On April 12, Johnathan Nightingale, ex-vice president of Mozilla’s Firefox group, tweeted out a series of shocking allegations about Google. The tech executive claimed the conglomerate sabotaged the open-source web browser to help Chrome succeed.
Nightingale alleges the two companies initially had a positive relationship in the late 2000s. At the time, much of Google’s workforce happily used Firefox and Mozilla apparently derived 90 percent of its revenue from Google search advertising. However, relations between the two organizations soured in 2008 when Google launched its own web browser.
Death by Inches
The Raw Signal Group founder explained the partnership between the two Silicon Valley organizations didn’t fall apart right away. At first, Google offered reassurances both firms were still pursuing interrelated goals. Nightingale also stated the individual engineers he worked with were solid collaborators.
When I started at Mozilla in 2007 there was no Google Chrome and most folks we spoke with inside were Firefox fans. They were building an empire on the web, we were building the web itself.
— Johnathan Nightingale (@johnath) April 13, 2019
Eventually, though, Google’s attitude toward Mozilla changed. Without warning, the corporation began advertising Chrome with Firefox search results. At that point, the internet development firm wasn’t concerned; it viewed its partner’s actions as healthy competition. But then Gmail and Google Documents began malfunctioning while running on the open-source browser.
The not-for-profit organization also noticed certain demo sites kept inexplicably flagging Firefox as incompatible. Mozilla executives confronted Google about its problems and were told the errors were accidental. Nightingale noted the bugs and glitches became regular occurrences, as did Google’s unfulfilled promises of fixing Firefox’s errors.
As Firefox’s functionality diminished, its popularity dwindled. Mozilla responded by trying to fix the glitches themselves but doing so prevented the company from improving its web browser. In late 2011, Chrome overtook Firefox in terms of total worldwide users, 25.69 percent to 25.23 percent, for the first time.
Today, Google’s web browser has a 62.63 percent share of the global market compared to Mozilla’s 4.69 percent.
‘Don’t Be Evil’
In fairness, Nightingale does partially attribute Firefox’s downfall to Mozilla’s internal failings. But he concluded his thread warning emerging online companies that Google can be a particularly ruthless rival. “Mistakes happen, but when you see a sustained pattern of ‘oops’ & delay from this organization – you’re being outfoxed.”
It’s also worth noting that Nightingale isn’t the only Mozilla executive to accuse Google of undermining Firefox. In 2018, Chris Peterson, one of the organization’s program managers, took to Twitter to imply the Big Tech giant intentionally made YouTube run slower on rival web browsers.
YouTube page load is 5x slower in Firefox and Edge than in Chrome because YouTube's Polymer redesign relies on the deprecated Shadow DOM v0 API only implemented in Chrome. You can restore YouTube's faster pre-Polymer design with this Firefox extension: https://t.co/F5uEn3iMLR
— Chris Peterson (@cpeterso) July 24, 2018
Once, Google was so committed to operating ethically, it made “Don’t be evil” its motto. But as it’s grown from being a plucky startup to a global institution, it’s abandoned that moral framework. Consequently, Nightingale and Peterson’s allegations of the corporation’s underhanded tactics seem credible.