Apple is finally giving you the choice: Take it and install a private browser right now!

The Digital Markets Act requires Apple and Google to give users a browser choice. I call on everyone reading this: This is time to join the privacy revolution!

Apple's Default Browser Selection Menu
After updating my iPhone to iOS version 17.4.1, I was pleasantly surprised: As I opened my per-installed browser, Apple’s Safari, I was welcomed with a list of alternative browsers to choose from. At first, I wanted to click the notice away – just like I always do with annoying pop-ups. But then I thought: Wait I already know Apple is not the best choice – particularly when it comes to privacy. So I took the cue and made the effort to install a new default browser. And you should, too! Let me explain why.

Why Apple is giving us a choice

First of: Apple is not being nice here. Apple still wants you to use the pre-installed Safari browser because it’s a money printing machine. Through tracking and placing advertisements, Apple can generate a lot of profit by offering you a free-to-use browser pre-installed on over one billion iPhones worldwide. But now the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) is forcing Apple to give users a default browser choice. The EU’s DMA aims to increase competition against big tech gatekeepers who dominate the market and leave no room for competition. It has been reported that one month since the implementation of browser choice screens on Apple and Google devices, there has already been a positive effect: smaller browser companies have seen a big spike in users!

This is a great sign that the privacy revolution is gaining traction again. Just like in 2021 when WhatsApp updated its privacy policy and user numbers of Signal and Tuta Mail (then Tutanota) spiked, now is the time to shine for alternative browsers.

Now, I call on everyone reading this – even if you still can't bring yourself to do it – make the effort and join the privacy revolution. I can promise it will make you feel so much better. :)

Make a change for a better internet

When it comes to one’s mobile device, many of us (myself included) automatically go with the default pre-installed apps. In my case, I use(d to use!) Apple’s Safari, Notes, Maps and some others which all work well for me, even if I know that there are better privacy-focused alternatives available. Especially when it comes to alternatives for private web browsers and private email providers.

Apple default browser choice pop-up when launching Safari in the EU.

Under the EU’s DMA rule, big tech companies like Apple and Google must display a browser choice screen.

As the browser list appeared, I took a look through it and opted for DuckDuckGo – a secure browser I had known of and liked, but had always been too lazy to download myself. For many of us, we know there are better, more private online solutions but resist change – even when it comes to web browsers! Maybe because it means putting in effort, learning something new, or simply because we have a ton of open tabs we don’t want to loose. Regardless of our reasons for not making positive changes to protect our data and privacy, we should put our laziness and excuses aside and do the right thing.

After all the EU is making positive changes through the DMA and we as consumers must now act on this. We can make the change for a better web. With a joint effort, we can stop big tech dominance – or at least limit it!

DMA Details

It has been about a month since Apple and Google were forced to comply with new default browser choice regulation, and we can see that the new antitrust laws are having somewhat of an effect. According to data provided to Reuters by six companies, within the first month browser companies are seeing a spike in users located in the EU.

Under this EU law, Google, Microsoft and Apple must make it easier for users to switch to alternative rivals of big tech and have been forced to offer their mobile users browser alternatives from a “choice screen” – This is the reason why you will have been prompted to choose your default browser if you are based in the EU.

Apple now shows up to 11 alternative browsers, randomly listed, including their own Safari browser if you are located in any of the 27 EU countries. Google on the other hand is only giving users the browser choice on Google devices, but have said that in the coming months other devices that run Android OS would also display the choice screen.

However, both only seemingly give a choice: On Apple, Safari is pre-installed, on Android, Chrome is pre-installed. Even when people are facing the “choice screen”, they can simply click it away, and stick with the default. In my opinion, this is not enough to comply with the Digital Markets Act. While the DMA text explicitly allows pre-installations of software, it also says:

“Gatekeepers should not restrict or prevent the free choice of end users by technically or otherwise preventing switching between or subscription to different software applications and services.”

