MarketwatchFirefox was bleeding users long before boycott
Once dominant browser struggled even before OkCupid controversy
By Quentin Fottrell
April 1, 2014, 2:18 p.m. EDT
OkCupid wants its users to break up with Firefox.
The dating site urged its members on Monday to boycott the web browser because the chief executive of Mozilla, the company that created Firefox, once donated to a campaign to ban gay marriage. But experts say OkCupid’s boycott wasn’t necessary—people have been steadily abandoning the Firefox browser all on their own, in most cases switching to Google’s Chrome.
OkCupid posted this message for lovelorn singletons logging in with Firefox: “Hello there, Mozilla Firefox user. Pardon this interruption of your OkCupid experience. Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.” Firefox has around 26% of the web browser market, according to W3Schools.com, a web development site; Google Chrome has 56%, Internet Explorer has 10% and Safari has 4%. After a long, slow decline, Firefox lost its No. 1 position in March 2012 taking 36% of the market versus 37% for Chrome.
Eich, who was appointed CEO of Mozilla last month, donated $1,000 in 2008 to support California’s Proposition 8, a ballot designed to ban gay marriage in California (Prop 8 was overturned by a Supreme Court ruling in 2013). After Eich was appointed, three board members resigned and both Eich and Mozilla released statement supporting diversity. “No matter who you are or who you love, everyone deserves the same rights and to be treated equally,” the company said . In his own statement, Eich wrote , “You will see exemplary behavior from me toward everyone in our community, no matter who they are.”
Given Firefox’s declining market share, the spat has been a public relations win for OkCupid, a site known for its brazen questionnaires about sex and politics. “Piggy backing off the browser issue is sure an easy way for OKCupid to get some positive social media buzz going,” says Barbara Lippert, media critic and columnist for Mediapost.com. With the popularity of location-based gay dating apps like Grindr, for gay men, and Tinder, a similar app aimed mainly at straight couples, OkCupid has scored a lot of free publicity, she says.
But OkCupid insists that it isn’t about scoring points for publicity. “We’ve devoted the last 10 years to bringing people—all people—together,” according to a statement. “If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal. Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid.” The company said matchmaking is obviously in its professional interests, but didn’t mince its words: “Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.”
Firefox, meanwhile, is focusing on low-price phones in emerging markets where Apple and Google haven’t yet got a strong foothold, says Nick Dillon, senior analyst at Ovum, a technology research firm based in London. He says the company has made some progress in the last 12 months. “It’s gone from having prototype software and no commercial hardware or solid commitments from mobile operators to having three devices available across 14 countries and seven mobile operators,” he says. “But they’re not out of the woods yet, they've still got a long way to go.” The shift to mobile—not OkCupid—poses the most serious threat to Mozilla, Dillon says.
The once-popular web browser is something of a wallflower, Dillon says. Although Firefox is still a major player in the desktop market with around 25% market share, its future is less than certain as the global sales of personal computers continue to fall, he says. “There is limited support for third-party browsers on the more tightly controlled mobile platforms, with Android currently the only major smartphone platform that supports third-party browser run times,” he says, while Apple’s iOS obviously runs on its devices. The inevitable shift to mobile—not OkCupid—poses the most serious threat to Firefox, he adds.