Independent web browsers are so trendy in Europe

It turns out the key to breaking Big Tech’s hold on the browser market is letting people know that other options exist.

Driving the news: Independent web browsers have had spikes in new users since the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) came into effect last month. One part of the law forces Google, Apple, and Microsoft to give users a pop-up that lets them choose a preferred browser from a long list, rather than funnelling people to Chrome, Safari, or Edge by default.

  • Aloha, a privacy-focused browser, said users in the EU jumped 250% in one month, with others like Vivaldi and DuckDuckGo also claiming growth.
  • Firefox, Opera, and Brave previously noted big increases in the days immediately after iPhone users got their pop-up.

Why it matters: At least one part of the DMA seems to work at a time when many jurisdictions are stepping up efforts to rein in Big Tech. If a government is looking for a policy to adopt, one with a track record of improving competition seems like a good place to start.

  • Aloha also said its ranking in the U.S. app store has improved, which it credits to publicity for alternative browsers sparked by the EU’s rules.

Zoom out: Some browsers say it’s too early to draw conclusions. Google has only shown the pop-up on new Android devices, leaving older devices to manufacturers like Samsung. Apple’s pop-up only appears to iPhone owners who have made the latest iOS update.

  • Companies also say Apple has still found ways to discourage switching despite the required iPhone pop-up, something the EU is investigating.
  • Plus, browser companies may not want to declare victory too early — even if it’s warranted — so EU regulators don’t take their foot off the gas.

In Canada: Despite calls for new tech regulations, there was “limited support” in a 2022 government consultation on competition policy. Stakeholders, which included businesses in the sector, echoed a sentiment that often follows proposals for regulating technology: more hoops to jump through would hamper innovation, not improve competition.

Bottom line: Those stakeholders also proposed a wait-and-see approach to the DMA's impact, and now there is some compelling evidence to look at.