Ecosia, the Berlin-based search engine, says that it won’t participate in Google’s “search-choice” auction for Android devices in 2020 in Europe. With this coming to light, will others follow?

Earlier in August, Google announced that it will introduce a new “choice screen” in Europe for Android users in 2020. The screen will be displayed when setting up your device and will ask users to select a default search engine.

Google’s plan is to use an auction, similar to what it does with comparison shopping engines in Europe to determine what search engine to present on the choice screen. Three of the highest bidders will appear, along with Google, as options for users. Google believes that search choices will vary depending on the country, with Google always being a choice.

Search choice is Google’s way to comply with the European Commission’s (EC’s) July, 2018 antitrust decision involving Android and app bundling. Google has appealed the decision and a roughly $5 billion fine.

Example ‘search choice’ set-up screen for Android

Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll issued a statement this morning explaining its decision to boycott the auction process. He said, “We’re deeply disappointed that Google has decided to exploit its dominant market position in this way. Instead of giving wide and fair access, Google have chosen to give discrimination a different form and make everyone else but themselves pay, which isn’t something we can accept.”

The ‘crating scarcity’ statement offers three reasons why Ecosia feels the auction approach is misguided:

  1. It is unethical for a company with a dominant market position like Google Android to discriminate access to it. This attempt to auction access rights to Android is an insult to the European Commission, as well as to the principle of equality in front of the law.
  2. Alternative search engines that focus on privacy or specific causes, are unlikely to be able to competitively bid in this suggested auction set-up. With profit focused partners, they will have better odds in this setup since they have access to higher monetising Google ads. Basically, the competitors which are purpose-driven (and not solely profit orientated) are conveniently removed from the auction process.
  3. Google is creating scarcity by artificially limiting user options. This will unnecessarily increase costs for alternative search engines, and will keep new entrants from growing market share.

Faced with immediate criticism of its announcement, Google defended the auction as “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.”

SourceGreg Sterling