Our dystopic first-party surveillance future

The Browser Wars 2.0
July 22, 2022
Pictured: Way too many browser apps on Phillip’s Chrome Profile

We don't need a replacement for the third-party cookie. We already have it: the Chrome App.

Today I’m going to make a bold prediction. While we’re watching the death of the third-party cookie, and pixel tracking writ-large, take place across the ecosystem, a new type of first-party surveilling is already hard at work. 

My prediction: Amazon and Meta will soon require an installed browser app to use their services. After that, we'll see the next version of the Browser Wars, and web3 plays a role in shaping the future for the winner.

First, a primer. A Chrome App (or any browser app) is a javascript extension that you install in the browser, and give it permission to interact with sites you visit.  Often that permission is implicit, not explicit. Grammarly, Honey, Metamask. These are all examples of extensions that have *global read/write permission*. 

For you to get value from them, they have to be able to interact with (read/write) data from the current browser session. Third-party cookies: "they're following me around the web!" First-party browser apps: YOU drag THEM around with you. Browser Apps have the ability to collect and archive everywhere you go, and everything you type, and they can do so as a first-party participant.

So here's where we're heading: Within the next five years, Browser Apps will become vital for companies like Amazon to exist.

Apps are in high demand with the consumer. The proliferation of Web3 wallets is helping push adoption, and real utility is emerging. Google's Chrome owns 65% of global browser market share. Apple's Safari has 19%.

For Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta to compete with their own ads and ad networks, they need to proliferate around the web. Something akin to the "Buy with Prime" button. But in your browser.

What happens, in order of events:

  1. First-party promos from Amazon, Walmart, Instagram, etc. are only available to shoppers with the app installed. Expect other major retailers to follow suit. Partnerships and affiliate relationships will flourish.
  2. If you refuse to install the app, you'll have a functional experience. For a while. But as adoption ramps up you'll be locked out of buying online without the app. Soon the app does everything including payments.
  3. Web3 wallets be damned. Identity management, yes. But imagine that the "Buy Now" one-click button only activates on the website when you have the browser app installed. The browser becomes a transactional operating system.
  4. The net benefit to the consumer is "Speed and security". Third-party cookies require computationally expensive and data-heavy javascript. It makes sites slower, especially if there is more third-party interaction. Browser Apps frontload that installation.
  5. Web duopolies become more entrenched. Google and Apple already gatekeep apps in their App Stores. This new era creates a revenue stream for them. Paid placements, ads, rankings, and revshare of commercial transactions.
  6. Open standards lead to commercial adoption, and eventually consolidation. Google and Safari are both based on Chromium, an open browser standard. Amazon and Meta try to peel away marketshare with their own browsers based on the standard.
  7. Once adoption is at critical mass, AMZ and Meta stop improving their Browser Apps. They have their own first-party browsers now based on Chromium, and will incentivize customers to shift, first with savings, and second with features.

Everything we love about web3 — identity management, payments, and proof of ownership — are all things that can be first-party browser features. Wallets are a protocol. Historically, consumers don’t buy into protocols, they buy into products. Amazon and Meta will need to productize Browser Apps in order to remain relevant, to continue to surveil consumers, and to perpetuate their existence.

Everything is cyclical. It happened before, it will happen again. We will witness an evolution of the browser, and a resurgence of the Browser Wars within our lifetimes.

— Phillip

Back to School. Deloitte has shared results of their 15th annual back-to-school survey. The report reveals that inflation has increased parent spending by 8%, as well as the emergence of some new priorities in parents.

Shopping in Reality. In the upcoming season of Love Island, NBC’s tv match reality show, viewers will be able to shop items appearing on the show. We had Evan Moore on the podcast a couple years ago to discuss this very project! This follows the prior announcement that Love Island would be dropping support for fast fashion sponsors, highlighting the need for more durable goods, re-commerce, and the circular economy.

More Sights & Sounds. Mattel is partnering with SpaceX and Barbie has visited the ISS. Netflix lost near 1 million subscribers in Q2 which sounds really-not-great-at-all, until you find their forecasted losses were closer two million. Yikes. And Amazon will purchase One Medical in a $3.9 billion deal.

Reverse Skeuomorphism. YEEZY GAP, by Balenciaga has arrived at Times Square, and will expand to more GAP stores in coming months. In an official statement, the “reengineered” store was described as “distilled to its essential form.” The bins and frantic grabbing by influencers evoked a sense of online-to-offline: the frenzy that YZY drops have been online have finally been made manifest offline.

Uber Makes Updates. Uber announced big updates to its grocery delivery service, including after hours ordering, scheduled deliveries, and order tracking from shelve to home. Oskar Hjertonsson, the head of Uber’s global grocery business, said that Uber “is betting in a huge way” on grocery for the next stage of growth. Uber did $2.51B in grocery delivery revenue in Q1 of 2022.

Same Ole Same Ole? This piece in The Wall Street Journal asserts that the “Great Resignation” is nothing new, but rather had already started back in 2000. The pandemic just made it more obvious to us.

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