this post does rear its head a bit. Sorry in advance for charging directly into a somewhat heated topic. Regardless, Mozilla has taken a stance against dissenting from official sources. And hey, I get it, there’s been a lot of kooky people saying silly things and it’s a good idea that some of those things don’t take root in society. Still though, I can also think of a handful of things (in the past, as well as more recent history) that were deemed dangerous conspiracy theories (with recent ones getting you banned from platforms if you brought them up), right up until the official sources changed their stances and confirmed they were most likely the case or certainly the case. But, as with the section on privacy, I’m starting with the mundane thing.

Further, they also believe it is important that official sources be amplified, and other sources be downranked out of the risk they could say something that contradicts official sources. This site, social media posts, and just about anything else without an official stamp of approval - even if they don’t do anything wrong - is dangerous because of the potential they could say something wrong in the future. For many of the kinds of people who like Libre software and an open web - the kinds of people who’d seek out Firefox for said ideological reasons - this is antithetical to the reason they would use Firefox.

Finally, on the licensing side of things, Mozilla has used trademark laws to prevent the repackaging of Firefox as Firefox. Though I can understand preventing scummy or virus laden forks, they’ve had a history of going beyond what I would consider ideal. The most prominent example would be a decade or so when Debian was forced to provide “IceWeasel” as opposed to “Firefox” after removing proprietary images from the package and backporting security updates.


Mozilla is surprisingly loaded, and despite that, I feel some of their financial decisions have decreased Firefox’s potential. As of 2022, they had 1,197,840,000 in net assets (that’s ~$1.2B). They receive income in three ways: from Google paying to be the default search engine (also propping Mozilla up to avoid looking like a monopoly), receiving donations, and getting income by providing ads and services. They have expenses for the development of the browser itself, their activism and advocacy work, and salaries (with a whopping $6.9M paid out to their director that year).

Firstly, it appears their browser has taken the back burner when it comes to financial choices. Back in 2020 Mozilla laid off over 300 employees, which amounted to nearly a third of their staff, and they specifically stated that they intended to focus more on their other projects such as Mozilla VPN and Pocket, as well as their activism and advocacy. Cutting off focus on a browser that was and is missing features, was and is less compatible with websites when compared to other browsing engines, and was and is declining in market share just feels wrong if you’re placing all your chips on Mozilla providing the only free software web browser. During this year the director was also paid out $2.7M and they had $843M in net assets.

Further, from my observations of browsers, mainstream browsers will generally have one of two conflicts of interest: some browsers, like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer of old, are developed with the intent to complement a set of services. In this case they are generally free of ads and bundled services that can bloat up a browser, but come at the cost of being built to keep you within an ecosystem (Google or Microsoft ecosystems respectively). Otherwise, independent browsers can be free of being built around a particular ecosystem, but the browser then needs to collect money by doing some combination of showing ads, selling users’ private data, or selling bundled services. Both conflicts of interest create value for the browser’s developers at the cost of users’ experiences, and it appears that Firefox is under both conflicts of interest.

While Mozilla doesn’t have a for-profit ecosystem, given they get such a large amount of their revenue from Google they are tied to Google’s preferences. The obvious one is the fact they are defaulting to Google Search, but it appears there are more hidden things as well. On their mobile browser they disabled the background playing of YouTube videos, and I expect it was to keep Google appeased by not providing a basic browser function that Google sells as a part of YouTube Premium. There’s also the inclusion of Google Analytics within their website and Android app, which again, would serve to benefit Google. Similarly, Google, in their effort to block adblock recently integrated features to slow down YouTube for people blocking ads. The thing is, it appeared to affect Firefox regardless of if you were blocking ads, and not affect Chrome regardless of if you were blocking ads. Google going “Oops, we totally didn’t mean to hamper our only competitor” would be something that I would go after Google for in the courts if I was a Google competitor. This is especially taking into account the fact the metaphorical anti-trust sharks are circling Google, given the recent smaller ruling against Google and a potentially much larger one coming down the pike. Nevertheless, I was unable to find even a mention of it by Mozilla.

These make me assume there is a decent chance that much of the Firefox development decisions are influenced by Google either directly, or indirectly in the “I hope this won’t cut off our Google funds if we do this” sense.

