Owned by the Alibaba Group, the UC Browser was developed by the Chinese mobile Internet company UCWeb to compete with Google’s Chrome browser, and it’s doing just that, specifically on lower-end smartphones that are dominating Asian markets.
Size is everything here. Most phones in the emerging markets of Asia have between 8 and 12 GB of storage—compared to phones sold in the US, which typically start at 32 GB. That means the size of programs run on the device matter. With Chrome weighing in at about 125MB, the UC Browser becomes much more viable at 31MB.
But it is not only about size. The reason Alibaba’s UC Browser has been giving Google’s Chrome a beating in Asian markets also has to do with ease of browsing—the UC Browser is faster in areas where there may be spottier coverage—and a more attractive look.
To say the UC Browser has historically had security issues is like saying Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump don’t like each other. From a data security point of view, using the UC Browser offers about as much protection as a sketch of an umbrella in a rainstorm.
There are many elements in the design that are not secure, or outdated. The UC Browser has also had privacy issues, most notably revealed by Edward Snowden’s data dump that detailed the ways the UC Browser leaked sensitive data, including Android IDs, MAC addresses, geo-locations and wifi data. There were also encryption issues, which make phones running the UC Browser easy to track and monitor.
And that’s the bad part. It has to do with the cybersecurity dilemma: convenience versus security. In this instance, convenience includes functionality.
The real downside with these cheaper phones running the UC Browser goes to a question about the countries where they are used most—China leading the pack. Many of the places where this browser is beating the more secure Google Chrome browser have a record of tracking citizens, and punishing them for anything considered subversive or seditious.
It’s only a matter of time for the statecraft story about UC Browsers and a popular movement getting crushed by this of that government. Meanwhile, and I mean this with as much irony as possible, download times will be quicker.
Here’s more from the Wall Street Journal.