I know I put this in the BlackLights yesterday, but I’m still so appalled by it that I think it deserves its own post.
In case you didn’t see it, there’s a new browser out called BlackBird, aimed at the Black community. It’s essentially Firefox but rebranded, a new black and white theme, and some add-ons that put buttons in the bar at the top. There’s a whole explanation of the thing here.
The website says that people should use this browser because it will help create and coalesce the online Black community. It will also bring you news from a Black perspective, which many Black people want. The real purpose behind this effort is to make money, but we’ll put that aside for a second. Because the real question, to my mind, is: do Black people need a special piece of Black software in order to reach these goals?
I could rattle off the 20 different ways in which a person could mimic the tasks that BlackBird does — finding black news sites and putting them into your feed reader, finding the social networks and social bookmarking sites aimed at Black or POC in general, and finding relevant video and video news via YouTube and other, similar sites. But I am well aware that a lot of people aren’t very Internet-savvy or don’t want to take the time to do all that. They enjoy having things handed to them already collected and vetted. This is why portal sites are popular. This is why social networks are popular. This is why AOL is still in business (somewhat). So even though I do not need what BlackBird has to offer, I can see why others might.
Is it a good thing, though? BlackBird is a sneaky application. Because while there is all this talk of building online communities and bringing Black People together, the real reason this browser exists is targeted marketing. There are ads in the browser — oh yes — and ads on the pages the browser helpfully points you to.
I also worry that the people behind it, about whom there is little information, will be more concerned with serving the advertiser’s needs than the users. What if links start disappearing from the Share function because it points to something an advertiser doesn’t like? Or links are promoted falsely? The news comes from GoogleNews right now, but who is determining what news is revelant to Black people? And will the nature of that news change with the advertisers.
Honestly, there are other, better ways to create and foster a Black community online. As I said, portal sites are popular and can do a lot of what the BlackBird people are doing but without the browser itself. When pondering the reason why they felt they even needed a rebranded browser in the first place, I have to admit I got a little suspicious. This is just my gut feeling and not based on anything but a hunch and a small experience: I think BlackBird probably tracks users’ Internet usage without telling them. Possibly even something worse.
One reason I started feeling this way is that, when I first installed BlackBird, it asked me if I wanted to make it my default browser. I told it no, it did it, anyway. When I reclaimed the defaulkt state for my regular Firefox, that took. But when I shut BlackBird down, then clicked on a link in my email, BlackBird came back, having made itself my default browser yet again.
This is not good in any way.
So, what do you all think of BlackBird the Black Browser?