And of course, there’s also the second browser development conflict of interest, and that’s getting revenue from users directly. Despite Mozilla’s marketing Firefox as the privacy browser, they don’t seem to hesitate to collect a large amount of data on their users, show them ads, and they’re also marketing paid services such as their Mozilla VPN.

I understand that they need funds to finance their operations, and I understand that a diversified revenue stream is the best way to ensure they continue to have financial stability. Still, however, I feel that it would be better to lean into one or the other: either scrap all the ads and get serious about privacy focusing on taking the Google money to make a super clean browsing experience; or alternatively, focus on gaining revenue from their users and avoid some of these decisions that make it appear as if Google is a backseat driver who’s using their search deal as leverage.

What Mozilla is doing right

So after all this, why might I (and numerous other people interested in tech) still recommend Firefox? Firstly, it is important to note that this has all been written with the point to explain what I dislike, and Firefox will work as a standard web browser in most circumstances. Still though, if everything above is beaten out by Chrome and Chromium based browsers, why would anybody use Firefox?

Mainly, this is because Firefox is the only competitor to Chromium based browsers at the moment. Setting aside Apple, which defaults to Safari, you generally are going to have either a Chromium or Gecko browser on Windows, Linux, Android, or BSD, and will always have Chrome on a Chromebook. Since those make up a majority of the world’s devices, if Google controls the browser (or underlying browser engine) then they can pretty much unilaterally take control over how those devices access the internet. That is the largest reason, and until recently it has been mostly ideological in its nature.

Nevertheless, there have been some recent changes Google has been making that cause the purely ideological motivation to bring along some very tangible benefits. While I went over them a little more in-depth in my Win 11 post, two major things have been Manifest V3 - Google’s go at removing adblock from the internet, and the recently canceled WEI - effectively DRM/Anti-Cheat for your browser.

Being Overtaken in their Niche

If you want a browser with decent privacy, a lot of customization, and void of Google’s various problematic decisions you can still heavily configure Firefox to do so (to an extent, things like built-in Google Analytics can’t be configured out). Nevertheless, to somebody who’d want a browser like that, Firefox is in many ways antithetical to what you would be looking for. There are two browsers, LibreWolf and Brave, that I’ve seen a lot of tech-y people talk about - and could very well be an improved alternative to a heavily configured Firefox.


LibreWolf is a fork of Firefox, meaning it also counts against Google’s monopoly power of Chromium, but also comes with some of the limitations of the Gecko engine. It is kept up to date (an issue for some browser forks), has a good set of defaults plus Ublock Origin built in, and cuts out all of the unwanted Mozilla stuff baked into Firefox (ads, telemetry, pocket, etc). It’s even hardened a bit. It’s only available on Desktop, but can be installed via package managers (Linux, chocolatey or winget on Windows), or onto Windows via the Microsoft Store or an installer.

While you may need to loosen up the privacy settings if you browse like a normal person (e.g. enabling DRM content or setting it to not clear cookies on exit), it’s a much cleaner experience and I would highly recommend giving it a try.


Brave is a fork of Chromium, so it provides the benefits of Chromium over Gecko at the cost of not counting as much against Google’s monopoly. Brave does, however, maintain an active fork of Chromium that cuts out many unwanted Google things (such as supporting Manifest V3, and they planned to not implement WEI); and is available on Desktop and Mobile. Brave also has built-in Adblock in the form of Brave Adblock, separate from plugins.

Like LibreWolf, Brave appears to have no allegiances to Google, though unlike LibreWolf they do seek to fund their browser through their users. Some of their funding comes from developing tools that I believe are a benefit to the community (e.g. Brave Search). Some of it is paid services, such as Brave VPN - and similar to Firefox, Brave has ads and telemetry.

However, unlike Firefox, I believe Brave has a much less problematic approach to ads and telemetry. On your first installation Brave directly asks you to enable or disable usage statistics and crash reports, making it a very clear yes or no answer to the user. The only default ad on Brave is one small ad on the bottom right corner of the screen (desktop only), which can be permanently disabled in two clicks right from the home screen. The other ads in Brave, Brave Rewards which shows ads and compensates you with a small portion of the revenue, is disabled by default and requires the user to intentionally seek it out and enable it in settings.


