October 28, 2019
Under pressure from European Union antitrust head Margrethe Vestager, Google will make it easier for users to choose a competitive search engine. Since Google’s record $4.8 billion fine didn’t “do the trick” to fix the problem, she proposed a “choice screen mechanism.” Beginning March 2020, Google will now offer this screen that allows users to pick a default search engine, and list rival search engines for little or no money. Google said the solution had been “developed in consultation with the European Commission.”
The Wall Street Journal reports more experts are talking about ways beyond monetary fines to handle antitrust issues. Rival search engines have complained that Google “has crafted its compliance with the EU’s antitrust decisions in ways that don’t fundamentally change the competitive landscape.”
U.S. Justice Department head Makan Delrahim stated that “no measure should be out of reach as regulators look at tech companies,” including breaking them up. Vestager stated that her “obligation is to do the least intrusive thing in order to make competition come back.” With regard to the “choice screen mechanism,” DuckDuckGo spokesperson stated there are only four slots for rivals and “it’s still a pay-for-play.”
Clifford Chance law partner Thomas Vinje has argued that he sees “no reason why the search engine choice screen cannot feature on existing Android devices.” Google, which will auction off the slots on the choice screen, said the technical changes to support the choice screen “can only be supported on new devices.”
There is some evidence that offering users options in search engines may hurt Google. In 2017 in Russia, Google offered Android users the choice of a default search engine, and the local Yandex search engine grew 10 percent.
In a survey conducted by DuckDuckGo in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, “users selected Google at rates at least 11 percentage points below the company’s current market share, with a bigger decrease if more search engines are shown.”
Google originally planned to auction off slots for competing search engines to the highest bidder, which irked rivals; Google has since removed “the minimum bids, and oblige[s] the three winning search engines with the highest bids in a given country to pay only the amount paid by the fourth-highest bidder,” thus lowering the cost. In countries with fewer than four bidders, “the cost to appear on the screen for eligible search engines would fall to zero.”