Google just made a key concession to smaller search rivals in Europe

LONDON – Google said Tuesday that it will stop charging a fee for search engines to appear on a list of default search engines on Android that is exclusive to European users.

Google introduced the so-called “choice screen” in 2019 in response to a record $ 5 billion antitrust fine from the European Union targeting anti-competitive practices in your smartphone software.

Search engines would have to participate in blind auctions where they bid to appear on the choice screen, which is shown to users when setting up their device, in various EU countries.

Now, Google has ruled out auctions, in a key concession to the American internet giant’s smaller competitors.

Google said that after “further comment” from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, “we are now making some final changes to the choice screen, including free participation for eligible search providers.”

“We will also increase the number of search providers that are displayed on screen,” Oliver Bethell, Google’s director of legal competition, said in a blog post. “These changes will take effect from September this year on Android devices.”

In 2018, the EU fined Google $ 5 billion for allegedly favoring its own search engine within Android. The company appealed the sanction and introduced its “choice screen” preferences menu in an effort to address EU concerns.

But smaller rivals, including DuckDuckGo, Qwant, and Ecosia, complained that this “pay-per-play” auction system favored cash-rich competitors like Microsoft’s Bing.

Google said its choice screen will now display a continuous, scrolling list of up to 12 eligible search services in each European country, with the five most popular at the top.

“We have campaigned for fairness in the search engine market for several years, and with this, we have something that resembles a level playing field in the market,” said Christian Kroll, CEO of Ecosia, in a released Tuesday.

“Search providers now have the opportunity to compete more fairly in the Android market, based on the attractiveness of their product, rather than being excluded by monopolistic behavior,” added Kroll.

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