Mozilla will automatically switch Firefox search to Yahoo for most U.S. users

Declines to say whether it will ask for user permission

Mozilla will automatically change the default search engine in Firefox from Google to Yahoo for most U.S. users when it updates the browser this month.

Firefox 34 is to launch later today or perhaps tomorrow, and may include the search engine switch.

All U.S. Firefox users who have previously left Google as the default search engine will see Yahoo as the new search engine, Mozilla said last week.

"[The] announcement regarding Yahoo only affects users of our en-US build who were using Firefox's pre-selected default search provider," said Chad Weiner, director of product management, in an email reply to questions. "Firefox users who have explicitly chosen a different search provider as their default will continue with that setting."

In other words, users who had previously switched from the prior default of Google to say, Bing, will not be affected by the change to Yahoo. But anyone who left the Goggle default untouched will find Yahoo has replaced it.

Typically, most users do not change the default settings of their software.

Weiner declined to directly answer other questions, including whether the change would be done without user notification or approval. Instead, he said that Mozilla was still figuring out the process.

"We're experimenting with different ways to communicate the benefits of these changes and onboarding users to our new search experience," Weiner said, using the term "onboarding" to describe how a company convinces customers to adopt a new product or service, or one that has been significantly updated. "Different users may see slightly different landing pages when they upgrade. As we learn more about how to better explain the changes and make sure our users are set up for success, we'll focus on the most effective approaches," Weiner added.

Weiner did seem to guarantee that Firefox users would at least be notified that the browser is switching from Google to Yahoo, although he didn't go so far as to imply that their approval would be solicited. "We always operate under a principle of 'no surprises' for significant changes like this, so we will guide users through the benefits of our new search experience when they update to the latest Firefox," he said.

But no matter what "onboarding" process Mozilla adopts, Firefox users will be able to restore Google as the default search engine after the update. That default can be set through the browser's Preferences, specifically via the Search tab. Clicking the magnifying glass icon in the Firefox search bar will call up the Preferences/Search display.

Last month, Mozilla announced it had abandoned Google as Firefox's global default search engine and would instead strike deals market by market. In the U.S., Yahoo would be the default, while in Russia it would be Yandex.

Some analysts said the change to Yahoo was entirely driven by money -- the bulk of Mozilla's revenue comes from the search deals it negotiates -- while others said that ideology also played a part. Although Mozilla has taken hundreds of millions from Google in the last three years, $275 million in 2013 alone, it has roundly criticized both Google and Apple for controlling users' access to content and how they are allowed to manage their personal data. "This direction for the Internet sucks," said Mozilla Foundation chairwoman Mitchell Baker in a Nov. 10 blog.

Depending on how Mozilla handles the change from Google to Yahoo, it may face opposition: A relatively small number of very vocal users can easily drum up a loud campaign that damages a company's brand or customer relations. In March, for example, Mozilla was denounced for choosing Brendan Eich as its CEO after reports said he had donated to a California anti-gay marriage ballot proposition in 2008. Within days, Eich resigned.

Mozilla can ill afford to lose large numbers of Firefox users over the search changes, or any other issue for that matter: In the last 12 months, Firefox has lost 26% of its user share as tracked by Net Applications.

Although the beta of Firefox 34 included new search tools, among them on-the-fly search engine switching, the preview has not implemented the Yahoo default in the U.S. On Sunday, for instance, Computerworld installed the beta of Firefox 34 over an existing copy of Firefox 33, and Google remained as the default engine for the former.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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