Google is bringing new updates to its Search engine selection screen that was introduced in Europe in 2019, as per directions by the European Union. Later this year, users in the European Economic Area (EEA) and the UK will see up to 12 options for their preferred search engine for the pre-installed Google app and the Chrome browser. These changes are in the direction of complying with the EU and will allow Google to avoid any future antitrust charges on the account of search-related monopoly in the EEA and the UK.
Google announced that it will now show the top five search engine providers for each region on the screen where users can choose their preferred provider. It will use the web analysis tool StatCounter to pick out the top search engines per region and this number is up from the four providers that were earlier showcased here.
Google is accepting recommendations by the EU for choosing the top providers and will no longer leverage an auction to choose the top four options. In addition to the top five choices, Google says, seven more options will be presented below the top five. The top five and the following seven will be shown in two randomly ordered lists instead of a popularity-based sequence to ensure that users’ decisions is not influenced by the ranking. The order will change every time users see this screen.
In the blog post, Google noted, “We have always believed in offering people and businesses choice and competing on the merits of our services. And we know that people choose Google because it’s helpful; not because there are no alternatives. That’s why we will continue to invest in Google Search and Android to make them the most helpful products available, and we appreciate the open dialogue with the European Commission on these areas.”
These changes will go live starting September 1st, 2021. Furthermore, the search providers listed on this selection screen will vary with the country based on their popularity in each country. When a user chooses their default search engine, the provider’s app will also be automatically downloaded on the users’ phones. To be chosen among the top options on this list, search engines must offer general searches, not filtered through a specific vertical, and must support localization of results and language. They must also have an app already listed on the Google Play Store, and it must be available for free.
Back in 2019, Google announced this choice screen after being slapped by a $5 billion fine in the previous year. The massive fine was imposed on the search giant by the EU on account that Google “imposed illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position in general internet search.” The search engine choice screen was subsequently included on Android devices sold in the EEA region (including the pre-Brexit UK) and rolled out to users in early 2020.
However, the previous process to be included among the top choices was based on a paid auction and it miffed many competitors including DuckDuckGo, which insisted that the paid auction puts smaller vendors at a competitive disadvantage against giants like Google and Microsoft. DuckDuckGo even wrote a heartfelt blog to point out how this method to rank search providers is essentially flawed, calling it a “pay-to-play auction in which only the highest bidders are on the menu.” Google responded to the criticism by calling this a method “to give all search providers equal opportunity to bid; not to give certain rivals special treatment.”
Thankfully for those smaller providers, Google will be getting rid of the auction process later this year. Google says the auction for Q2 2021 was the final one and the choices made in that auction will continue to show for Q3 2021 until the available choices are updated in September. Google also points out that the updates based on StatCounter’s data will be refreshed annually.