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Facebook Launching New In-App Browser For Android

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Facebook Launching New In-App Browser For Android

Facebook is preparing to launch a new in-app browser on Android, replacing the standard Android System WebView with a more stable solution.

Unlike other Android apps that open web links in an external browser of the user’s choice, Facebook opens pages in the app itself.

Facebook identified a problem with how it handles external links, saying users update the Facebook app more often than the software that powers the in-app browser.

An announcement on Meta’s engineering blog states:

“Our in-app browser for Facebook on Android has historically relied on an Android System WebView based on Chromium, the open source project that powers many browsers on Android and other operating systems.

… over the past few years, we’ve observed that many Android users are updating their Facebook app but not updating their Chrome and WebView apps, which may result in security risks and a negative user experience.”

The company cites susceptibility to zero-day exploits and Facebook app crashes as the significant problems resulting from its reliance on Android System WebView.

To remedy these issues, Facebook developed a separate Chromium-Based WebView that can update in sync with Facebook app updates.

Facebook lists several benefits of switching to a custom browser, including improved stability, security, and performance.

Benefits Of A New In-App Browser For Facebook On Android

Security

A custom in-app browser allows Facebook to roll out the latest Chromium security patches directly to users, which install when users update the Facebook app.

This helps ensure users aren’t visiting pages using outdated software, which may pose security risks.

Stability

A custom browser solution should lead to fewer app crashes, Facebook says.

Updating Android’s WebView software at a system level can cause apps to crash, as Android needs to ensure all instances of WebView are stopped so it can install the latest version.

Utilizing a custom version of WebView, exclusive to the Facebook app, means Android no longer needs to crash Facebook when updating the System WebView.

Performance

Facebook says its custom in-app browser improves performance concerning rendering web pages and launching Instant Games via Facebook Gaming:

“Our Webview also improves on rendering performance… Because we are able to constrain how the WebView gets displayed within our apps, we can enable the GPU process for our WebView. This improves rendering performance and stability of web pages and Instant Games.”

In Summary

The benefits listed above may sound like technical jargon if you’re unfamiliar with the Android operating system.

You need to know that this change will improve security and performance and reduce app crashes when people view websites in the Facebook app.

Facebook isn’t the first app to utilize a custom in-app browser on Android. Mozilla, Microsoft, and Samsung all have their own versions as well.

The company emphasizes that this change will not impact people’s privacy choices on Meta services.


Source: Engineering at Meta
Featured Image: Emre Akkoyun/Shutterstock



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Mozilla Acquires Pulse, A Hybrid-Workplace Collaboration Company

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Mozilla, publishers of Firefox, acquired the team behind AI-based workplace collaboration product Pulse, announcing that they will work on Mozilla’s growing portfolio of products.

Pulse Team

The Pulse workplace collaboration product helped teams collaborate better by automatically managing their Slack presence, creating “focus times” that allow users to work without interruption, and display color-coded do no disturb notices when team members were in meetings.

Pulse was a product created specifically for today’s hybrid workplaces.

According to the archived Pulse page:

Adjusts with your work hours
Pulse puts an end to the ‘Always On’ culture by helping manage your team’s expectations around your availability — so teammates know when is best to connect with you and respect your boundaries.

Pulse uses AI to automatically display when you enter a focused state so your teammates know not to disturb.

You can also set calendar rules which change your status to show you’re focusing during blocked focus time or events marked as focus.”

The announcement did not hint at the future direction the new team will take within Mozilla.

However the fact that Pulse was a workplace collaboration product is notable.

It makes for interesting speculation that the acquisition may help Mozilla to begin introducing business-oriented products.

The quality that sets Mozilla apart from other companies is their commitment to creating products that don’t spy on or turn their users into a product to resell to marketers.

Free is increasingly common. Any product that can deliver quality at a free or near-free price and also respect user privacy would be increasing their value over more established products from companies like Google or Microsoft.

Google rapidly grew their email product by offering staggering amounts of storage space for free. Mozilla is doing with privacy what Google did with free, using it as a value-add that other companies do not offer.

And that edge is what makes the Pulse acquisition interesting because their machine learning expertise can be used to build privacy-forward consumer (and maybe business) products.

Ethical Machine Learning

The Pulse service used machine learning to help learn a user’s work patterns but in a way that respected their privacy, what Mozilla referred to as “applied ethical machine learning.”

According to Mozilla:

“Machine learning (ML) has become a powerful driver of product experience. At its best, it helps all of us to have better, richer experiences across the web.

Building ML models to drive these experiences requires data on people’s preferences, behaviors, and actions online, and that’s why Mozilla has taken a very cautious approach in applying ML in our own product experiences.

It is possible to build machine learning models that act in service of the people on the internet, transparently, respectful of privacy, and built from the start with a focus on equity and inclusion.”

First Project Announced

The first project the team will work on is improving Mozilla’s social sharing app called, Pocket.

Pocket is an app for saving content as well as sharing it with others. The app is available on a mobile device or desktop.

The author of the Mozilla announcement is Chief Product Officer, Steve Teixeira. He was hired by Mozilla in August 2022. Steve formerly worked at Twitter as Vice President of Product for their Machine Learning and Data platforms, and before that led the infrastructure Product Management, Design and Research team at Facebook.

Mozilla Chief Product Officer, Steve Teixeira, wrote:

“I’m particularly excited to enhance our machine learning capabilities, including personalization, in Pocket, a fantastic product that has only just scratched the surface of its ultimate potential.”

Mozilla offered no hint of future products beyond working on Pocket. They only published that they are looking forward to adding the Pulse team’s expertise to their growing suite of products.

Teixeira wrote:

“We are energized by the chance to work together, and I can’t wait to see what we build.”

It will be very interesting to see what Mozilla comes up with with the team acquired with Pulse.

Read the official announcement:

Pulse Joins the Mozilla Family to Help Develop a New Approach to Machine Learning

Featured image by Shutterstock/Kateryna Onyshchuk



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