System1, the U.S. pay-per-click ad company, seems to have taken over the Waterfox privacy browser

Not sure of all the details yet, but the UK Companies House (the business registration system in the UK) shows that System1 Director Michael Blend was appointed director of Waterfox on December 13, 2019. Alex Kontos, founder and former “person with significant control” (over 75% ownership) stepped down as director the same day.

I have seen no notice of this in the press or at the Waterfox website.

I’ve been checking periodically for possible web browser sales ever since I stumbled on this System1 recruiting ad for a Web Browser Developer in October 2019:

Have you ever build any of the most popular open-source browsers like Brave/Chromium/Firefox?

Would you be excited to the idea of setting up build pipelines for an open source browser?

System1 is hiring a Web Browser Developer to join our team. This is a diverse role that will involve “hacking” on the Mozilla platform, mostly on the backend. You will work with experts who know the Mozilla platform inside-out, while being a key contributor to novel open-source products which already have a passionate and growing user base.

This is yet another privacy service being taken over by a non-privacy-focused company.


Given your attitude towards System1, why were you so secretive about discovery of the advertisement?

I was actually very open about it and posted about it at r/privacy. Here’s a link to that post.

EDIT: Note that I posted right away – about 3 months ago per the post date.

Funny thing. I was ridiculed for my speculation in some circles. My ad find has been basically ignored until now. But as a long-time researcher, author (and some say futurist), I’m used to being proven right – and suffering in the interim. :wink:


I don’t like the secretive silence if this has been done a few months ago, but for what is says on reddit Alex will make an official statement and make it available through the Waterfox blog soon.

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/r/privacytoolsIO (less well followed).

Any reason for not sharing with the forum?

Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the browser landscape would have recognised the likelihood of the advertisement relating to Waterfox; there could have been a rational discussion – instead of presenting things as was done yesterday. did suggest Waterfox, why did you not cross-post to the Waterfox subreddit at the time?

[quote=“grahamperrin, post:5, topic:2685”]
/r/privacytoolsIO (less well followed).[/quote]

I also posted there, I believe, but I don’t have the link handy.

Any reason for not sharing with the forum?

I believe I did mention it in passing in the forum back in Oct/Nov, but I could be wrong. I know @Jonah knew about it. Plus, I was mocked by several people for my subreddit posts. Maybe I wasn’t eager for more abuse.

Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the browser landscape would have recognised the likelihood of the advertisement relating to Waterfox; there could have been a rational discussion – instead of presenting things as was done yesterday.

Waterfox/System1 should have announced this right away. Please don’t put the blame for the mishandling on me.

Actually, back in Oct/Nov someone at the PTIO subreddit mentioned Waterfox and Palemoon as likely candidates. I was not familiar with them, but I pursued the lead. In fact, I believe I posted a question about the ad at the Waterfox forum and other browser forums. (I know I erased at least one post after being attacked.) did suggest Waterfox, why did you not cross-post to the Waterfox subreddit at the time?

There was no Waterfox post to crosspost at the time. No blog mention. Nothing. (Alex later confirmed that he had not posted anything about the change in ownership prior to my post.) I looked multiple places to see if there was any announcement before I posted.

I believe there is a crosspost there now.


I mean, why did you not take the hint re: Waterfox; why did you not make enquiries in the Waterfox support area?

As I said, I asked back in Oct/Nov. Crickets. Mockery.

Maybe next time I ask an honest question, I’ll get an honest answer. Better to have the discussion you reference than have me dig up the answer.

AGAIN – please do not blame shift. This change of ownership should have been announced months ago. It was mishandled by System1.

System1 should have known better, even if Alex didn’t. They’ve been through this before by holding back on announcing the Startpage purchase for 9 months. (I actually like Alex and feel sorry that he is having to answer for these missteps. He seems like a really nice, honest guy.)


Reddit truly sucks. Way too often. Mockery, rudeness, ignorance, false assumptions, wild speculation etc.; the unnecessarily negative consequences of yesterday’s posts to Reddit are hardly surprising.

He is. Consider (amongst other things) his last blog post about the future.

I hope no one experiences abuse on PrivacyTools spaces governed by our code of conduct or anywhere else by that matter.

Regarding Firefox forks (excluding Tor Browser), I think our advice (when asked directly) has been steering clear of them due to them generally being bad at merging security fixes from Firefox or otherwise doing questionable things such as allowing insecure legacy XUL extensions.

