Google’s rivals pull out of search engine bidding, calling it ‘unethical’ and ‘anti-competitive’

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“Ethical” search engine Ecosia confirmed it would not participate in Google’s closed auction to become the default search engine on Android phones in Europe, and called on the internet giant to end its “damaging monopolistic behaviour” which is “unethical and anti-competitive”.

The German company, which devotes most of its profits to planting trees, called Google’s auction “an insult to the European Commission and to the principle of equality before the law”, and argued that this decision artificially limited users’ options.

Ecosia also argued that search engines driven by a specific purpose in addition to profit — for example, those focused on privacy or tackling the climate crisis — are unlikely to be successful in the auction. .

“Alternative search engines that focus on privacy or specific causes likely won’t be able to bid competitively in this suggested bidding setup,” the company said. “Profit-driven partners, many of whom have access to higher monetization Google ads, automatically have a better chance in this setup. This means competitors who are purpose-driven (and not solely profit-driven) are conveniently removed from the auction process.

VentureBeat has contacted Google to comment on Ecosia’s concerns, but has yet to receive a response from the company.

As a quick recap, Google announced in early August its intention to hold an auction to allow alternative search engines to become the default providers on mobile devices in Europe. Starting in 2020, anyone who sets up a new Android device or factory resets their existing device will see a choice screen asking them to select which search engine they want to use by default.

Above: Default search: Android by Google

Search providers are required to seek inclusion through a competitive bidding process to become one of three alternative choices to Google Search.

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The move followed a record $5 billion fine imposed last year by EU antitrust regulators for the way it bundled its services on Android, effectively forcing phone makers to pre-install certain Google apps. to access others. In response to the fine, which the company is now appealing, Google announced a complete overhaul of its Android licensing model in Europe, and earlier this year Google began suggesting browsers and search engines alternatives for Android users, via Chrome and Google Search. were always enabled by default.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that Ecosia, which was founded in Berlin in 2009, is not participating in the auction. Following Google’s August 2 announcement, Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll said:

This is really disappointing news – Ecosia is a non-profit search engine, and we use our revenue to plant trees in areas affected by deforestation or desertification, not to engage in bidding wars . If we choose to participate in an auction and pay Google for the privilege of being a search engine option on Android, it will potentially come at the expense of millions of trees that we might otherwise have planted.

In the days that followed, other potential bidders apparently walked away from the bidding process. Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO of privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, noted that while a multiple-choice screen has potential, a “pay-to-play” auction with just four slots only serves to limit options. users because they are not. supplied with the full range of alternatives. He also noted that it would help Google profit at the expense of its competitors.

It’s a sentiment shared by Ecosia. While Android already allows users to manually configure their default browser and search engine at any time, presenting users with just three alternatives when setting up the device could imply that these are the only options available to them. This creates an “artificial scarcity”, according to a statement Ecosia released today.

“By artificially limiting user options, Google is creating scarcity where there is none,” he said. “This will unnecessarily increase the costs of alternative search engines and prevent new entrants from increasing their market share.”

France-based research company Qwant has also took to Twitter last week to terminate the auction for a number of reasons.

“Qwant recalls that Google was ordered by the @EU_Commission on July 18, 2018, to pay a fine of 4.34 billion euros for having abused its dominant position on Android, by imposing Google Search as the default search engine on almost all mobile phone manufacturers and their customers. ,” It said. “It is not for Google to now charge its competitors for its wrongful behavior and the amount of the fine, via an auction system which will neither benefit European consumers nor free competition, which should not be distorted by such a process.”

It should be noted here that Google also insists that auction participants sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), with some competitors arguing that this is an example of how Google is trying to make it harder for them to provide feedback to the European Union about Google’s practices.

“Google has chosen to appeal its judgment of July 18, 2018, in a procedure to which Qwant is a party,” he said. “Qwant cannot accept that the bidding process be subject to a non-disclosure agreement as imposed by Google while its complaint is still pending. Such a confidentiality agreement has no other possible justification than the desire to silence its competitors on the anomalies that they would notice. This, again, is an unacceptable abuse of its dominant position.

A common thread runs through all the complaints published so far, namely that Google’s much smaller rivals believe its behavior is not in the best interest of competition, and they want European regulators to step in to ensure that Google designs a system that works for all parties involved. .

“We use our revenue to plant trees in areas affected by deforestation or desertification, not to engage in costly and unnecessary bidding wars with other search engines,” Kroll said. “We will discuss our options with the European Commission – it should be up to Android users to choose which search engine they use, and absolutely not up to Google.”

Given the EU’s increasingly tough stance against big US tech companies, don’t be surprised if Google is forced to rethink this bidding process.

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