How Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome Make Money

Mozilla launched Firefox in November 2004 as an alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser.

It briefly surpassed Internet Explorer as the most popular browser in 2009 due to its add-on features and greater security protection.

Since Google Chrome’s release in December 2008, its market share has steadily increased to over 73% while Firefox’s market share has dropped to roughly 5%, as of July 2022.

Why did Google wait so long to create a browser? Executive Chair Eric Schmidt didn’t want to: he was afraid of the company growing too fast and didn’t want to start a new browser war, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. However, Schmidt was eventually convinced and Chrome was born. It has since become a very profitable part of the company.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla releases its annual financial statements each November for the previous year. The company’s latest revenue numbers are from 2020 when the browser brought in nearly $497 million, 88.8% of which came from royalties.

These royalties refer to the percentage of advertising revenue Mozilla receives whenever someone uses the built-in search engine that the Firefox browser provides.

In addition to search royalties, Mozilla earns money from donations and from sponsored new tab tiles, which can be disabled.

Key Takeaways

  • Mozilla's Firefox and Google Chrome are both extremely popular browsers. 
  • Chrome is ahead in market shares and usage over Firefox.
  • The add-on features offered by Google in Chrome are an attraction for users. 
  • Chrome tracks user data for its benefit and that information is used to improve its AdSense program.

Firefox and Yahoo

Until 2014, Mozilla and Google had an agreement that made Google the default search engine in Firefox. In November 2014, however, Mozilla announced that the partnership was over and that Yahoo! would be Firefox’s new default search engine for the next five years.

Initial analysis showed that many users manually switched their default search engine back to Google. In 2017, Mozilla ended its Yahoo! deal early and switched back to Google.

Google Chrome

Examining Google Chrome’s revenue is much harder since Google doesn’t list the revenue and expenses for all of its services. Chrome falls under Google Services, which makes most of its money through advertising.

It's safe to assume that the browser is profitable, since the company plans to continue to invest in Chrome. But how does it make money? The simple answer is the same as Mozilla Firefox. For fiscal year 2021, Google Services brought in $237.53 billion in total, an increase of $68.9 billion over the previous year.

Chrome makes money by saving Google royalty expenses.

Additional Benefits of Google Chrome

Google has indirect ways of making money. For starters, when people use Google Chrome, they are more likely to use a related service—Gmail, Google Apps, Google Docs, etc.—which, in turn, leads to even more usage as the company’s products are highly integrated with each other. Each time a product is used, page views go up and ad revenue increases.

Secondly, Google’s AdSense program is really interested in your data. Chrome tracks user data and uses it to improve its AdSense program. Due to public outcry of Google's data tracking practices, Google said it would develop a cookie tracker blocker in 2020 but then another outcry from advertising industry delayed the rollout a couple of years. On Jan. 25, 2022, the company announced it was replacing the cookie trackers with Topics and by July 1, 2022, AdSense will begin testing the feature. Topics is a bit more complicated than the simple cookie tracker. Google has provided a great resource to learn more about Topics and how it will protect users and allow advertisers to reach customers.

The Bottom Line

Owning a browser is big money, especially if the browser is as popular as Firefox. Through the years, whenever Mozilla’s contracts to have Google as their default search engine were ending, there were other search engines ready to pay them money for the default slot.

Article Sources
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  1. Mozilla Press Center. "Mozilla Foundation Releases the Highly Anticipated Mozilla Firefox 1.0 Web Browser."

  2. Ars Technica. "October 2009 Browser Stats: Firefox Finally Passes IE6."

  3. Google Official Blog. "Google Chrome (BETA)."

  4. Net Market Share. "Browser Market Share," Select "Device Type: Desktop/Laptop."

  5. Wall Street Journal via Wayback Machine. "Sun Valley: Schmidt Didn’t Want to Build Chrome Initially, He Says."

  6. Mozilla. "Mozilla Foundation and Subsidiaries, December 31, 2020 and 2019: Independent Auditors’ Report, Consolidated Financial Statements," Page 4.

  7. Mozilla. "Mozilla Foundation and Subsidiaries, December 31, 2020 and 2019: Independent Auditors’ Report, Consolidated Financial Statements," Page 13.

  8. Mozilla. "Mozilla Foundation and Subsidiaries, December 31, 2020 AND 2019: Independent Auditors’ Report, Consolidated Financial Statements," Pages 13-14.

  9. Mozilla. "New Search Strategy for Firefox: Promoting Choice & Innovation."

  10. Mozilla. "Firefox Features Google as Default Search Provider in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan."

  11. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Alphabet, Inc., Form 10-K for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2021," Pages 5, 33.

  12. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Alphabet, Inc., Form 10-K for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2021," Pages 31-32.

  13. Google AdSense Help. "What Kinds of AdSense Ads Does Analytics Track?"

  14. Google AdSense Help. "Chrome's Topics API Public Origin Trial to Start Soon on AdSense."

  15. The New York Times. "Google Introduces a New System for Tracking Chrome Browser Users."

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