Mozilla's decision to switch the default Firefox search engine makes sense

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 20, 2014

Mozilla announced yesterday that it ended its 10 year long partnership with Google which made Google Search the default search engine in the Firefox web browser.

Instead of signing up a global agreement with Google or another partner, the organization decided to work with regional partners instead.

While Mozilla has not revealed much about the reasoning behind the decision, other than it gives the organization flexibility, it is pretty certain that other factors have played a role in the decision making process as well.

The facts: Mozilla agreed to make Yahoo Search the default search engine of Firefox in the United States, Baidu in China, and Yandex in Russia. The deal with Yahoo lasts for five years with options to expand it to other markets in that time. According to Mozilla, it is earning more revenue from those deals than before. Actual figures won't be released for a while though. It is unclear if the default search engine in other regions will be switched as well or if Google remains the default search engine for the time being.

Brokering deals with companies for select regions may take additional resources but it is beneficial for several reasons:

  1. It is likely that Mozilla will make more money from the deal. While Yandex or Baidu would pay top Dollar to be the default search engine in their home country, they may have no interest in becoming a global partner. In fact, the only company that makes sense as a global partner is Google.
  2. Users may also benefit from this, especially if a local search engine provides better results or a better experience than a global one.

One could say that some users may not benefit from this. This is the case if the selected default search engine does not match the quality than another search engine.

The strategy makes sense on another level as well. Google is a direct competitor in the browser market and allowing the company to be the default search engine in Firefox gives it valuable information about the browser's user base (think location for example). While it is unclear if Google used the information in any way, Chrome surpassed Firefox in many markets already and it does not seem to slow down.

Google technologies are still being used in Firefox though. There is Safe Browsing for example which checks websites and file downloads for malicious contents.

Apart from that, it is also diversifying Mozilla's income stream. Up until now it depended on payments from Google, its global search partner, to a large degree.The dependency would not have changed if Mozilla would have renewed the contract with Google or selected another global partner.

With this new system, it earns revenue from a number of partners in different markets in the world which makes it less dependent on a single partner.

Partners like Yahoo may also be open to change when it comes to search. Yahoo will honor Do Not Track when Firefox search is used for example, something which the company does not do normally.

Mozilla's decision to switch the default Firefox search engine makes sense
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Mozilla's decision to switch the default Firefox search engine makes sense
Mozilla's decision to end its year-long partnership with Google in favor of regional search providers such as Yahoo, Yandex or Baidu makes sense. Read on to find out why.

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  1. VAGA said on December 9, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Firefox says it strives for privacy of its users,however the choice of yahoo as a search provider concernes me.
    recently yahoo posted this.

    You can ask Yahoo not to track you online, but the company will no longer listen.

    In a company blog post titled, “Yahoo’s Default = a Personalized Experience,” Yahoo’s privacy team said this week that it would ignore “do not track” signals that users can activate in browsers to indicate that they don’t want their online behavior to be monitored. Web providers use such tracking to gather user data about their readers and to serve relevant ads and other information based on online activity.

    “Here at Yahoo, we work hard to provide our users with a highly personalized experience,” Yahoo’s Privacy Team wrote. “We keep people connected to what matters most to them, across devices and around the world. We fundamentally believe the best web is a personalized one.”

    The decision is a course reversal for Yahoo, which was the first, and, until now, the largest web company to say it would honor no-tracking requests from users. The decision to abide by the signal is optional for web companies because the no-tracking request does not automatically block web cookies, the tiny files that collect data about users’ behavior online. Pinterest and Twitter have also said they honor no-tracking.

    The move is part of a wider strategy from CEO Marissa Mayer, who referred to Yahoo as a “personalization company” during an interview at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last September. The CEO has revamped Yahoo’s home page to include a custom stream of news and ads based on each user’s interests, and has emphasized personalized content on its Yahoo News and Yahoo Finance sites.

    According to the company’s privacy page, Yahoo collects data on users’ web searches, demographic information, and their location in order to personalize ads. The company gives users the option to opt out, but a user can only do so by first registering with Yahoo on all their devices.

    In its blog post, Yahoo said that the industry never clearly defined no-tracking standards. “We have yet to see a single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry,”

    my question is,is this before or after they made a deal with firefox

  2. Jim said on November 21, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Not really relevant for me although I do appreciate the financial and business aspects of this move. I have been using DuckDuckGo for years now, so their default search engine doesn’t really concern me. I never use it. Maybe this will slow the current trend to make FF look like a Chrome clone. That would be a good thing.

  3. Blue said on November 20, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    The thing about using Yahoo was it’s secondary or backup links would always land me on the MSN pages and though everyone claims Google is the evil giant they seem to be, I fear MSN more than Google would. No single software company should be allowed to own our data let alone by the sole influencing factor when it comes to hardware as MSN seems to be so intent on doing. Need I say, **cough**Amazon**cough**Facebook**cough**. Which is probably the reason why I choose not to use MSIE whenever possible. On new installations I always have the latest portable installer of both Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome on a flash stick/SD card.

  4. Dwight Stegall said on November 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    When the other search engines can do this I might switch But I don’t see that day coming.

    I don’t try to stop Google from tracking me. I trust them not to be evil. Besides there is no way to block all of the ways they use. I believe they also have ways to track you even if you don’t use their search engine. The same as Facebook does even if you don’t have a Facebook account.

    I would think Mozilla would be more loyal to Google since Google is paying their bills. :(

    1. Anonymous said on November 20, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      Bing has way more search operators than Google:

      1. Noitidart said on November 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

        This should be on frontpage of bing i have been trying to learn bing operators for long time. Been using bing for years.

        Also it looks like bings operators are shorter, like allinurl vs url.

        Nice one for Bing!

    2. batman said on November 20, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      that would be for example google analytics they use to track you
      and regarding paying bills, yahoo will do that from now on.

  5. Ray said on November 20, 2014 at 11:56 am

    That is a bombshell but makes sense commercially and strategically. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

  6. batman said on November 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Correct me if im wrong, but using any search engine that uses/bases itself on google results, you are still supporting google.
    sure you are not exposing yourself for tracking everything you do etc, but for each request from whether its you or via another SE for you, google will use that pageview in its calculations for selling ads for those keywords, so you are still making them money. the one losing out is the one buying ads for those keywords.

    1. Sören Hentzschel said on November 20, 2014 at 11:35 am

      Yahoo! Search ist based on Bing, not Google. Yahoo! Search was powered by Google until 2004.

      1. batman said on November 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

        wow, that long ago, thought it was just a few years ago. time goes faster and faster the older i get :(

        anyhow, looking at DDG i see they are not! including google either, but looking at startpage for example, they use google.

        (my original post was generally, not specifically about Y!)

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