Under the EU’s Watchful Eye: Google auctioning spots to increase competition in search engines options

August 12, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Starting in 2020, all Android users (new and existing) in the European Economic Zone (EEA) will have the option to select their default search engine before launching their device.

What does this mean?

This came about after the European Commission fined Google £3.9bn for breaching the EU’s antitrust rules last July. Specifically, that Google had imposed illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position for internet searches.

To comply with the EU’s strict demands, Google will now allow other rival search engine competitors to bid for one spot out of the top three search engine choices (with Google included as the 4th option). The bidding process will be different per country, with the highest bidding firm securing a spot in their respective countries. But this option is only required for Android devices where Google’s own search app is already pre-installed.

This means Android users (new or existing) will be able to select their preferred provider to power the search box on their home screens. The preferred search engine provider will also automatically be set as default on Google Chrome, and its app will be downloaded from the Play Store.

What's the big picture effect?

With Google, this current fine is just one in a series of ongoing punitive measures slapped by the EU. Previously,  Google was fined £2.1bn over a separate probe concerning its shopping comparison service – a ruling that is still under appeal. In addition, the EU is conducting a third investigation into Google’s advert-placing business, Adsense. So having Google auction off search engine spots is another way the EU hopes to level out the playing field in favour of fair competition and promote consumer choice.

Google’s decision, however, has been poorly received by their competitors. “The auction diverts to Google money that providers would use to innovate and compete”, says Thomas Vinje, a spokesman for Fairsearch (a complainant in the EU’s case against Google). Christian Kroll, CEO of Ecosia (a not-for-profit search engine) adds “this is really disappointing news. We use our revenue to plant trees in areas affected by deforestation, not to get into bidding wars”.

Although the EU says it will closely monitor implementation and listen to relevant feedback, Google’s request for all rivals wishing to participate in the auction to sign an NDA raises alarm bells. Bloomberg reports Google’s NDA is drafted generally, rather than technical and specific, which means it is likely any actual feedback from competitors regarding Google’s practices will remain stifled.

As such, despite the EU continually rolling out fines and fees against Google, Google is making it very clear it’s not going down without a fight.

Report written by Roslyn Lai

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