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The Dartmouth
February 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Jackson: Internet Privacy and You

In every metric that counts, Firefox is a far better browser than Google Chrome.

Google collects users’ data and sells it, and that’s an undeniable fact. The reality that the world’s most popular search engine is spying on us is such common knowledge that it barely registers for most people anymore. Google is so ingrained into everyday life that most consider the search engine’s data collection to be a necessary sacrifice for the sake of browsing the internet. However, this accepting and defeatist attitude ignores the fact that there is a far superior alternative: Firefox. For any internet user, but especially those in college, Firefox is the only browser with no caveats.

The most obvious thing that separates Firefox from Google Chrome is its security measures. While Google is known for its constant tracking of users’ daily activities, such as where they go both on the internet and off of it, Firefox actively prevents cross-site tracking by default. And while recent Google Chrome updates are set to undermine privacy even further by neutering programs that block trackers like cookies, Firefox has been working on proprietary software that increases security for both mobile phones and computers.

For the average person, however, security is rarely the main concern. The reason why people use Chrome, despite common knowledge of its data stealing, is because it’s generally a reliable browser: It performs fine, is typically stable and is integrated with the entire Google ecosystem. However, even for average users, Firefox still has a clear edge over Chrome. It loads websites faster and uses less memory, which means fewer seconds wasted waiting, less lag when opening multiple tags and fewer crashes overall. For college students concerned about turning in assignments on time and who need many tabs to complete complicated tasks, Firefox is a godsend.

However, the most important factor that separates Firefox from Chrome is neither its security nor even its superior performance. By far, Firefox has greater continued and open support for extensions. Extensions are essentially apps you can download for your browser to customize your experience on the internet. They range from icons for your desktop to improved spell-check functionality to ad blockers. Firefox has heartily embraced extensions and has an easily accessible platform to discover options and download them. Chrome also hosts extensions, but there’s a major difference. They’re tucked away in the Google store, many of them cost money and most of them will be purged later this year by a switch to new infrastructure.

The freedom that Firefox provides its users when it comes to extensions is life-changing. You can make your desktop look like your favorite show, never see an ad again if you don’t want to and receive warning notifications if a website is trying to do something it shouldn’t. But that level of freedom and adaptability isn’t something that Chrome could and would provide. This is because Google — or any browser other than Firefox — has no incentive to provide it to you. Mozilla is a non-profit while Google is not, and allowing you to protect your privacy would hurt Google’s bottom line.

Google Chrome doesn’t just leave you unprotected from the tracking of other websites, it also tracks your usage, and it has a financial incentive to do so. Google has made major investments in advertising and, thanks to its ubiquity, has companies clamoring for a piece of the pie. Giving you control over your own internet experience prevents them from being able to turn every webpage into a billboard and every search into a sales pitch. And it's not just Chrome itself that's compromised, considering that Chromium — the open-source software Google uses for Chrome that other companies base their products on — is chock-full of performance issues and security vulnerabilities.

As of now, Firefox is the only major browser on the market that is not Chromium-based, and that challenges Google’s monopolistic control over both the browser market and your data. Despite all of its obvious pros and its millions of users, Firefox remains a significant underdog in the browser market, mostly due to a lack of name recognition. Google is an established brand that people have accepted as a part of their lives, and the fear of losing anything from your bookmarks to your passwords prevents some from switching. But, unlike Google, which often struggles to import data from other browsers, Firefox makes the switch seamless.

As any student at Dartmouth College can attest, needing to use the internet is practically as natural and as crucial to doing work as needing to breathe to stay alive. Students spend hours a day using their laptops for research, homework, and, on occasion, fun. As Google Chrome has made itself inescapable, we’ve allowed this monopolistic megacorporation to paint a narrative that a lack of security, performance and customization are the price you have to pay to be on the internet. They’ve lied to us. Considering how often we boot up our browsers, we should demand a product with no sacrifices made. Firefox is proof it can be done without an asterisk attached.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.