Blair:

Why Chrome Exists

Google Chrome was conceived and developed for a fairly straightforward purpose: advertising. Google called this “driving innovation on the web,” and to be fair, Chrome introduced a lot of neat new features (Porn “Incognito Mode,” multithreaded memory changes, tabs and more). But what Google was really doing was laying the groundwork for the ability to deliver all sorts of new online ad formats (like video) and complicated Javascript behind them that would help track and target users more effectively. The first created new, higher-margin ad products that Google (and others) could sell; the second would give advertisers and marketers new tools to convince their companies of ROI on those ads, enabling more digital ad spending over newspapers or whatever.

In other words, it was a win-win for Google.

If, like me, you work in and with web development, you know how much more complicated webdev and the Javascript ecosystem has gotten even since then. There are approximately a billion different Javascript frameworks. Facebook is sending down 7MB in uncompressed Javascript just to run; GMail, almost 4MB. Websites have become far more interactive, but at great cost to performance for anyone without a late-model phone. On the web’s war for user attention-seconds, there’s a whole arms race going on to introduce novel new Javascript tricks based on Chrome’s V8 engine – all of which drives ad impressions.

Product/User Dislocation

In The Internet As Television, I lamented the drift of the modern web towards favoring passive consumption of “content” over all else. But we should also bemoan the gradual sacrifice of user privacy and security as well. Despite highly visible examples of how easily personal data is tracked, recorded and weaponized by the advertising-ravenous web, the harms are hard to understand and extremely opaque to most people.

Yet product needs proliferate. Ad blocking, for example, has exploded in popularity in recent years. I changed my mind on this earlier this year, and let me tell you, I am never going back. Ad blocking is both highly effective and simply a material improvement of one’s whole online experience, which its broad adoption easily demonstrates. Another example is passwords. Passwords are a technology straight out of the 1980s, an absolute lowest-common-denominator system of authentication. Password managers like LastPass and 1Password are strong, secure and reliable alternatives that live right in your browser and make a huge difference for personal security. (Seriously, if you do not use a password manager, stop reading this and go do it. I am personally a very happy LastPass customer.) It is mind-boggling that basic tools like these are not yet standard features in browsers.

That is, until you remember that classic internet maxim: you, dear user, are not the customer. You’re the product.

Product choices like these can be traced directly back to who provides the biggest web browsers, and why they’re doing it. Google is fundamentally in the business of advertising, which is why they have absolutely no interest in limiting ad impressions, or preventing the sharing of your personal data. I suspect that this is primarily why they don’t bother with password manager features, either, though it’s an open question.*