As a bonus, while it’s not exactly a completed project, servo is a new browser engine written in Rust that is currently in development. Some people, including myself, hope that it works out to become a non-Chromium, non-Gecko, alternative browser engine that could widen the playing field a bit - even if Firefox becomes entirely irrelevant. While Servo was originally worked on by Mozilla and Samsung it is now being maintained by the Linux foundation.

Sum Up

So here we are, the privacy browser that tracks you while also implementing third parties that track you. The ad-filled FOSS browser, and the savior of the open web declining to irrelevance that might not even stand for an open web. “The other browser, whatever it’s called” as I’ve heard it put in real life.

Like I said in the beginning of the post, these aren’t the entirety of my views on Firefox, this post is specifically focusing on the negative and if I didn’t care for it I wouldn’t have put in the effort to make this post - but it’s been brewing in some fashion since day one of pocket integration. Still though, with everything it’s a wonder why the link aggregator space seems to like LibreWolf and the video space seems to like Brave, but you won’t see people pushing Firefox as much anymore. The more ideology-driven tech people such as myself will put up with a lot, but once everything Mozilla starts seeming to be opposite of what we sought out they drive away the largest section of their user base.

What I use

I mostly use LibreWolf now on desktop. It’s a slimmed down well configured browser based on Firefox that is everything that Firefox should have striven for. I would highly recommend you give it a try if you’re somewhat technical. I say somewhat technical only because there are sometimes minor issues when a more aggressively configured browser needs to be loosened up a slight bit. As I mentioned before, it could be something like DRM content, or for example, I had an issue with text missing from websites so I just disabled custom fonts and all was well. Nothing beyond configuring settings, but if you’ve never really configured a browser you may run into occasional issues.

On desktop when I want to use a PWA, or when a website doesn’t work on Firefox, I have Brave installed as a backup. Brave is a bit more bloated with its software suite-style setup, but the implementation of it is about as good as you can get from a software suite, and while it’s based on Chromium it’s still not a Google-prescribed version. Brave is simple to plug and play so I would recommend it to anybody regardless of their technical knowledge. I also use Brave on my x86_64 Surface tablet exclusively since Firefox lacks touch controls.

On Android I use the F-Droid version of Fennec, a fork of Firefox that takes out Google Tracking and some Mozilla tracking. I also have the Vandium webview, and the Brave browser as a backup and for PWAs since only Brave seems to let me create a PWA for Google Chat without it trying to force me to install the app.

What do I see in the future?

Well, there’s a chance that things get better and Mozilla gets Firefox into a better state and/or outside factors (e.g. regulators or public backlash) harms Chrome and makes Firefox more popular by default. There’s also a good chance we continue down this road, Firefox drops below that 2%, and browser historians mark that as the official end of Firefox with the Google money eventually dropping out and Mozilla disappearing sometime later. In the event of the latter, not even forks would likely be able to save it with a dead browser engine and Google’s probably looking to consolidate power, so it’d be about time for us all to look for new browser engines.

Sorry for such a negative post, I promise I’ll go back to talking about whatever tech interests me that particular day.

Further Reading

Similar Content

In my research to fill all of this out, I ran into three different pieces of content worth sharing that had some effect on this post. The first is obviously Bryce Wray’s Firefox on the brink which inspired me to put together a list of complaints that have been building up over the years. There is also Eric Murphy’s video How Mozilla Ruined Firefox which provided me a great reminder of some of the things that have gone on, as well as probably can be credited for some of the layout of this post since I saw it before I had done too much work on this post. I also checked out Bryan Lunduke’s investigation and subsequent video into the finances of Mozilla, which while for older finances then I listed provided me with a cheat sheet for getting more recent financials.

If you’re interested in more opinions on the topic of Firefox’s decline, those sources and their sources would probably be a good start.

Posts I mentioned:

During my post I mentioned two other blog posts, Quest to Find a Tablet, pt 2 and Get the most out of Win 11 (and the least bloat), both of which are listed here if you’re interested in checking them out.

Beyond the above, I make a lot of random statements and claims, all of which I would like to back up with sources that confirm the information or further elaborate on things beyond what I briefly touched on. I would also recommend checking these out to get to the root of the information as opposed to getting them through the lens of my opinions.