Investors are browsing for Chromium startups

A few months ago, we declared that “browsers are interesting again,” thanks to increased competition among the major players. Now, as more startups are getting onboard, things are getting downright exciting.

A small but growing number of projects are building web browsers with a more specific type of user in mind. Whether that perceived user is prioritizing improved speed, organization or toolsets aligned with their workflow, entrepreneurs are building these projects with the assumption that Google’s one-size-fits-all approach with Chrome leaves plenty of users with a suboptimal experience.

Building a modern web browser from scratch isn’t the most feasible challenge for a small startup. Luckily open-source projects have enabled developers to build their evolved web browsers on the bones of the apps they aim to compete with. For browsers that are not Safari, Firefox, Chrome or a handful of others, Google’s Chromium open-source project has proven to be an invaluable asset.

Since Google first released Chrome in late 2008, the company has also been updating Chromium. The source code powers the Microsoft Edge and Opera web browsers, but also allows smaller developer teams to harness the power of Chrome when building their own apps.

These upstart browsers have generally sought to compete with the dominant powers on the privacy front, but as Chrome and Safari have begun shipping more features to help users manage how they are tracked online, entrepreneurs are widening their product ambitions to tackle usability upgrades.

Aiding these heightened ambitions is increased attention on custom browsers from investors. Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich’s Brave has continued to scale, announcing last month they had 5 million daily active users of their privacy-centric browser.

Today, Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller spoke with TechCrunch about his project The Browser Company which has raised $5 million from some notable Silicon Valley operators. Other hot upstart efforts include Mighty, a subscription-based, remote-streamed Chrome startup from Mixpanel founder Suhail Doshi, and Blue Link Labs, a recent entrant that’s building a decentralized peer-to-peer browser called Beaker browser.

Mighty

As front-end developers have gotten more ambitious and web applications have gotten more complex, Chrome has earned the reputation of being quite the RAM hog.

Chrome competitor, The Browser Company, quietly raises $5M

A handful of Silicon Valley’s notable figures are backing a software startup looking to challenge Google Chrome’s dominance.

The startup, called The Browser Company, is led by Joshua Miller, who previously served as the Obama White House’s Director of Product and is currently an investor at Thrive Capital, an investment firm founded by Josh Kushner.

The New York startup has raised just north of $5 million in funding, a source familiar tells TechCrunch. The company’s backers include LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, Medium’s Ev Williams, Figma’s Dylan Field, Notion’s Akshay Kothari and GitHub’s Jason Warner.

The startup has been pretty vague in public about what exactly they’re working on. They’re building a new browser that seems to reject bare bones simplicity and embrace some of the more flexible interfaces of modern web apps. The browser’s backend is built, in part, on the bones of Chrome, utilizing open source Chromium which allows the upstart product to boast seamless support with broader web standards at launch.

“We love the internet, but it can be overwhelming,” the startup’s site reads. “What if a browser could help us make sense of it all?”

In a phone call, Miller wasn’t much more illuminating on what exactly the eventual release might look like.

“I’m going to be a little cagey just because we do have competitors that have more engineers and more money than we do,” Miller said in response to a question regarding product capabilities.

The Browser Company’s team of six isn’t the only young startup aiming to challenge Chrome’s one-size-fits-all approach to the browser market. For Extra Crunch, I dug into a number of the young browser startups that investors are backing. (Subscription required.)

Google’s Chrome flat-out dominates the browser market. In 2016, Google detailed that they had about 2 billion active installs of the application. Since then, as users of competitors like Firefox and Internet Explorer have dropped off significantly, the product has only cemented its lead.

Google’s efforts to build a version of Chrome suited for billions of people across the globe has led to a safe product that Miller says isn’t very “opinionated” about how people should use it. The Browser Company isn’t aiming to replace Chrome, he says, but is looking to find a subset of Chrome users whose needs it can better meet.

