A Guide to Facebook's New In-App Browser for Android

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A Guide to Facebook's New In-App Browser for Android

Facebook has decided to implement their own web browser for in-app browsing on Android phones. This replaces the standard Android System WebView with a more stable browser that Facebook has developed itself.

The social media giant noticed that many of its users were updating the app more frequently than the software that powers the in-built Android WebView software, causing conflicts and error-prone browsing experiences. Now Facebook users on Android will be able to follow external links with confidence, and more quickly.

The Announcement

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, made this announcement on their corporate blog. They briefly discussed the reason for developing and implementing their own browser and intimated that security concerns as well as software crashes initially prompted the decision.

The blog stated, “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 apps but not updating their Chrome and WebView apps, which may result in security risks and a negative user experience”.

Facebook may be giving their users a safer and more reliable web browsing experience when using their app, but industry insiders suspect there may be deeper motivations behind the move. Web browsing generates a lot of metadata which can be used for marketing and studying shopping habits. By making the switch to their own browser, Facebook ringfences the data, keeping it for themselves and no longer sharing it with Google through the WebView software.

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Enhanced Security Is the Biggest Benefit for Users

Security is the biggest selling point, which Facebook has worked hard to drive home to users. The latest web-browsing security updates will now be included as a part of their app updates. Facebook updates itself regularly, and from user prompts, which seals a security hole in the app that could previously be exploited.

Previously, the Facebook app could have all the latest security updates, but the internal Android WebView system could be lagging behind. Now the app and its internal browser will share up-to-date security fixes. This protects users and their information, which is incredibly important for social media sites and web browsing.

Your social media profiles contain a wealth of information that can be advantageous to online thieves and fraudsters. Web browsers often have financial details, passwords, and even credit card information stored within them. Switching to an in-app browser protects Facebook users and limits the app’s exposure to online threats and protects the company’s image with its users.

A Stable App with Better Browsing

Software and update conflicts between Android’s System, its WebView mobile browser, and the Facebook app itself were responsible for repeated app crashes. Facebook was finding its user experience was being negatively affected by other apps and browsers running on phones.

The internally developed browser will give users and more reliable experience, with potentially faster browsing. When using the Facebook app on Android-powered devices many users experienced delays in following links to external sites from Facebook posts. This included advertising on Facebook, so the problem had the potential to cause negative effects on the company’s bottom line.

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This newly developed in-app browser will give Facebook the user experience, or UX, that it wants for its users and protect the company’s brand and all-important ad revenue. It also ensures the Facebook app will continue to run in the background on phones in all circumstances. Previously, when the Android WebView did update it would force the Facebook app to close. Now it will stay running all the time, which is again valuable to the company and its quest for as much metadata as it can get.

Gaming Plays a Role Too

The company also took some time to point out that this new browser will help launch games via Facebook Gaming faster and more consistently, enhancing user experience. It does this by rendering webpages and graphics more quickly as they now have control over how its app utilizes phone hardware.

In their announcement, they informed users that “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”.

Mobile gaming is the fastest-growing sector of the multi-billion-dollar games industry. Parent company Meta is making big gains in the gaming space. This is mainly thanks to their virtual reality ‘Quest’ system which was formally known as Oculus but now falls under the parent brand.

The potential for social gaming is huge, and Meta looks like they are planning on making some big headway in that direction over the coming years. Their Quest VR platform has become popular with social gamers. The system allows its users to meet up in virtual spaces to play games together, and brick-and-mortar venues for social VR gaming are also springing up in towns and cities across the world.

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Gaming is going to be big business for Meta, and this Facebook browser change seems to be the first step on the road to their social gaming dominance. By giving users a reliable and enhanced gaming experience on the Facebook app, they are creating a route for users to get from Facebook to Quest, and vice versa. Becoming a bigger brand in the gaming sphere now will pay dividends to Meta in the near future as both VR and mobile gaming grow.

This subtle update will not mean a big change for users on the whole, but it does represent a big change for Facebook and the app. The added security, faster browsing, and increased stability will all add up to a more functional and reliable user experience, but Facebook’s motivations are about more than their user’s app experiences. Meta is one of the world’s biggest tech companies, but that is not enough for them. Their ability to grow will be determined by their ability to expand their reach into new arenas.