Under heavy pressure, Android expanding default search options in Europe

by Joseph K. Clark

Google will be altering its search choice screen for Android users in Europe. From September 1, users will see an expanded list of up to twelve search services. It will display the top five most popular search services in each applicable country and seven other eligible services in a randomized placement. Previously, the company offered four choices based on an auction.Google is retiring the auction due to feedback from the European Commission and search companies, instead opting to promote the top 5 search services in each eligible country, the European Economic Area, and the United Kingdom.

Writing in a blog post, Google’s Oliver Bethell said:

Following further feedback from the Commission, we are making final changes to the Choice Screen, including making participation accessible for eligible search providers. We will also increase the search providers shown on the screen. These changes will come into effect from September this year on Android devices.

Reporting on the original ballot, Android Central noted that it was a “little ironic that Google is giving away places for its Android choice screen via an auction as opposed to a more equitable schema” and was a move that didn’t entirely comply with the “spirit of the EU’s decision.”


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Rival search providers also came out hard against it. DuckDuckGo had also argued that as phones can scroll, Google’s limit of only four was arbitrary, and the auction process was unfair. In October 2020, Qwant CEO Jean-Claude Ghinozzi also spoke out strongly against the search auction alongside a coalition of other providers, telling TechCrunch:

After more or less a year of the active auction system, we see that they should look again because it does not work. It does not create a fair marketed or an open market. So that’s why we are coming now with this proposition — we urgently need to reconsider.

It’s unclear whether a choice screen would result in users actively choosing alternative search engines. This didn’t happen for Windows browsers back on Microsoft, and there’s no indication that it did for Android users in 2020. However, more user choice is always better. Users may find out that they like Bing for its Rewards or DuckDuckGo for privacy after taking a chance and giving it a try.

That said, Google’s competitors are pleased with this change. In an emailed statement to Android Central, Kamyl Bazbaz, a DuckDuckGo spokesperson, said:

We welcome Google’s long-overdue termination of its absurd pay-to-play auction for displaying search engine options to EU Android users. Hopefully, the European Commission and competition authorities in the US, UK, and Australia will continue pressuring Google for further improvements. Search competition is genuine “one click away”, not “one factory reset” away.

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