Starting in early 2020, Google will present a new search provider choice screen to Android users in Europe when first setting up a new phone or tablet. The selection will then be the default search provider that powers the search box on the Android home screen as well as the Chrome browser if installed. Search providers will be required to pay Google each time a user selects them from the choice screen. Inclusion on the choice screen will be determined through a sealed-bid auction, with the top three bidders added alongside Google search.
Today’s announcement follows the record-setting $5 billion fine against Google for antitrust violations in the EU. The July 2018 ruling required Google to stop “illegally tying” its Chrome and search apps to Android. The European Commission then left the means of compliance up to Google, which the Commission continues to monitor.
Here’s how Google describes the new auction process in a blog post published today.
In each country auction, search providers will state the price that they are willing to pay each time a user selects them from the choice screen in the given country. Each country will have a minimum bid threshold. The three highest bidders that meet or exceed the bid threshold for a given country will appear in the choice screen for that country.
Google does not say what the minimum bid threshold is. However, it does say that the number of bidders, and their bids, will be kept private. If fewer than three search providers meet the minimum bid threshold then Google will fill the available slot(s) randomly from the pool of eligible search providers. Providers will also be randomly ordered on the choice screen.
Eric Leandri, CEO of Qwant, the privacy-focused search engine based in Paris, said he’d look into participating in the auction. But Leandri called it “a total abuse of the dominant position” to “ask for cash just for showing a proposal of alternatives,” in statements published by Bloomberg.
DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg also weighed in on the auction process.
2) A pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots means consumers won't get all the choices they deserve, and Google will profit at the expense of the competition. We encourage regulators to work directly with Google, us, and others to ensure the best system for consumers.— Gabriel Weinberg (@yegg) August 2, 2019
Google justified the auction process in a FAQ:
An auction is a fair and objective method to determine which search providers are included in the choice screen. It allows search providers to decide what value they place on appearing in the choice screen and to bid accordingly.
Google had previously argued that it needed search tied to Android and the Chrome browser in order to monetize its significant investment in the operating system. The Commission rejected that assessment, noting the billions Google earns in the Play Store alone, as well as the data it collects in order to increase the value of its advertising business.
Android users in Europe will be able to switch their default search provider at any time after the initial setup, as is the case already.
2) A pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots means consumers won't get all the choices they deserve, and Google will profit at the expense of the competition. We encourage regulators to work with directly with Google, us, and others to ensure the best system for consumers.— Gabriel Weinberg (@yegg) August 2, 2019
The deadline for search providers to apply for eligibility and submit bids is September 13, 2019, with winning bids for each country, and inclusion on the choice screen, confirmed by October 31, 2019.
Update August 2nd, 7:08AM ET: Updated with quote from Qwant.
Update August 2nd, 10:40AM ET: Updated with quote from DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg.