Google loosens its grip on search engines on Android devices in Europe

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BRUSSELS, June 8 (Reuters) – Google (GOOGL.O) has bowed to pressure from rivals and will let them compete for free to be the default search engines on Android devices in Europe, expanding a commitment to antitrust regulators from the EU two years ago.

The decision of the world’s most popular internet search engine comes as the bloc of 27 countries consider rules that could be introduced next year to force Google, Amazon (AMZN.O), Apple (AAPL.O) and Facebook (FB.O) to ensure a level playing field for competitors.

Google’s Android mobile operating system runs on about four-fifths of the world’s smartphones. The U.S. tech giant said in 2019 that its competitors would have to pay through an auction to appear on a prime screen on new Android devices in Europe from which users select their preferred search engine.

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Google’s turnaround follows a € 4.24 billion ($ 5.16 billion) fine imposed by the European Commission, the EU’s antitrust authority, in 2018 for unfairly using Android to shore up the domination of its search engine.

“We are now making some final changes to the screen of choice, including making participation free for qualifying search providers. We will also be increasing the number of search providers displayed on the screen,” wrote the director of Google, Oliver Bethell, in a blog post on Tuesday.

The changes will take effect in September, the blog added.

The Commission said it had discussed possible changes with Google following concerns expressed by a number of its rivals, adding that those announced were positive developments.

Google said the top five eligible search engines in each EU country according to StatCounter, including Google, will be displayed in random order at the top of the screen while up to seven will be displayed at the bottom.

The Google logo is visible on a building in the La Défense business and financial district in Courbevoie near Paris, France, on September 1, 2020. REUTERS / Charles Platiau / File Photo

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It previously allowed only four competitors, chosen in separate auctions for each EU country, to appear on Android screens.

However, DuckDuckGo, a rival search engine that has long complained about the auction process, said Google should go further.

“Google is now doing what it should have done three years ago: a free search preference menu on Android in the EU,” CEO Gabriel Weinberg tweeted.

“However, it should be on all platforms, for example also Chrome for desktop, accessible at all times, ie not just on factory reset, and in all countries. “

Search engine Ecosia, which, along with four other competitors, complained about Google’s initial proposal to the Commission last year, welcomed the changes.

“With that, we have something akin to a level playing field in the market,” CEO Christian Kroll said in a statement.

“Search service providers now have a chance to compete more fairly in the Android market, based on the attractiveness of their product, rather than being shut out by monopoly behavior. “

($ 1 = 0.8211 euros)

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Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Pravin Char

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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