“I think one of the reasons that web browsers have remained somewhat stagnant in terms of their functionality is that the business model is built on top of is one of search ad revenue,” Miller says. “I think of Chrome and Safari as Toyotas or Hondas. They’re reliable, they’re affordable, they’re accessible and they’re simple. We’re trying to build the Tesla of web browsers.”

Miller says The Browser Company is hoping to start bringing on users to beta test the software later this year.

Google rolls back SameSite cookie changes to keep essential online services from breaking

Google today announced that it will temporarily roll back the changes it recently made to how its Chrome browser handles cookies in order to ensure that sites that perform essential services like banking, online grocery, government services and healthcare won’t become inaccessible to Chrome users during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The new SameSite rules, which the company started rolling out to a growing number of Chrome users in recent months, are meant to make it harder for sites to access cookies from third-party sites and hence track a user’s online activity. These new rules are also meant to prevent cross-site request forgery attacks.

Under Google’s new guidance, developers have to explicitly allow their cookies to be read by third-party sites, otherwise, the browser will prevent these third-party sites from accessing them.

Since this is a pretty major change, Google gave developers quite a bit of time to adapt their applications to it. Still, not every site is ready yet and so the Chrome team decided to halt the gradual rollout and stop enforcing these new rules for the time being.

“While most of the web ecosystem was prepared for this change, we want to ensure stability for websites providing essential services including banking, online groceries, government services and healthcare that facilitate our daily life during this time,” writes Google Chrome engineering director Justin Schuh. “As we roll back enforcement, organizations, users and sites should see no disruption.”

A Google spokesperson also told us that the team saw some breakage in sites “that would not normally be considered essential, but with COVID-19 having become more important, we made this decision in an effort to ensure stability during this time.”

The company says it plans to resume its SameSite enforcement over the summer, though the exact timing isn’t yet clear.

Web feature developers told to dial up attention on privacy and security

Web feature developers are being warned to step up attention to privacy and security as they design contributions.

Writing in a blog post about “evolving threats” to Internet users’ privacy and security, the W3C standards body’s technical architecture group (TAG) and Privacy Interest Group (PING) set out a series of revisions to the W3C’s Security and Privacy Questionnaire for web feature developers.

The questionnaire itself is not new. But the latest updates place greater emphasis on the need for contributors to assess and mitigate privacy impacts, with developers warned that “features may not be implemented if risks are found impossible or unsatisfactorily mitigated”.

In the blog post, independent researcher Lukasz Olejnik, currently serving as an invited expert at the W3C TAG; and Apple’s Jason Novak, representing the PING, write that the intent with the update is to make it “clear that feature developers should consider security and privacy early in the feature’s lifecycle” [emphasis theirs].

“The TAG will be carefully considering the security and privacy of a feature in their design reviews,” they further warn, adding: “A security and privacy considerations section of a specification is more than answers to the questionnaire.”

The revisions to the questionnaire include updates to the threat model and specific threats a specification author should consider — including a new high level type of threat dubbed “legitimate misuse“, where the document stipulates that: “When designing a specification with security and privacy in mind, all both use and misuse cases should be in scope.”

“Including this threat into the Security and Privacy Questionnaire is meant to highlight that just because a feature is possible does not mean that the feature should necessarily be developed, particularly if the benefitting audience is outnumbered by the adversely impacted audience, especially in the long term,” they write. “As a result, one mitigation for the privacy impact of a feature is for a user agent to drop the feature (or not implement it).”

Features should be secure and private by default and issues mitigated in their design,” they further emphasize. “User agents should not be afraid of undermining their users’ privacy by implementing new web standards or need to resort to breaking specifications in implementation to preserve user privacy.”

The pair also urge specification authors to avoid blanket treatment of first and third parties, suggesting: “Specification authors may want to consider first and third parties separately in their feature to protect user security and privacy.”

The revisions to the questionnaire come at a time when browser makers are dialling up their response to privacy threats — encouraged by rising public awareness of the risks posed by data leaks, as well as increased regulatory action on data protection.

