Google has posted warnings and alerts targeting Microsoft Edge on several of its services’ websites, including the Chrome Web Store add-on market, Google Drive, Gmail and the company’s default search page, google.com.
It’s not uncommon for Google to flag rival browsers with messages that recommend a user download Chrome to access the search company’s services. In the past, while it was building its now-dominant position in the browser space, Google targeted Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) with such pop-ups. At times, rival browser makers have also countered Google with similar you-should-really-switch-from-Chrome tactics.
All such efforts rely on detecting the browser user agent, a string embedded in the HTML header that identifies the browser, its specific version and the operating system under which the browser runs. (Some analytics companies, such as the California-based Net Applications, use browser user agents to divine which browsers or operating systems are most used to go online.)
In the latest campaign, Google marked the Chrome Web Store – the official outlet for all Chrome browser add-ons – with a “Google recommends switching to Chrome to use extensions securely” message when the site was accessed by Edge. (The Chromium-based Edge can install and use any of the add-ons, also called “extensions” by Google, hosted by the Web Store.)
It’s unclear what Google means by the message, or how Chrome’s use add-ons are any more secure than Edge.
At other Google services’ sites, including Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail and the google.com search page, users of Edge see a different message. At Google Docs, for example, the pop-up reads, “To use Docs offline, upgrade to Chrome.” Meanwhile, the google.com site displays a message that reads, “Switch to Chrome for Windows.”
(Although Edge on Windows 10 encountered all the above Google-contrived pop-ups, Edge on macOS only received the message on the Chrome Web Store site.)
Google was explicitly targeting Edge with these messages. Two other browsers, Opera and Brave, also built from the same Chromium codebase as Edge – or Chrome, for that matter – did not show any recommendations or other messages when they were steered to the same sites: the Chrome Web Store, Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail and google.com. (Like Edge, both Opera and Brave are able to install and use the add-ons in the Chrome Web Store.)
That Google took aim at Edge makes sense: In January, Edge accounted for 7% of all browser activity for the month, while Opera was pegged at just 1.4%. (Brave did not register on Net Applications’ tally.) Of the Chrome rivals that also rely on Chromium, Edge is easily the biggest threat – and at that, really not all that big – to Google’s control of the browser market.