DuckDuckGo calls on EU to reform Google Android choice screen

  • Google is facing calls to overhaul the bidding process for space on its Android ‘choice screen’ in Europe after competitor DuckDuckGo said it had been ‘priced out’ of the process.
  • The tech giant started letting competitors auction for space on Android phones after the EU slapped it with a $5 billion fine for anti-competitive behavior in 2018.
  • In a blog post, DuckDuckGo said the process was “fundamentally rigged by Google to benefit Google”. 
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Google is facing calls to overhaul the way its Android “choice screen” allocates space to rival search engines in Europe.

Unlike anywhere else, new Android phone owners in Europe are offered an on-screen choice about which search engine they may want to use as the primary search engine app on their phones.

That’s after the EU slapped Google with a $5 billion fine for anti-competitive behavior in 2018, saying it had abused its dominant Android mobile operating system to cement the popularity of Google apps and services.

Google holds quarterly auctions for competing search app providers, such as Microsoft’s Bing and privacy-focused DuckDuckGo. A maximum of four different search engines, including Google, are offered via the choice screen and different EU markets will see different search engine options.

But after announcing the winners for the fourth quarter of 2020, privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo hit out at the tech giant, calling on Europe’s competition watchdog to “take action … and require Google to overhaul its preference menu design.”

The firm won space on Android phones in Bulgaria, Croatia, Iceland, and Liechtenstein – down from the 31 EEA territories it secured in March’s auction. Bigger winners from this quarter’s auction were Microsoft’s Bing, offered across 13 markets, and tiny US-based search engine PrivacyWall, offered across 22.

In a blog post, the firm complained: “The current remedy is not a remedy at all – it is fundamentally rigged by Google to benefit Google.”

Specifically, the firm complained that competing search engine providers have to pay to participate in the auction, “in which only the highest bidders are on the menu.”

DuckDuckGo claimed it had been priced out of the auction “because we choose not to maximize our profits by exploiting our users”, in reference to competitors’ data harvesting practices.

The firm also asserted that the auction process “incentivizes search engines to be worse on privacy, to increase ads, and to not donate to good causes, because, if they do those things, then they could afford to bid higher”.

A Google spokesperson said the firm had provided consumers with “unprecedented choice” in deciding which applications they install, use and set as default on their devices.

They added: “In developing the choice screen for Europe, we carefully balanced providing users with yet more choice while ensuring that we can continue to invest in developing and maintaining the open-source Android platform for the long-term.”

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