Google stops charging search engines for chance to be standard Android in Europe

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Google is changing the way its Android search engine choice screen works in Europe, following complaints from rivals over its pay-to-play model, the company has announced announced in a blog post. The selection screen appears to users when they first install an Android device, and is designed to provide a choice of search engines after Google was hit by a record $5 billion antitrust fine in 2018. From September, the search giant will make it free for search engines to list, and increase the number of services shown on the selection screen.

Currently, the selection screen contains a choice of only four search engines. One is Google and the other three are chosen through a sealed bid auction process. Search providers each indicate “the price they are willing to pay each time a user selects them from the choice screen” and Google then selects the three highest bidders above a minimum bid threshold and displays them in random order on the screen.

Following the changes, which will apply to all devices sold in the European Economic Area and the UK, Google will display up to 12 carriers on the search selection screen and none will be charged 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, listed in no particular order. Below that, Google shows up to seven other providers in no particular order. If there are ever more than seven other providers to choose from, Google says it will randomly display a selection of seven when the choice screen is displayed.

While carriers don’t have to pay to be included, Google has outlined some eligibility requirements here. Providers must offer a ‘general search service’ meaning that the results cannot be limited to a single topic, they must offer a free app on Google Play and they must be properly localized in a country to be visible in the selection screen.

In response to the news, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg cautiously welcomed the changes, but criticized Google for failing to implement them three years ago. 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 reset an Android device. In the frequently asked questions Google has confirmed that users will only see the selection screen once per device during setup. Last year, Weinberg criticized the auction process, calling it “fundamentally flawed.”

But in comments given to Bloomberg, EU officials welcomed the “positive” move addressing complaints from rivals. “Users will have even more options to choose an alternative,” said the European Commission.