Google will offer alternative Android search options to the highest bidders

2 Aug 2019

Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Google will offer users in the EU a choice of default search provider following an antitrust fine issued last year.

Google will allow users across Europe to choose their preferred search engine when setting up a new Android smartphone from next year, following last year’s record EU fine.

In July 2018, the tech firm was told to pay €4.34bn by the European Commission competition authorities for allegedly abusing its market position through the Android mobile operating system.

Google has announced it is planning to display a choice screen that will appear on Android-powered smartphones and tablets across the European Economic Area during the initial set-up process of the device.

The chosen search engine provider will then become the default in the search box that is found on the home screen and in the Chrome web browser if it is installed. The system will also install the search app of the selected provider.

A smartphone screen display showing a selection of search engine options including Google, Yahoo, Ecosia and Qwant.

Example of Google’s new search engine selection screen. Image: Google/PA

“As always, people can continue to customise and personalise their devices at any time after set-up,” said Paul Gennai, product management director at Google.

“This includes selecting which apps to download, changing how apps are arranged on the screen, and switching the default search provider in apps like Google Chrome.”

Google to make money from search competitors

A first-price sealed-bid auction will be used to select the three rival search engines that will be on offer alongside Google on the selection screen, with choices varying in each country.

“In each country auction, search providers will state the price that they are willing to pay each time a user selects them from the choice screen in the given country,” the company said.

“An auction is a fair and objective method to determine which search providers are included in the choice screen. It allows search providers to decide what value they place on appearing in the choice screen and to bid accordingly.”

Search engines – including Google – will be ordered randomly on the choice screen when it comes into effect from early 2020.

Promoting consumer choice

European commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced the fine against Google last year for “denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete”, which she said was “illegal under EU antitrust rules”. At the time, the technology giant said it would appeal against the Commission’s ruling.

Google has already made a number of changes in response to EU action, such as offering the option to those who open the Google Play store to install up to five search apps.

In response to its latest move, the Commission said a choice screen “can be an effective way to promote user choice”.

“We will be closely monitoring the implementation of the choice screen mechanism, including listening to relevant feedback from the market, in particular in relation to the presentation and mechanics of the choice screen and to the selection mechanism of rival search providers,” a spokesperson said.

“The Commission is committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision.”

– PA Media