Mozilla CEO quits, pushes pivot to data privacy champion... but what about Firefox?

Could it have more to do with browser's ever-increasing irrelevance?

Opinion I know people who even today donate to the Mozilla Foundation and swear by the Firefox web browser. Their numbers are declining by the day.

And when I see Mozilla Corp's CEO Mitchell Baker stepping down, I wonder if it's really because she'll be more useful devoting all her time to the foundation than overseeing Firefox's decline into a web browser afterthought.

Yes, I know some of you love, love, love Firefox. In 2004, I was championing the browser when Firefox was a wet behind-the-ears beta. For years, it was my favorite web browser. Not because it was open source but because it was so much better and more secure than Internet Explorer. 

That was a long time ago. 

Today, only a relative handful of Firefox users are left. According to the US federal government's Digital Analytics Program (DAP), which gives us the running count of the last 90 days of US government website visits, only 2.2 percent of visitors use Firefox.

Caged fox

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2024's top web browser is – surprise! surprise! – Chrome with 48.2 percent. It's followed by Apple Safari, thanks to America's love affair with iPhones, with 35.6 percent. Then comes, believe it or not, Edge with 8.5 percent. Firefox is in fourth place and continuing to fall.

This isn't new. In 2022, Firefox dropped to 2.6 percent from 2021's 2.7 percent. In 2015, when I first started using DAP's numbers, Firefox had an 11 percent market share. By 2016, Firefox had declined to 8.2 percent.

Why? Well, it was Chrome. Yes, I know many of you spit at the very name. Get over it.

Even Mozilla finally figured that out. Almost ten years after Chrome appeared, in 2017, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard admitted, "Firefox did not keep up with the market and what people really want. A lot of hardcore Firefox fans are now happy Chrome users.

Another side issue that I've brought up before is that while Mozilla poses as a virtuous open source group, the corporation is another story. Mozilla states, "The things we create prioritize people and their privacy over profits."

So, why was Baker's departure exclusively announced in Fortune Magazine instead of the corporation or foundation website? Why, according to the company's filings, did Baker's compensation jump from $5,591,406 in 2021 [PDF] to $6,903,089 [PDF] in 2022? I might add that during this same period, Mozilla's revenue dropped from $527,585,000 to $510,389,000 [PDF].

It wasn't from you. Your donations amounted to $15.5 million in 2021. 

So, where is all that money coming from? Google.

Mozilla only stays in the black because Google pays Mozilla hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties annually. According to Mozilla's 2022 financial report, Mozilla received $510 million from Google. Mozilla still claims to be "Internet by the people, for the people" and that it seeks to "counterbalance the entrenched tech companies." 

Me? I just look at the numbers. 

Baker told Fortune she decided to step down as CEO because she wants to draw attention to our increasingly malicious online world "and how humans are engaging with each other and technology."

I don't know what that has to do with the Mozilla Foundation. It's not like she was running Xitter.

In Baker's subsequent blog post, she announced that Laura Chambers, a Mozilla board member and entrepreneur with experience at Airbnb, PayPal, and eBay, will step in as interim CEO to run operations until a permanent replacement is found.

And, what will Chambers be doing? Well, not taking over Mozilla in the long run.

Instead, the generic pablum of Chambers' future works will be "refining the company's vision and aligning the corporate and product strategy" and "Doubling down on our core products, like Firefox." In Fortune, Chambers was more forthcoming: She'll "focus on building out new products that address growing privacy concerns while actively looking for a full-time CEO."

And Baker's future? "More consistently representing Mozilla in the public... with a focus on policy, open source, and community" and "representing Mozilla as a unified entity." Somehow, all this will be meant to help Mozilla in "restoring public trust in institutions, governments, and the fabric of the internet." 

That sounds good, but what does that have to do with Firefox? How can Firefox, or any Mozilla project, help with these nebulous feel-good goals?  It's hard to buy that all's well with Mozilla, given Baker's poor results at shepherding Firefox forward and the lack of a real replacement CEO. The truth of the matter is that Mozilla is a business, and it's one that isn't growing.

Can it right itself? Can Firefox come back? Honestly, I don't see it, and this management change gives me no reason to believe otherwise. ®

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