Google rivals call on EU to set rules for search engine preference menus

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Four of Google’s search engine rivals have asked EU lawmakers to address the tech giant’s continued dominance of the market by setting rules for search engine preference menus, arguing that the tech giant’s ability to set harmful defaults Limited is how easily consumers can switch to a non-Google alternative.

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in one open letter Today, non-tracking search engines DuckDuckGo And quant, with a take-for-good focus lilo and plantation unprofitable Ecosiaurge lawmakers in the region to move forward in tackling the market power of the platform giants.

“DMA” [Digital Markets Act] Gatekeepers urgently need to adapt to prevent suppressing search engine competition,” he writes. “Specifically, the DMA should establish in law the requirement of a search engine preference menu that would effectively prohibit Google from obtaining the default search access point of the operating system and browsers of gatekeepers. In addition, the DMA must must ensure that, in addition to selecting their preferred search default upon initial onboarding, consumers are able to make a one-click switch at any time via prompts from competing search engine apps or websites. There will be significant implications for competition and ensuring that there is genuine consumer choice online.


The commission introduced the Digital Markets Act late last year – proposing a pre-set set of rules for so-called Internet “gatekeepers” with the aim of ensuring that these intermediary Internet giants use their power to crush competitors and squeeze consumers. cannot misuse. .

Although four Google search rivals say the proposed law currently includes no measure that would help break the tech giant’s continued dominance of search in Europe (where it about 93%) – hence their call EU lawmakers to amend to add binding rules for search preference screens so that consumers always have the innate ability to change their default search engine choice on mobile or desktop.

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While the Commission was responsible for the original draft of the DMA, other major EU institutions – the European Parliament and member states, through the EU Council – have to agree on details so that negotiations continue on the exact size of the regulation.

We welcome the Commission’s goals with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) butHe fails to remove the most acute obstacle to DMA search: the hoarding of Google’s default position,” four search rivals also write. “Google would not have become the overall market gatekeeper today without years of closing these defaults. If the DMA fails to address this fundamental issue, we believe the status quo will prevail, leaving the root cause of this problem unchanged. Will stay

Google has been contacted for comment on the claims.

Back in 2018, the European Union’s Competition Commission fined Google $5BN over how it operates its Android smartphone platform.

Following that intervention, the tech giant introduced a regional search preference screen that was shown on a new Android smartphone set-up in Europe. Although Google quickly implemented a sealed bid auction model that required competitors to pay for it to appear in one of the available slots (and outrank each other) which competitors quickly described as unfair and non-transparent. .

Some three years later, after another intervention by the Commission – and with no dent in Google’s search market in Europe – the tech giant finally announced that it would drop the auction model, replacing it with a choice screen. Which displays qualified search competitors without the need. fee.

But, again, rivals pointed to continued limitations with Google’s ‘Measure’ – such that it only applies to mobile devices, not users of Google’s browser Chrome on desktop devices; And the fact that Android users are only shown the choice screen upon set-up or factory reset, so most of the time they use the device, they don’t see it.

For example, DuckDuckGo is pushing the case for a ‘truly fair’ search option, which requires only one click to switch consumers – not 15+ clicks It says that after the initial set up (or factory reset) one has to switch the default search engine currently on an Android device at some other point.

Search rivals argue that the use of such dark patterns to lock in self-seeking defaults is something that should be banned by EU law.

“The limitations imposed by Google make it difficult for consumers to adopt other search engines despite the commission’s antitrust decision,” he argues. “Like MEP Yon-Courtin proposed to her” draft report For the Committee on Economic Affairs, we believe that a properly designed preference menu should be mandated more broadly.”

We have contacted the Commission for comment on the call for dedicated search preference screen rules in the DMA and will update this report with any response.

Where is the solution?

The European Commission has – for years – shied away from enforcing specific measures on Google, despite a variety of antitrust enforcement. Instead EU lawmakers have generally said that it is up to Google to comply with its various orders to prevent breaches in areas such as product search, search ad broking and Android.

The result of such a pragmatic approach by the EU executive is that Google has been able to find ways to maintain its dominance of key strategic markets such as – Despite A string of high profile antitrust enforcement in Europe.

It’s an uneasy record for the EU’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, who has built a reputation as an ‘iron lady’ ready to take on Big Tech – yet in the digital realm whose enforcement hasn’t really pinned the needle on the platform giants. has driven. market share. (Neither has blocked Google from continued consolidation.)

Although some EU member states are starting to take a much more hands-on approach to governance in the abuse of the big tech market, it looks like it will have an impact.

For example, France’s competition authority recently removed a series of interoperability requirements from Google in a matter relating to the self-priority of its edtech.

While Germany’s Federal Cartel Office began this year with beefed-up powers to impose prior treatment on the digital giants, which are considered to have substantial market power. It is now in the process of assessing whether Google — and many other tech giants — meets that bar. If it is found that they do, they are eager to work to set pre-emptive rules for how they can operate in Germany.

Outside the EU, the UK is also reforming domestic competition rules to clip Big Tech’s wings. It is in the process of shaping a prior arrangement for the digital giant, which it describes as a “strategic market position” – that, unlike the commission approach with the DMA, there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach. .

Instead the UK has said it wants to frame rules for specific business – which would give its regulators more leeway to, for example, impose a search preference menu measure on a firm like Google if they decide that such a move. Necessary.

The Commission’s centralized single rule for Big Tech, therefore, seems like it could become a weak tool in the face of extremely well-resourced ‘innovators’ who have years of experience building and iterating services that eliminate friction. and drop massive obstacles.

The EU executive risks being caught flat-footed on the issue of technical antitrust at a time when lawmakers around the world are active on the issue – from China to the US.

So it’s interesting to note how, in the wake of a very bad week for (another tech giant :), Facebook, which includes congressional testimony by the latest tech whistleblower, Francis Haugen, EU commissioner for his “urgency” Were falling on myself for tweeting about. Tackle Big Tech…

Antitrust chief Vestager also tweeted in the wake of the global Facebook outage – which was also an Instagram and a WhatsApp outage, as all three social services run on the same infrastructure, all owned by Facebook – the EU EVP said. The episode demonstrated the need for “options and substitutes in the tech market”.

Given that headline anti-consolidation message, EU citizens could be forgiven for asking why Vestager’s department hasn’t stopped a single tech acquisition — including Google’s recent rumble of health tech company Fitbit. also includes? How does the platform propose to support Vestager startups and options to achieve the scale needed to challenge the giants?

Sadly, there was no solution in his tweet – so the search for a cure continues.

It also remains to be seen where the commission’s next Google antitrust investigation will go.

The Block’s executive confirmed this summer that it is looking into the tech giant’s edtech – overtaking antitrust interventions already elsewhere in the region, including in the UK and France.

As for Google, the tech giant is busy fighting the commission’s current antitrust enforcements against it.

Last week Its lawyers were in court for their appeal against the commission’s $5BN android antitrust fine – claiming that the fine was based on erroneous calculations, was not “reasonable” and had no anti-competitive intent.

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