Something that’s been bugging me a lot recently is the trend in technology to adopt a “surveillance capitalism” model of doing business. In Shoshana Zuboff’s recent tome on the topic, she dives into the nature of this new reality that we find ourselves in, and the pitfalls that we’re facing because of it. Quickly put, surveillance capitalism is about how our personal data, behaviors, and desires, become commoditized and sold on a marketplace for the purpose of targeting us with specific advertisements. Or far worse, for the purpose of altering our behavior to match a certain worldview or philosophy.
I’m not going to get too deep into all of this in this post, but suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking a lot more about who has data about me, and how am I letting them use it. Months ago I started turning off various tracking tools that I knew were helpful to me, but resulted in my behavioral profile being made available to an unknown marketplace for unknown purposes. I love some of the convenience of technology, but because we’ve gotten so used to getting everything for free, we often forget that nothing is actually free. Instead of paying for services as we consume them, we allow our behavior to be sold as a form of currency, in exchange for the tools we like to use.
That all got me thinking about some of the tools I use in everyday life. In particular my web browser. I’ve been a Google Chrome user for many, many years. It is by far one of the most feature rich browsers out there, and it has become the de-facto standard for delivering internet content. It’s also owned by Google, which is the largest consumer of behavioral data on the planet. That means that many parts of it are inexorably linked with Google’s tracking enterprises, both to make our technology more helpful to us, but to also pay for it all through the marketing of our data.
To combat this, a few days ago I decided to download Firefox again, and give it another go. I’ve installed it on all my devices, and after a few addons that I’ve come to rely on, I’m all set up again to browse the internet the same way I was doing with Chrome.
One of the first things I noticed was how much slimmer and quicker Firefox was. Especially on a Mac, Chrome is a bloated memory hog. Firefox seems to be a much trimmer and efficient tool, and I’ve noticed a lot fewer processes running in the background. Granted nothing is ever going to be a fast or quick as Safari is on a Mac, but the added benefit of better addon and web application support is a palatable trade off.
Additionally, I’ve found a few useful features with Firefox that are missing from Chrome. One in particular that I like is a little blue notification dot that appears in pinned tabs, when there is a new event in the tab that I need to check. This means that I can visually see a cue when I get new emails or other notifications, in a simple manner. This might seem like a small thing, but it’s something that I’ve missed for a long time since it was removed from Chrome.
I’ve only come across one issue with an app called Telegram that would not load correctly in it’s web interface. However, there was an addon in the Firefox marketplace that fixed the issue. Not sure if Firefox is just being too restrictive in it’s security, or if there’s an actual incompatibility.
So far my experience with Firefox has been overwhelmly positive. I’m going to give it a solid two weeks of exclusive use to see if I find any other issues or perks. However, based on the last couple of days, I think it’s really matured into a great browser, and a nice alternative for those of us who’d like to be a little less invested in the marketplace of human behavior.