Android Choice Screen: Google Is Toying With the EU

Google wants to charge alternative search providers to be the Android default in Europe. Thus, the Internet giant disregards the EU's clear political will.

Google toys with the EU

Björn GreifEditor

It’s the height of audacity. Instead of showing remorse after the EU’s €4.34 bn ($5 bn) antitrust fine and fulfilling the requirements of the regulators in the best possible way, Google prefers to play power games.

In July 2018, the European Commission ordered the Internet giant to stop making its search engine the default on Android devices and forced it to display a choice screen with alternative search engines (and browsers) in Europe. Google now implements this requirement in its very own way: It will ask other search providers to pay for the privilege to be listed as one of three alternative suggestions on the planned Android choice screen.

Brash, Brazen, Google

This “solution” is a slap in the face for regulators, competitors and users. Google’s unofficial message is: “Europe, you’re a digital colony. We do what we please! And we found a way to extract even more money out of our colony.”

Marc Al-Hames, Managing Director of Cliqz, comments:

The audacity with which Google disregards the EU’s clear political will astonishes me again and again. Google wants to show who’s in charge. And this is only possible because there are still no competitive European providers in the field of digital infrastructure. It just shows that how much we depend on the big tech groups from the U.S. and that we allowed them to make Europe their playground.

According to Google, other search providers must state the price by September 13, 2019 that they are willing to pay each time a user makes their search engine the default in the initial setup process of an Android device. Such an auction is planned once per year in each EU country. Google also mentions a minimum bid threshold, without defining it further. What other providers are bidding won’t be made public.

The three highest bidders that meet or exceed the bid threshold for a given country will appear in the Android choice screen for that country. In the event that fewer than three eligible search providers meet or exceed the bid threshold, Google will fill any remaining slots randomly from the pool of eligible search providers. The choice screen will be introduced to new Android phones in Europe in early 2020.

This is how the Android choice screen planned by Google will look like (Source: Google).
This is how the Android choice screen planned by Google will look like (Source: Google).

Google Perverts the Intention of Regulators

Google calls the auction format “a fair and objective method to determine which search providers are included in the choice screen.” But in fact, the allocation of slots becomes a financial power play that only Google, Bing and their resellers can play. The latter include all search engines that use Google’s or Bing’s index and ads. Truly independent search engines such as Cliqz, which use their own index and are not financed by Google or Bing ads, cannot compete.

“To speak of fairness in this context is absurd,” says Al-Hames.

If the highest bidder wins the contract and not the best search engine, then the user is the biggest loser. The choice should be about selecting the most private or innovative provider. Google can drive up the price arbitrarily so that the bidding search engines have to recoup their investments by aggressive advertising or the sale of data. In the end, the consumer pays. This move obstructs the market entry for competitors and reverses the EU’s intention to regulate Google’s market domination to the opposite.

If Europe wants to be more than just a digital colony of US companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon, it needs to invest in its own digital infrastructure. And search is a core part of the digital infrastructure. As such, it must either be more strictly regulated or more invested in it to foster competition. That’s the only way Europe can free itself in the long run from the hold of US big tech.