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Australian competition regulator seeks to undermine Google Search monopoly

A new report from the watchdog calls on Google to implement a search engine 'choice screen'

Google search displayed on a tablet

The Australian competition watchdog has called for Google to implement a mechanism that gives new Android users the option to choose what search engine they use.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that Google continues to be the dominant search engine in Australia with a market share of 94%, according to a new report published today.

Google Search is the default search engine on the two most popular browsers in Australia, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari, which are pre-installed on most mobile devices. In comparison, as of June 2021, DuckDuckGo’s market share was at 0.86% and Ecosia at 0.21%.

Instead of having a default search engine set for new users, they would instead be presented with a screen displaying a selection of search engines available to the platform.

The ACCC said this would give consumers the opportunity to make an informed choice about the search engine they use and reduce barriers to expansion for Google’s competitors. This would also give consumers more control over how they handle issues like privacy and how personal data is used and collected.

The ACCC said this choice screen should initially apply to new and existing Android mobile devices and any apps or services that facilitate access to online search, including browsers, widgets, and voice assistants.

The second measure it recommended was to be given the power to develop additional measures to improve competition and consumer choice in search, which might include restricting dominant search engines from tying or bundling search services with other goods or services.

“Search engines play a critical role in the digital economy. We are concerned that Google’s dominance and its ability to use its financial resources to fund arrangements to be the default search engine on many devices and other means through which consumers access search, such as browsers, is harming competition and consumers,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said. “Google pays billions of dollars each year for these placements, which illustrates how being the default search engine is extremely valuable to Google’s business model.”

The report found that Google’s dominance in general search engine services in the country is extended and entrenched by the large sums of money it pays to be the default search engine on Safari, its ownership of Chrome, and by the pre-installation and default arrangement it has in place with competing browser suppliers and device manufacturers that use the Android operating system.

An example of this is that over 90% of Mozilla’s revenue in 2019 was derived from royalty payments by search engines for search default placement on Firefox.

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The watchdog took into account Google’s choice screen for search services on new Android devices in Europe, which was voluntarily implemented by the company following a decision by the European Commission (EC), although the ACCC said it found many deficiencies in these arrangements.

In September 2020, DuckDuckGo slammed the Android search engine auction model as “fundamentally flawed” and urged the EC to take action against Google. The tech giant created an auction where new Android customers would be able to choose from four different search engines when setting up a new device. Companies that wanted their search engines to be included had to bid against each other to secure a place on the list.

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