From 2020, consumers will be given a choice of three search engines - but the search providers will have to pay Google to participate
Google will present Android users in Europe with a choice of three alternative search engines from early 2020 in a move intended to mollify EU antitrust authorities.
Google was fined €4.3 billion in July last year by the European Commission over claims of Android market abuse. One of its three main reasons for levying the fine was the requirement by smartphone makers to pre-install the Google Search app and Chrome web browser as standard on all Android-branded smartphones.
Google introduced its response today in a blog posing.
"The choice screen will appear during initial device setup and will feature multiple search providers, including Google," it said. This will set a search provider on the home screen, set a default search provider in Google's Chrome browser and install the search app of the selected search company.
These measures will only apply to devices distributed in the European Economic Area, which may or may not include the UK by the time it is implemented.
But the sticking point is likely to be the demand from Google that search providers pay the company a set fee every time their service is selected over Google's.
The blog continued: "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."
That requirement hasn't necessarily gone down well with rival search engine providers.
"A 'ballot box' screen could be an excellent way to increase meaningful consumer choice if designed properly. Unfortunately, Google's announcement today will not meaningfully deliver consumer choice," tweeted Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO of the privacy focused search engine and web browser DuckDuckGo.
He added: "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."
Ecosia, meanwhile, the not-for-profit search engine that makes a big play about being environmentally friendly, described the initiative as "really disappointing".
It continued: "If we choose to enter an auction, this will be potentially at the expense of millions of trees we could otherwise have planted… Users should select search engine options based on genuine interest, not on how much money is paid to the biggest fish in the sea."
The move today from Google comes after being on the receiving end of a series of fines from the European Commission over alleged anti-competitive practices in recent years.
Indeed, since 2017, the European Union has relieved Google of a total of €9 billion in various fines, while last year the company paid more in EU fines than it did in corporate taxes.