Google is easing its grip on the Android operating system in Europe at least, with the news that it is opening up the choice of default search engine on the platform.
In July 2018 the European Commission had fined Google a record 4.3 billion euros for commercial practices related to its Android mobile operating system, the world’s highest ever antitrust penalty.
Google at the time was ordered to change the way search and browsing applications are placed on Android devices, and the EC gave the company 90 days to change contracts with handset makers that oblige them to give prominent place to Google’s own services.
Now in the blog post, Google revealed it is changing how its Android search engine choice screen works in Europe.
The selection screen appears for users when they first set up an Android device, and is designed to offer the user a choice of search engines.
Google has now announced that from September, it will be free for search engines to be included on the choice screen, and it is increasing the number of services that’ll be shown on the selection screen.
“We have been in constructive discussions with the European Commission for many years about how to promote even more choice on Android devices, while ensuring that we can continue to invest in, and provide, the Android platform for free for the long term,” wrote Oliver Bethell, director of competition legal at Google.
He wrote that Google had complied with the 2018 ruling that required Google to distribute Search separately from Google Play.
“In consultation with the Commission, we then went even further by introducing a promotional opportunity for search apps and browsers and, subsequently, a choice screen requiring Android users to choose a default search provider,” wrote Bethell. “In both instances, we balanced introducing additional choice for device manufacturers and users with changes to our commercial terms.”
But then he confirmed that Google was making some additional changes.
“Following further feedback from the Commission, we are now making some final changes to the Choice Screen including making participation free for eligible search providers,” Bethell wrote. “We will also be increasing the number of search providers shown on the screen. These changes will come into effect from September this year on Android devices.”
At the moment, it is understood the current selection screen includes a choice of just four search providers.
One of course is Google, and the other three are chosen through a sealed-bid auction process.
According to the Verge, search providers (such as Bing or DuckDuckGo) each “state the price that they are willing to pay each time a user selects them from the choice screen” and Google then selects the three highest bidders over a minimum bid threshold, and displays them in a random order on the screen.
But from September, Android devices in Europe and the UK, will display up to 12 providers on its search selection screen, and none will have to pay to be included.
The first five will be the most popular search engines in a given country, as determined by the web analytics service StatCounter, displayed in a random order, the Verge reported.
Below these, Google will show up to seven more providers in a random order.
If there are ever more than seven other providers to choose from, then Google says it’ll randomly display a selection of seven whenever the choice screen in shown.
Responding to the news, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg reportedly cautiously welcomed the changes, but criticised Google for not having made them three years ago.
According to the Verge. he said they should also apply to more devices and in all countries, and that the selection screen should not be limited to the first time a user sets up or factory resets an Android device.