Mozilla’s new Firefox Quantum browser launched on Wednesday, and there’s a lot to like about it. One change you might notice right away is that it now defaults to the Google search engine instead of Yahoo. Mozilla is framing this as doing the right thing for its users, but in reality, it may just be taking advantage of a really bad deal that Yahoo signed.
Firefox Quantum is Mozilla’s big push to regain its market share from Google Chrome. It’s a lightweight browser that’s apparently twice as fast as the previous iteration, and it offers more customisation and won’t hog all that RAM that Chrome typically sucks up. Mozilla’s reputation has taken a hit over the last few years as Google and Microsoft have offered improved products, and other browsers like Opera keep getting better.
As TechCrunch points out, back in 2014 some Firefox users saw Mozilla’s deal to make Yahoo the default search engine as an example of the company putting its financial interests ahead of functionality. In a statement supplied to TechCrunch today, Mozilla executive Denelle Dixon wrote:
As part of our focus on user experience and performance in Firefox Quantum, Google will also become our new default search provider in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. With over 60 search providers pre-installed as defaults or secondary options across more than 90 language versions, Firefox has more choice in search providers than any other browser.
Sure, sure, lots of choices. But most people are going to just want Google and now they won’t have to change anything.
Dixon also said that Mozilla “exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo! based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users.” What’s that you say? Contractual right to terminate the agreement that was supposed to make Yahoo the default search engine for five years?
That’s right, back when former-CEO Marissa Mayer was running around the internet buying up whatever she could get her hands on to make Yahoo look like a modern company, she personally struck the deal with Mozilla. According to Recode, the agreement included a clause that allowed Mozilla to pull out if Yahoo was purchased by a company it didn’t like. Since then, Verizon purchased the troubled Yahoo, ousted Mayer, and combined the company with AOL under a new name, Oath. Verizon may or may not care all that much about the Firefox change, but the agreement Mayer signed reportedly committed Yahoo to continue annual payments of $US375 ($494) million through 2019. Considering the fact that Google was paying $US323 ($426) million in 2014 for the right to be featured as the browser’s default search service, it’s possible that Mozilla could be doubling up on its royalties.
Mozilla hasn’t commented publicly on the financial terms of its search engine swap. Gizmodo has reached out to ask if it will make those terms available before its annual statement. We’ll update this post when we hear back. Update: Mozilla responded to our questions with the following statement: “We do not comment on the specific terms of our agreements. Like all of our commercial relationships, there is a revenue share and the relationship itself spans multiple years.”
What’s certain is that things are looking up for Mozilla, and in my few weeks taking the beta of Firefox Quantum for a spin, I’ve been pleased with it. With a possible boost in income, we could see Firefox become a real force in the browser game again. It’s also a win-win for Google. Even if some people stop using Chrome, a lot of people will still use Google as their default search engine. And Yahoo takes home the booby prize.