Sorry for any weirder than usual language usage by me, I slept badly last night and I am writing this on Saturday night at 00.15 apparently and still have 302 emails I intend to at least glance before sleeping.


For reference:

Waterfox, Its Legacy and Looking to the Future

– in particular:

… actively pursuing a development team …

Today’s blog post:

Waterfox has joined System1

– in particular:

… Waterfox now has funding and a development team, …

Thanks @grahamperrin Once I answer all my pings, I’ll be sure to check out his article.

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Well, again, a shitty thing that they have waited so long to make it public, it looks kind of fishy but maybe Alex was busy or something, I don’t know.

Although I couldn’t dislike more the idea of a company owning a product, instead of an organization, I have to understand the way the world works specially for web browsers. You need A LOT of money to make them secure, fast and modern, and this can’t be achieved by donations unfortunately. The case of Mozilla is a big exception, since they were working for a company who end up releasing the code and they were very, very, very lucky since it was the most used WB back in the day and achieved fame and attract deals to make a profit.

In this case, even more than in comparison with Startpage, I have to put a little bit of trust and hope with them, they are a FLOSS product and the code can be audited, I find it really hard to believe that something suspicious could be done with their users not knowing it. I just hope that with the acquisition they can become more reliable so they can compete with the big ones, at least in small numbers, I would really love to see a bit more of Firefox-like browsers instead of so Chromium like shit, they are terrible. And with the works of development, I would love to see more customization and therefore being able to disable any kind of telemetry they could have.

I guess we’re seeing our first web browser with Startpage as their default search engine?

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Please read his blog post. Linked above.

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Where (as here) Discourse is in use, there should be minimal risk of abuse. Flagging is effective, and so on.

Elsewhere, things are less pleasant. Like, the implication that Alex is a liar; it is (I think) simply rude and when attention is drawn to the rudeness, there’s no apology; no realisation that it’s rude to imply such things.

I don’t understand why this is even a discussion point.

Why? The author of Wayerfox never marketed his product as an exclusive privacy tool. The privavy community have embraced it, but that is entirely different, hence, why is everyone getting upset if it isn’t a privacy browser?

Throughout the years people have always asked about Waterfox and privacy, and if they’ve ever wanted more than it can afford, I’ve always pushed them to use Tor. Waterfox was here for customisations and speed, with a good level of privacy

As far as I’m aware, Waterfox has never been listed anywhere as a privacy tool, and rightly so. It is a privacy conscious web browser. Some users seem to have taken news of Waterfox’s funding to spell the end of what Waterfox never was; I just hope people keep a level head and try and rationalise things. There’s nothing more I can do in that regard, I am only human.

Just let them do what they want and end this pointless discussion. If you want a privavy browser look for a privacy browser, don’t just assume browser x is because you want it to be.

Brave, Ungoogled Chromium, SRWIron browser, Iridium…these are purpose built privacy browsers.

Waterfox was built for speed.


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@grahamperrin why are you so reactive? Deal with the fact that you (Alex and contributors) have busted yourselves.

In what way am I busted?

Two merged pull requests were authored by me: (timeline for the latter) excludes merge commits so I don’t expect to see my name; in any case I never thought of myself as a significant contributor to the code.

Well yes, but it was a privacy-friendly option nonetheless because it didn’t send any telemetry, as stated in their website along with this quote:

“The young developer behind web browser Waterfox, which boasts 4m downloads, is now hoping to create a viable rival to Google’s ubiquitous search engine by offering users absolute privacy online.

So, regardless of what the main focus of Waterfox ever was and what other alternatives existed in the market, Waterfox was perceived as a privacy-friendly alternative.

And even if none of this was true: Waterfox was in fact a viable privacy-friendly browser.


Perception is irrelevant. I can percieve whatever I want, that doesn’t make it real.

Just because they removed telemtry data doesn’t mean it was privacy orientated. There is a difference. The main point of Watefox was speed, that’s why they used a different compiler and optimized it…for speed, not privacy.

Like I said, just because the privacy community embraced Waterfox, didn’t make Waterfox a privacy orientated product.

However, what they do from now on, is a different matter. If they want to market themselves now as a privacy product, they can, however looking at their website now, their main selling point of the browser is flexibility;

"Browse the web your way, with the indie web browser".

Again, no mention of privacy, although they do no telemetry or data collection, but that is not the main selling point.

In contrast, SRWIron Browser markets itself as a privacy browser,

If the privacy community want to misconstrue the purpose of a product, that’s their choice, but then they should get angry at themselves if the product does not conform to their expectations, not the developer.