Google is loosening its grip on search engines on Android devices in Europe

BRUSSELS, June 8 (Reuters) – Google (GOOGL.O) has bowed to pressure from rivals and will let them compete for free to be the default search engines on Android devices in Europe, expanding a commitment to antitrust regulators from the EU two years ago.

The move by the world’s most popular internet search engine comes as the 27-nation bloc considers rules that could be introduced next year to force Google, Amazon (AMZN.O), Apple (AAPL.O) and Facebook (FB.O) to ensure a level playing field for competitors.

Google’s Android mobile operating system runs on about four-fifths of the world’s smartphones. The US tech giant said in 2019 that rivals would have to pay via auction to appear on a prime screen on new Android devices in Europe from which users select their preferred search engine.

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Google’s U-turn follows a 4.24 billion euro ($5.16 billion) fine imposed by the European Commission, the EU’s antitrust authority, in 2018 for using Android unfairly to consolidate the dominance of its search engine.

“We are now making some final changes to the choice screen, including making participation free for eligible search engines. We will also be increasing the number of search engines shown on the screen,” the director of Google, Oliver Bethell, in a blog post.

The changes will take effect in September, the blog added.

The Commission said it had discussed possible changes with Google following concerns raised by a number of its rivals, adding that those announced were positive developments.

Google said the five most popular eligible search engines in each EU country according to StatCounter, including Google, would be displayed in random order at the top of the screen while up to seven will be displayed at the bottom.

Previously, it only allowed four competitors, chosen in separate auctions for each EU country, to appear on Android screens.

However, DuckDuckGo, a competing search engine that has long complained about the bidding process, said Google should go further.

“Google is now doing what it should have done three years ago: a free search preferences menu on Android in the EU,” CEO Gabriel Weinberg tweeted.

“However, it should be on all platforms, for example also on the Chrome desktop, accessible at all times, i.e. not only during factory reset, and in all countries.”

Search engine Ecosia, which along with four other rivals complained about Google’s original proposal to the Commission last year, welcomed the changes.

“With this, we have something like a level playing field in the market,” CEO Christian Kroll said in a statement.

“Search vendors now have the opportunity to be more equitable in the Android marketplace, based on their product’s appeal, rather than being shut out by monopolistic behavior.”

($1 = 0.8211 euros)

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Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Assembly Pravin Char

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