Google had received major backlash last year as it was slapped with a fine of €4.34 billion for breaching EU antitrust laws. According to EU, Google was guilty of imposing illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and network operators, since 2011, to get all the traffic from these devices to the Google search engine. However, Google announced last week that it will now allow its rivals to compete to be the default search engines on new Android devices in Europe. However, these competitors will have to pay a certain fee for this privilege.
Google will introduce a new way for Android users to select a search provider that can help it power a search box on their home screen and as the default in Chrome (if installed). Basically, these search providers would be able to apply to be part of the new choice screen, that would appear when someone is setting up a new Android smartphone or a tablet in Europe. However, people would be able to customize and personalize their devices at any time after the setup which includes the choice of selecting which apps to download, changing apps on-screen arrangement, and switching the default search provider in apps like Google Chrome.
As a part of this plan, each country would have a minimum bid threshold where the three top bidders will get a chance to appear, alongside Google on the “choice screen” as Android owners set up a new device. Also, the auction winners, and Google, will be ordered randomly in the choice screen. In case there’s a tie, Google will then randomly allocate the slots among the tied bidders. For times when there are fewer than three eligible search providers that meet or exceed the bid threshold, Google will then fill any of the remaining slots randomly from the pool of eligible search providers.
The move comes off as an attempt by Google to conciliate the EU antitrust penalties imposed on the tech giant last year. As a part of the penalty, Google was fined for illegal tying of its apps such as Google Play Store, Google search app and the Google Chrome browser with the device manufacturers. It was also fined for receiving illegal financial incentives that were conditional on exclusive pre-installation of the Google Search app. Ever since then, Google’s activities are closely monitored by the commission and Google is under an obligation to comply with EU’s decision. EU had also asked Google to either give up its illegal practices or face further penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of Alphabet (Google’s parent company).
Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits. It’s illegal under EU antitrust rules. @Google now has to stop it
— Margrethe Vestager (@vestager) July 18, 2018
The decision by Google, however, has received major criticism from other search providers who believe that Google is still trying to make profit in the name of giving rival engines an option. Also, given the fact that Google already has a powerful foothold in the market where users feel naturally compelled to download Google Chrome, it doesn’t seem like a fair enough solution for the competing search engines to gain recognition. Moreover, as per Michal Feix, Seznam’s former chief executive, “it is hard to comment based on a screenshot and a few sentences. Seznam, and I believe others, too, were not contacted by Google about this proposition, so we have to wait for all-important details”. EU is currently closely monitoring the process and there hasn’t been any official statement released as of yet EU Competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager.
The application process for rival search providers has already begun whereas the new choice screen will be introduced to new Android phones in Europe next year in early 2020.