Shouting into the Void: Why I Have Little Faith Left in Mozilla

I'd like to say that I'm not the type of person who likes to complain about things on the internet, but that's so patently false. As a 20-something adult who spent the better half of his life growing up with the internet, I've gotten into so many flame wars and arguments over the most trivial bullshit. Over time, I've learned that sometimes it's better to not get mad on the internet. This was arguably for the better as there's this new calm that's overtaken my life ever since I decided to delete social media. However, there's still this latent urge within me to rant about stuff that gets under my skin. Since I've been struggling to make any meaningful progress on some of the short stories I've been working on, let's take a deep dive into something that I've been meaning to rant about for a while now: Mozilla, and their ever-maddening foray into mediocrity.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of why Mozilla pisses me off so much, I'd like to state that I wasn't always this bitter and jaded about the company. Hell, I still primarily use hardened Firefox as my go-to browser of choice. I'd also like to mention that I've been using Firefox as my daily driver for browsing the web ever since the 3.x days, so a good 10+ years of my life at this point in time. I honestly wouldn't have such vitriol built up toward Mozilla as a whole if I didn't care so deeply about their products or even the company for that matter.

My reasons for staying with Firefox over the years have varied. When Google Chrome was first released, I liked the browser but I hated how little there was in the way of extensions (oh how the times have changed). When Chrome started to overtake Firefox in terms of market share, I was deep into my Linux phase. Firefox was (and still is) much easier to come by than Chrome, since I didn't need to manually download a binary. When Quantum was first released, the loss of XUL-based extensions fucking sucked but the browser became noticeably faster and lost that shoddy Australis interface that I loathed so deeply.

These days, I stick with Firefox for two reasons: the ethical reason for there being a competitor to an overwhelming sea of Chromium derivatives and finally, the fact that a hardened Firefox installation with the correct set of extensions is arguably one of the best tools to maintain some semblance of privacy on the internet. These are arguably noble reasons to continue using Firefox as a browser, but the parent that created this browser in the first place is ultimately what I take umbrage with.

It's no secret that Mozilla has been on the decline ever since Chrome entered the market. However, things back then never felt as dire as they do now. Back in August of 2020, Mozilla laid off 250 employees citing COVID as the primary reason why this happened. I'm no stranger to mass-layoffs, but Mozilla decided to lay off most of (if not all) of their Op-Sec team and the entier Servo team (if I'm not mistaken). This was shortly followed up by a blog justifying why they did what they did (linked below)

Layoffs are an unfortunate part of business, so you know what? I can't get too torn up about that. More to the point, Mozilla is infamous for its countless failed projects (i.e. Firefox OS, Firefox Reality, etc) so cutting back on superfluous development staff could be justified as the right move to make. However, laying off the entire Servo team along with the bulk of their Op-Sec team just fucking screams “bad optics,” especially in a landscape where Mozilla can't afford to lay off critical staff for the sake of making money. Granted, I understand the importance of Mozilla breaking free from the Google deal that has been a constant thorn in its side. I'll even go out on a limb and say that I haven't noticed any slowdown in the pace of updates since these layoffs happened.

Still, I wouldn't take such umbrage with the cybersecurity layoffs if Firefox as a browser was you know... actually better than Chromium in terms of overall cybersecurity features. I've seen people say that InfoSec is a useless department to invest in considering how most of the industry is based around fearmongering. At the same time though, I'm a privacy and security-conscious internet denizen who's deeply concerned about how Mozilla intends to push forward following these layoffs. The fact that there wasn't even so much as a blog post justifying the layoffs of their InfoSec/OpSec/(insert proper nomenclature here) team is even more maddening when you realise what Mozilla has been investing their resources into as of late.

Recently, Mozilla decided to launch their own VPN which is basically a front-end for Mullvad. Granted, Mozilla's not the first company to do this (that dubious distinction goes straight to the Brave Foundation), but I sincerely question why Mozilla thought this was a good idea. The Mozilla VPN is nowhere near as robust or feature-filled as Mullvad and you lose out on the key benefits that Mullvad provides you directly (i.e. anonymous signups with cash/crypto payment options, multi-hop, robust apps across a myriad of platforms, etc). Granted, Mozilla VPN is an attempt at branching out into alternative revenue streams so I can at least respect it on that level.

However, the whole Mozilla ecosystem of products (i.e. VPN, Lockwise, Relay, Monitor) are overwhelmingly mediocre in their implementations compared to other FOSS projects. Why should I use Mozilla's VPN when I can just as easily pay for something like Mullvad, IVPN, or ProtonVPN? Why should I use Lockwise when Bitwarden is infinitely more robust and is capable of being self-hosted if I'm so inclined? Similarly, Relay's functionality is already duplicated by Bloody Vikings (which Mozilla explicitly recommends in their list of extensions to turn your browser into a privacy powerhouse; linked below). Monitor is a nice service and the convenience of having it in your browser is always welcome, but again: websites like “HaveIBeenPwned” and even most password managers like Bitwarden already offer this feature.

Instead of innovating, Mozilla's focus right now seems to be building and eventually monetising redundant efforts that are done better by countless other products and services. Instead of doubling down on Firefox and Thunderbird and really building them up to be as robust and competitive as they could possibly be, Mozilla wants to shout into the void about how deplatforming isn't enough and how there's a decentralised web of hate (linked below).

While the social advocacy is definitely well-intentioned, I think I can speak for some people when I say that I ultimately care more about a company that's renowned for making a once-fantastic browser actually stick to its guns and focus... on the fucking browser! Seriously, why aren't the presets from the Tor Uplift project standard across all installs of Firefox at this point? Why isn't DuckDuckGo the default search engine like it is on Brave? Why not implement strict ETP settings by default? Hell, pull another move out of the Brendan Eich playbook and make it so that ETP also blocks advertisements by default like Brave Shields do! If Mozilla's newest rebranding campaign is focused on privacy, they damn sure aren't doing a good job of showing us this commitment.

Ultimately, I know I'm just shouting into a void here but I seriously can't be the only one who feels like Mozilla's direction in recent memory has been nothing short of aimless and fucking infuriating.