Google search engine rivals have dialled up stress on the European Commission over the tech large’s ‘pay-to-play’ choice screen for Android customers in Europe — arguing the Google-devised public sale has failed to remedy antitrust points recognized by the European Commission greater than two years in the past.
The joint letter to the Commission, which has been signed by Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Lilo, Qwant and Seznam, requests a trilateral assembly between the EU government, Google, and the 5 search rivals — with “the goal of establishing an effective preference menu”.
“We are companies operating search engines that compete against Google. As you know, we are deeply dissatisfied with the so-called remedy created by Google to address the adverse effects of its anticompetitive conduct in the Android case,” they write. “We understand that Google regularly updates you regarding its pay-to-play auction, but it appears that you may not be receiving complete or accurate information.”
A Commission spokeswoman confirmed it’s acquired the letter and stated it should reply in the end, including that it’s “seen in the past that a choice screen can be an effective way to promote user choice”.
“We have been discussing the choice screen mechanism with Google, following relevant feedback from the market, in particular in relation to the presentation and mechanics of the choice screen and to the selection mechanism of rival search providers,” the spokeswoman additionally informed us, including that the Commission is “committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision” and “will continue monitoring closely the implementation of the choice screen mechanism”.
Back in 2018 the EU’s antitrust division fined Google $5BN for competitors violations associated to the way it operates its smartphone platform and instructed the corporate to make good on the problems recognized — main it to provide Android customers in Europe a search engine choice screen, quite than merely preloading its personal.
Google initially supplied a choice based mostly on rivals’ native market share however rapidly moved to a paid public sale mannequin. This seems to profit bigger, business entities on the expense of privacy-focused, regional and not-for-profit options.
Pro-privacy DuckDuckGo has, for instance, misplaced out in latest auctions — whereas Microsoft-owned Bing has gained extra slots. The former lowered how a lot it bids, saying it believes it can’t profitably win a slot.
European tech for good not-for-profit, Ecosia — which makes use of search click on income to fund tree planting — has additionally denounced the mannequin as unfair, going as far as to boycott it solely at first. It gave in after seeing its income take a large hit throughout the coronavirus disaster. (Though failed to acquire a slot in nearly each market in the latest public sale.)
Google, in the meantime, proceed to get pleasure from a search marketshare in extra of 90% within the area.
The 5 rivals argue that Google is unfairly constraining the search market by limiting the variety of out there slots on the choice screen to three (Google’s personal search engine is a staple fourth choice).
They need a collaborative process to devise a choice screen, quite than Google being allowed to proceed to design its personal ‘solution’ — favoring a non-paid choice screen with house for many extra selections than the present three (non-Google) choices, seemingly with alternatives based mostly on a number of, pro-competition standards.
The timing of the letter comes exhausting on the heels of a competitors investigation within the US that’s sparked a related antitrust case towards Google on house turf. The division of Justice filed a long-awaited case towards it earlier this month, arguing the tech large makes use of a net of exclusionary enterprise agreements to shut out rivals.
Discussing how DuckDuckGo would love to see the Android choice screen evolve, founder Gabe Weinberg informed TechCrunch: “We would like to see a properly designed search preference menu that gives people all the search engine options they expect, is free of all dark patterns, and enables search competition to sustainably flourish. Unfortunately, the current implementation meets none of these essential criteria, but we are hopeful that a more collaborative process could fix this failing remedy.”
Another signatory to the letter, France’s Qwant, additionally brings up the Commission’s objective of regional digital sovereignty — arguing that the Google-devised public sale favors US tech giants on the expense of European options, undermining the EU government’s wider tech ambitions.
“After more or less three to four quarters of auction we are now in the situation where the auction system is seeing the price going up and up every quarter,” Qwant CEO Jean-Claude Ghinozzi informed TechCrunch. “The prices are going up and up and competition moves to the large search engine and the global search engine — or the ones that have the ability to invest a lot in this search auction.”
The result’s a return to “unfair competition”, argued Ghinozzi, as a result of the price of buying customers through Google’s public sale is just too excessive for smaller European rivals to take part. With the price per click on to win a slot on the choice screen inflating he prompt the present mannequin primarily quantities to Google outsourcing the price of its EU antitrust penalty to rivals.
“That’s in this letter to the commissioner. We require an urgent opportunity to discuss — inviting potentially Google if they [wish to participate] — that this mechanism doesn’t work,” he stated, including: “We are just starting to pay the bill for Google because at the end of the day we are getting to a level where it is not acceptable anymore for us as a [smaller] search [engine] to pay such an amount to Google just to be listed.”
“The system should be open and not related to any auction or payment and with a much larger list of search being proposed and provided to the new Android phone users,” he added, calling on the EU’s competitors commissioner to “urgently” evaluate the mechanism — and “propose some solutions for opening the European search [market]”.
“After more or less a year of the auction system being active we see that definitely they should look again because it does not work. It does not create a fair market and an open market. So that’s the reason we are coming now with this proposition — we urgently need to totally reconsider.”
Auction individuals are constrained in what they’ll say publicly given Google’s requirement that they signal an NDA. This is another excuse why they’re asking for a tripartite assembly — with the rivals expressing issues that not each stakeholder concerned in Google’s public sale process is seeing the identical knowledge as Google is.
“The problem is that we don’t really know what Google says to the European Commission and what we fear is that they say some things to us that they don’t say to the European Commission,” stated Guillaume Champeau, Qwant’s chief ethics and authorized affairs officer. “The idea behind the tripartite meeting would be to ensure that we all have around the table the same kind of information and the same kind of answers to our concerns.”
Asked in regards to the letter’s reference to a concern that the Commission will not be receiving full and/or correct info from Google, Champeau additionally informed us: “It’s actually a matter of being positive that every one that’s being stated is identical. And that it doesn’t change relying on who’s on the opposite aspect of the desk.
“We don’t understand why the European Commission wouldn’t ask for changes to the choice screen based on the information that we have. So the only guess that we have is that it’s based on information that is not accurate. Otherwise we would be probably sure that the European Commission would have required changes to the choice screen even sooner than today.”
“We need to design something that appeals, that resonates with Europeans in Europe,” added Ghinozzi, reiterating that the design of the mechanism shouldn’t be left to the identical firm that’s been fined for anticompetitive conduct and which maintains up to 90% marketshare in Europe.
We reached out to Google for a response to the complaints in regards to the public sale mannequin and it despatched us this assertion, attributed to a spokesperson:
Android offers individuals with unprecedented choice in deciding which functions they set up, use and set as default on their gadgets. The choice screen for Europe strikes a cautious stability between giving customers but extra choice and making certain that we will proceed to spend money on growing and sustaining the open-source Android platform for the long-term. The objective for the choice screen is to give all search suppliers equal alternative to bid — not to give sure rivals particular therapy.
While the Commission has but to provide any reduction to the constant complaints from Google’s search rivals that the paid choice screen doesn’t meaningfully reset the aggressive panorama on Android it’s set to introduce a laws bundle subsequent month which is able to replace ecommerce rules and introduce a new set of obligations and necessities for so-called gatekeeper platforms holding dominant market positions — a transfer that’s being broadly interpreted as a push to clip the wings of US tech giants like Google.
Natasha Lomas – techcrunch.com