Australia Wants Search Engine Choice Screen On Smartphones

Search engine move plotted down under. Australian watchdog plans to make Google offer smartphone users an alternative search engine

Google could be on another collision course down under, amid reports that Australia is planning to make the Alphabet unit offer alternative search engines on smartphones.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it wants to force Google to install a “choice screen” on smartphones so users can pick another search engine if they want.

The move is to challenge Google’s decades long domination of the search engine market. Earlier this month Google told a European court that the top search on Microsoft’s Bing search engine was “Google.”

google search

ACCC report

Measures addressing Google’s dominance in search engine services, including a choice screen that provides consumers with a selection of search engines, should be introduced in Australia, as set out in the ACCC’s third Digital Platform Services Inquiry interim report.

The report found that Google continues to be the dominant search engine in Australia, with a market share of 94 percent.

Google Search is the default search engine on the two most popular browsers in Australia, Google’s Chrome browser and Apple’s Safari browser, which are pre-installed on most mobile devices in Australia.

The ACCC’s report found that Google’s dominance in general search engine services in Australia is extended and entrenched.

It feels this is achieved by the large sums of money Google pays to be the default search engine on Apple’s Safari browser, its ownership of Chrome and by the pre-installation and default arrangements it has in place with competing browser suppliers and device manufacturers that use Google’s Android operating system.

Google Search

“Search engines play a critical role in the digital economy,” said ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. “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.”

“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,” he added.

A survey commissioned by the ACCC found that most consumers surveyed tend to stay with their device’s pre-installed browser and pre-set search engine.

Further, roughly one in four consumers reported not knowing how to change the default web browser or search engine on their mobile device.

“Access to consumers is critical for search engine services to grow and compete against Google, but Google’s vertical integration and costly commercial arrangements have made this very difficult,” Sims added.

“Google’s existing dominance and its commercial arrangements have significantly increased barriers to entry and prevented new or emerging rival search engines from reaching consumers, not only through browsers but also through other access points like search apps, widgets and voice assistants like Siri,” he said.

“This is likely to have stifled innovation and reduced consumer choice,” said Sims. “It means that consumers may not be exposed to or aware of other options, such as search engines that protect users’ privacy and/or have an ecological focus, which limits the ability of these businesses to grow.”

The ACCC said it would put the potential measures out for industry consultation in 2022.