Google and Mozilla have reupped their search revenue agreement. Under the new three-year plan, Google Search will continue to be the default search provider for Firefox users.
Given Google’s clear desire to push Chrome into the top ranks of the browser market, it would seem counterintuitive for it to re-ink a deal with one of its chief rivals in that arena.
Chrome is either about to overtake Firefox in global Web browser usage or already has, based on recent reports from StatCounter and Net Applications. Internet Explorer is still the browser to beat in office usage — but for home use, more and more consumers are turning to two alternatives: Chrome and Firefox.
‘Lifeline for Firefox’
Google, of course, would like to push Chrome. However, for a number of reasons, it really had no choice but to renew its agreement with Firefox.
As for Mozilla, the decision to renew the agreement was even more stark: Without Google, Firefox probably wouldn’t make it, Ai Media CIO Ron Trenka told the E-Commerce Times.
“This is a lifeline for Firefox,” he said. “Almost its almost entire revenue stream comes from ad dollars that Google is sending its way. Without that stream, Mozilla would have a hard time surviving.”
The deal does give Google ads access to Firefox’s market share. While that’s not as big a plum as access to Internet Explorer might be, it is still significant, Trenka said.
The Antitrust Specter
The main reason Google likely forged this agreement is to keep the antitrust hounds at bay, Trenka suggested.
“Everything it does, it seems — in phones, online ad acquisitions, browsers, search — is being scrutinized through the lenses of antitrust by the government,” he noted.
“If Google pulled the plug on the deal and Firefox then went under, you can bet the government would come after them,” Trenka said.
Firefox does have other options, but none of them as palatable as the Google agreement, he added. “It could, for example, try to make a deal with Bing, but it is pulling back on advertising deals.”
In general, Bing has not been the cash cow that Microsoft had hoped it would be, Trenka pointed out.
“They spent a lot of money launching it, and Bing has not delivered the return that Microsoft had been hoping for,” he explained. “It is just as much in Google’s interest to see Bing stay in the market as it is to make sure Firefox does.”
The Open Source Crowd
Google’s reputation would take a serious hit if Firefox’s demise were laid at its feet, Laura DiDio, principal of ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times.
“It certainly doesn’t want to be in the same position that Microsoft was in when it was deemed to have quashed Netscape,” she said. “That led to 10 years of antitrust litigation, plus the animosity of a significant user base.”
Google also probably renewed the agreement for the reason it stated — it is good for the customer — but, “let’s face it — at best that is a secondary reason,” DiDio said. “This decision was about politics and because Google is very image-conscious. Firefox is open source, and the last thing Google wants is to be seen as anti-open source.”
Google and Mozilla did not respond to our requests to comment for this story.