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Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo is the big winner of Google’s Europe Android auction

By Alison Griswold

From our Obsession

Big Tech

Looking at Big Tech as the next Big Oil.

Starting March 1, Android phone and tablet buyers in the European Economic Area (EEA) will get more choice for browsing the internet.

Google today shared the results of its auction to add three outside search engine choices to the device-setup screen on Android devices in each of the 31 EEA countries. Google held the auction late last year in response to a 2018 European Commission decision that found Google used its Android mobile operating system to protect its dominance in search, violating EU antitrust rules. The EU fined Google a record €4.3 billion ($4.8 billion) and ordered it to cease illegal conduct.

A mockup of Google's Android choice screen.
Google
A mockup of Google’s Android choice screen.

Two search providers—DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine based in Pennsylvania, and Info.com, a relatively unknown search company based in California—won a slot in every EEA country. The remaining slot went to a variety of other providers, including Microsoft-owned Bing, Russian search giant Yandex, and Czech search player Seznam. Google will also be a search option on the setup screen in every country.

DuckDuckGo said in a statement that it believes a search choice screen “is an excellent way to meaningfully increase consumer choice if designed properly” but that a “pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots isn’t right because it means consumers won’t get all the choices they deserve and Google will profit at the expense of the competition.”

Several search providers boycotted Google’s auction, which asked companies to bid the amount they would be willing to pay Google each time a user selected their service.

Marc Al-Hames, managing director of Cliqz, a small, privacy-focused browser and search engine based in Munich, said the company abstained from the auction “because it does not give independent new market entrants like us a fair chance.” Christian Kroll, CEO of environment-focused search engine Ecosia, said in a statement that it chose not to participate because “we believe this auction is at odds with the spirit of the July 2018 EU Commission ruling.” 

Info.com couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The EU is broadly concerned about Google’s dominance in search and has fined it three times, for a total of €8.3 billion, since 2017. EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager hinted in November that it may take more than fines to tame companies like Google, but so far hasn’t called for breaking up these platforms.

“From a competition point of view, you would have to do something where breaking up the company was the only solution to the illegal behavior,” Vestager said at a tech industry conference in November. “We don’t have that kind of case right now.”