While Apple is offering free choice on iPhones (at least in the EU), making use of the choice still means an effort and sticking with the default pre-installation does not. To give users real choice, the effort to choose a privacy-focused, better browser and the effort to stick with Safari as default must be exactly the same.

The problem with Safari and Chrome

Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome are the dominant browsers that own the largest market share and it’s easy to see why – as soon as you set up your new iOS or Android device, you automatically have one of the two browsers installed by default. And besides the tracking, annoying ads and major lack of data privacy, these browsers are fast, easily available, and seem to be web browser standard – but this shouldn’t be the case.

Big tech companies that own the market are greedy for our data and care very little about us as users – in 2021 alone Google paid $21 billion to keep its search engine market share of 90%. The scary thing is that Google pays this amount to keep its No. 1 position. This shows just how valuable our data and search enquiries are to the Silicon Valley tech giant. They are willing to pay that sum because they will make profits off us and our data every time we use their search engine. This highlights how these gatekeepers dominate the market and can pay to keep their position of power. This leaves little to no room for any alternative search engines to try to compete.

Mobile users should have easier access to choose their browser. Remember that like your email, your browser contains a lot of sensitive information and it is one way big tech companies collect huge amounts of personal data and sell it to make profits.

Browser choice is a small step in the right direction

According to Reuters, Aloha Browser has said that EU users had increased by 250% in March. Cyprus-based Aloha is a browser with an average of 10 million monthly users. Different to your everyday browser, Aloha is a privacy-focused browser which makes its money through paid subscriptions – an ethical and fair alternative to Google who makes its billions through selling ads and tracking you!

Other smaller alternatives like Brave, Ecosia and Vivaldi have also reported rises in EU users since the new regulation.

Brave sees spike in browser users following this choice menu.

Brave saw an impressive spike in their browser installs on iPhones on the day Apple rolled out the browser choice screen. Source: Brave Software on X.

While the implementation of this regulation for Apple and Google has seen a positive response in alternative browser user numbers, these two gatekeepers have still fallen under criticism from browser companies who have shared distaste at how they rolled out the new features, described as “slow and clunky” they believe this is affecting the amount of mobile users who will actively change to alternative browsers.

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, CEO of Norway's Vivaldi browser mentioned how on iPhones users are only prompted to the choice screen when they open Safari and the list only shows a randomized list of browsers with no additional information about them.

"The process is just so convoluted that it's easiest for (users) to select Safari or potentially some other known name," Tetzchner said.

Due to Apple’s complicated design, the European Commission has started an investigation of non-compliance which aims to determine if Apple really is preventing its users from choosing different services. It would be no surprise if they are found at fault of this as it wouldn’t be their first act of malicious compliance. Apple has already found major loopholes in DMA requirements for app side loading on iOS devices by introducing fees for independent software developers.

Apple under investigation for over complicated design which stifles competition.

Apple is under investigation by the European Commission for potential non-compliance with the DMA after reports of complicated design which could hinder user’s rights to choose their browser.

Let’s fight together!

Apple’s new pop-up screen for selecting a default browser on iPhones is a small step in the right direction. Although not perfect, it is hopefully one of many to come! As the DMA fights to protect smaller companies (like us at Tuta) we hope that EU citizens also make an effort to make changes to their online habits to help support smaller companies and in the process protect their privacy.

At the end of the day, internet users have the power to bring about change and to stop the exploitation from big tech gatekeepers – the DMA is forcing Big Tech to offer change and it’s time that we change, too, and actively choose the services that we want to use the internet with.

So, please ask yourself whether it’s really too much of an effort to switch your default browser on your iPhone or Android smartphone? To be honest, after I decided to make the switch, it took me less than one minute – and now I can browse the web on my phone knowing that my data is much better protected.

And if you have another minute to spare to support the privacy revolution, make sure to sign up for a free Tuta Mail account.

Let’s fight for privacy together!