New Android users in the EU are set to benefit from an antitrust ruling that the European Union issued last year.
Starting March, users will be given the option to choose between four search engines when they register and set up an Android device. The selection will become their default site whenever they initiate a search in Chrome or the Android home search box. The default search provider’s dedicated app will also be installed on individual devices.
Google will remain an option, but users will have to explicitly state their preference for it to remain the default setting.
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Privacy-conscious search engine DuckDuckGo won a competitive bidding process to be shown as the most frequent option in EU countries. This doesn’t mean it will automatically become the most popular search engine among Android devices in the EU, but it is a strong boost to the company’s image and overall visibility.
Why is Google being forced to ask users for their preference?
A landmark ruling by EU antitrust regulators in July 2018 fined Alphabet (Google’s parent company) nearly 5 billion USD, stating that “Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine . . . [and] denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition”, deeming the practice to be illegal under EU law.
In particular, EU lawmakers noted that Alphabet made it mandatory for smartphone manufacturers to pre-install Google’s suite of apps, including search and Chrome, if they wished to be able to access the Play Store.
It added that reported payments to some manufacturers and mobile network operators to exclusively use Google apps as well as preventing some from running alternative versions of Android ran counter to antitrust regulation.
What will happen next?
Android users have always had the ability to choose a default search engine other than Google, but the option was buried so deep inside the settings menu that most users might not have even known it was in their control.
The new system will put users squarely in control, as they will be required to select their search-engine preference during setup. Options vary for each country in the EU, because the selection criteria is tied to an auction system.
Each provider has indicated to Google how much it’s willing to pay the company every time they’re selected. The top three providers are chosen and shown to users, with Google rounding out the list. However, the selected company will only pay the amount offered by the fourth-highest bid and not its own price.
The practice will come into effect in March, but the auction bids will be reviewed every four months.
Here’s the country-by-country breakdown:
|Austria||DuckDuckGo, GMX, Info.com|
|Belgium||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Bulgaria||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Croatia||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Czech Republic||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Seznam|
|Denmark||DuckDuckGo, Givero, Info.com|
|Estonia||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Yandex|
|Finland||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Yandex|
|France||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Germany||DuckDuckGo, GMX, Info.com|
|Greece||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Hungary||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Iceland||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Ireland||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Italy||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Latvia||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Yandex|
|Liechtenstein||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Lithuania||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Yandex|
|Luxembourg||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Malta||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Netherlands||DuckDuckGo, GMX, Info.com|
|Norway||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Poland||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Yandex|
|Portugal||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Republic of Cyprus||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Romania||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Slovakia||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Seznam|
|Slovenia||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|Spain||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, Qwant|
|Sweden||DuckDuckGo, Info.com, PrivacyWall|
|United Kingdom||Bing, DuckDuckGo, Info.com|
DuckDuckGo dominates the options for all countries but the UK, where Microsoft’s Bing had the highest bid. This may be because of the higher revenue that search ads in the UK will inevitably rake in, compared to countries like Latvia and Croatia.
When Alphabet first announced its intent to auction off search provider options for Android, the decision was heavily criticized by DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, who said that Google will continue to profit at the expense of the competition.
2) A pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots means consumers won't get all the choices they deserve, and Google will profit at the expense of the competition. We encourage regulators to work directly with Google, us, and others to ensure the best system for consumers.
— Gabriel Weinberg (@yegg) August 2, 2019
He’s appeared to have backed off from his earlier sentiments, probably recognizing that it’s a priceless opportunity for his company to get front and center of consumers’ minds.
Nonetheless, if you value your privacy, cringe at unsolicited advertisements, and don’t want creepy surveillance tech watching over your every action online, then this news is definitely cause for celebration.