Last month the open source WebKit browser engine (which underpins Apple’s Safari browser) announced a new tracking prevention policy that takes the strictest line yet on background and cross-site tracking, saying it would treat attempts to circumvent the policy as akin to hacking — essentially putting privacy protection on a par with security.

Earlier this month Mozilla also pushed out an update to its Firefox browser that enables an anti-tracking cookie feature across the board, for existing users too — demoting third party cookies to default junk.

Even Google’s Chrome browser has made some tentative steps towards enhancing privacy — announcing changes to how it handles cookies earlier this year. Though the adtech giant has studiously avoided flipping on privacy by default in Chrome where third party tracking cookies are concerned, leading to accusations that the move is mostly privacy-washing.

More recently Google announced a long term plan to involve its Chromium browser engine in developing a new open standard for privacy — sparking concerns it’s trying to both kick the can on privacy protection and muddy the waters by shaping and pushing self-interested definitions which align with its core data-mining business interests.

There’s more activity to consider too. Earlier this year another data-mining adtech giant, Facebook, made its first major API contribution to Google’s Chrome browser — which it also brought to the W3C Performance Working Group.

Facebook does not have its own browser, of course. Which means that authoring contributions to web technologies offers the company an alternative conduit to try to influence Internet architecture in its favor.

The W3C TAG’s latest move to focus minds on privacy and security by default is timely.

It chimes with a wider industry shift towards pro-actively defending user data, and should rule out any rubberstamping of tech giants contributions to Internet architecture which is obviously a good thing. Scrutiny remains the best defence against self-interest.

Workona helps web workers finally close all those tabs

A new startup, Workona, this week launched software designed for those who primarily do their work in a browser. The company’s goal is to become the OS for web work – and to also save web workers from the hell that is a million open tabs. To accomplish this, Workona offers smart browser windows you set up as workspaces, allowing you a place to save your open tabs, as well as collaborate with team members, search across your tabs, and even sync your workspace to different devices.

The Palo Alto-based company was founded in fall 2017 by Quinn Morgan (CEO), previously the founding product manager at Lucidpress, and Alma Madsen (CTO), previously the first employee and Director of Engineering at Lucid Software, the makers of Lucidpress.

“Last year, Alma and I decided we wanted to build something together again, and initially began working on a different startup idea,” explains Morgan, as to how Workona began. “As a remote team at the time, we were using cloud apps like Google Docs, Asana, Slack, and Zoom to stay connected. Both of us were wearing multiple hats and juggling ten different projects at once.”

“One late night, with ten windows open for each project, the idea just struck us: ‘Why doesn’t the browser – the tool that we actually do most of our work in – not have a good way to manage all of our projects, meetings, and workflows?'”

Of course, there are already browser add-ons that can help with taming the tab chaos, like OneTab, toby, Session Buddy, The Great Suspender, TooManyTabs and others.

But the co-founders didn’t want just another tab manager; they wanted a smart browser window that would save the work you do, automatically. That way, you wouldn’t have to keep all the tabs open all the time, which can make you stressed and less focused. And you wouldn’t have to remember to press a button to save your tabs, either.

With Workona, the software guides users to create workspaces for each of the projects, meetings, and workflows they’re currently working on. (Working on…Workona…get it?).

You can also take a browser window that represents one project and save it as a workspace.

These workspaces function like a folder, but instead of holding a set of files, they can save anything on the web – cloud documents, task lists, open websites, CRM records, Slack sessions, calendars, Trello boards, and more. In each workspace, you can save a set of tabs that should reappear when that workspace is re-opened, as well as set of “saved tabs” you may need to use later.

After creating a workspace, you can use Workona to re-open it at any time. What that means is you can close the browser window, and later easily pick up where you left off without losing data.

A list of workspaces will also appear in the left-side navigation in the Workona browser tab. Within this tab, you can click to open a workspace, switch between workspaces in the same browser window, search for tabs or workspaces from the included search bar, or open workspaces from their URL.

