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Google's Decision To Deprecate JPEG-XL Emphasizes The Need For Browser Choice & Free Formats

by Greg Farough
Free Software Foundation

Reprinted under Creative Commons License

Whether it's through the millions of dollars Google has funneled into development and advertising or the "convenience" that it offers users in exchange for freedom, the fact remains that Google Chrome is the arbiter of web standards. Firefox, through ethical distributions like GNU IceCat and Abrowser, can weaken that stranglehold. Google's deprecation of the JPEG-XL image format in February in favor of its own patented AVIF format might not end the web in the grand scheme of things, but it does highlight, once again, the disturbing amount of control it has over the platform generally.

Part of Google's official rationale for the deprecation is the following line: "There is not enough interest from the entire ecosystem to continue experimenting with JPEG-XL." Putting aside the problematic aspects of the term "ecosystem," let us remark that it's easy to gauge the response of the "entire ecosystem" when you yourself are by far the largest and most dangerous predator in said "ecosystem." In relation to Google's overwhelming power, the average web user might as well be a microbe. In supposedly gauging what the "ecosystem" wants, all Google is really doing is asking itself what Google wants. If we take their contribution in turning the web into the "WWWorst App Store" seriously, then we understand what Google really wants. Google wants to do what's best for its own predatory interests, not what's best for the web.

While we can't link to Google's issue tracker directly because of another freedom issue -- its use of nonfree JavaScript -- we're told that the issue regarding JPEG-XL's removal is the second-most "starred" issue in the history of the Chromium project, the nominally free basis for the Google Chrome browser. Chromium users came out of the woodwork to plead with Google not to make this decision. It made it anyway, not bothering to respond to users' concerns. We're not sure what metric it's using to gauge the interest of the "entire ecosystem," but it seems users have given JPEG-XL a strong show of support. In turn, what users will be given is yet another facet of the web that Google itself controls: the AVIF format.

As the response to JPEG-XL's deprecation has shown, our rallying together and telling Google we want something isn't liable to get it to change its mind. It will keep on wanting what it wants: control; we'll keep on wanting what we want: freedom.

Only, the situation isn't hopeless. At the present moment, not even Google can stop us from creating the web communities that we want to see: pages that don't run huge chunks of malicious, nonfree code on our computers. We have the power to choose what we run or do not run in our browsers. Browsers like GNU IceCat (and extensions like LibreJS and JShelter) help with that. Google also can't prevent us from exploring networks beyond the web like Gemini. What our community can do is rally support behind those free browsers that choose to support JPEG-XL and similar formats, letting the big G know that even if we're smaller than it, we won't be bossed around.

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