In a shared workspace, you can also collaborate with others on things the team is working on – like everything needed for a project or meeting.

“Our vision is to build the missing OS for work on the web and workspaces are just the start,” says Morgan.

The company is currently working on making the workspaces and its search features more powerful, he adds.

Workona will be sold as a freemium product, with a free tier always available for moderate use. Pro accounts will be introduced in the future, removing the limit of 10 workspaces found in the free version.

The company has been beta testing with users from tech companies like Twitter, Salesforce and Amazon, as well as NASA.

The company is still pre-seed stage, with funding from K9 Ventures.

Traditional OS’s spent a lot of time and effort in designing the ‘desktop experience’ and switching between applications. But in a browser, all we have is tabs,” said K9 Ventures’ Manu Kumar, as to why he invested. “There are tab managers but none of them really solved my problem well enough, and none of them allowed me to maintain a shared context with other people that I’m collaborating with,” he added.

Workona is available for Chrome as a plugin you download from its website.

Mozilla’s multi-process architecture project cleared for takeoff

lego firefox Attention. Project code-name Electrolysis is a go. Mozilla’s long-running project to bring multi-process architecture to hundreds of millions of Firefox users has finally met release criteria for a full-scale rollout. Nearly every other browser on the market has adopted multi-process architecture, splitting tabs and extensions into separate processes. For the average non-technical… Read More

Opera adds power-saving mode to its browser

opera-new-logo-brand-identity-portal-to-web Opera is on a roll lately. Over the last few weeks, the company added a built-in ad blocker and VPN service to its desktop browser, for example. Today, the company is launching a new early release developer version for its Windows and OS X users that includes a power-saving mode. Opera argues that this new mode will ensure that laptop batteries will last significantly longer than without it.… Read More

Google’s Chrome Web Store will boot apps and extensions violating new user data guidelines

Chrome lapel pin Google is cleaning up its Chrome Web Store – the marketplace where you can browse for extensions and apps for its Chrome web browser. The company says it’s making changes to browser’s User Data Policy, which will now require developers to be more transparent about how they handle customer data, and which will require user consent when data is collected, among other… Read More

Cast is a full-service podcasting studio that lives in your browser

default-rss-image0 Traditionally, the largest barrier to podcasting has been the complexity of steps and multitude of programs it takes to go from recording to editing to publishing. Cast is simplifying this process with its web-based podcasting platform that lets you record, edit, and publish all without leaving your browser. Cast Studio, the recording portion of the site, captures hi-fi audio from the user and… Read More

Google extends Safe Browsing to Chrome for Android

A Google Chrome Safe Browsing warning on desktop.

Google today announced that it has brought the Safe Browsing web security feature of Chrome to Android. The feature is turned on by default for Android devices running Play Services version 8.1 and version 46 of Chrome or later.

This might sound trivial, but Safe Browsing needs to stay comprehensive and up to date in order to keep people from visiting dangerous websites. And that might mean only sending a brief update to stop people from unwittingly ending up at the riskiest sites known to Google, particularly phishing sites. Google is even relying on compression in order to keep data small — because Google doesn’t want to use up people’s mobile data plans unnecessarily.

“We hunt badness on the Internet so that you don’t discover it the hard way, and our protection should never be an undue burden on your networking costs or your device’s battery. As more of the world relies on the mobile web, we want to make sure you’re as safe as can be, as efficiently as possible,” Noé Lutz, Nathan Parker, and Stephan Somogyi of Google’s Chrome and Safe Browsing teams wrote in a blog post today.

Of course, apps can present security risks, too. And the Google Play Store has security features built in. But now Google is doing more to protect people from malware, phishing, and other dangers in the Chrome browser.

And Safe Browsing could well end up doing more for Android device owners. “The first app to use it is Chrome,” as Lutz, Parker, and Somogyi wrote.

You can verify that Safe Browsing is running on your Android device by going to the Chrome’s Settings section and visiting the Privacy section.

More information:

Powered by VBProfiles