Search engine giants like Google could soon face competition | Business | Economic and financial news from a German perspective | DW

Is it fair that a company should dominate the internet like Google does? One person who thinks things should be different is Gabriel Weinberg, the 41-year-old CEO of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that claims to protect user privacy and not collect huge amounts of personal data like Google does.

Under fair conditions, “Google’s market share would immediately drop by 20 percentage points,” Weinberg told DW. He says his powerful competitor has, for example, made it unnecessarily difficult to use other search engines on Android smartphones. “In fact, it takes 15 different clicks to make DuckDuckGo the default on Android devices,” he says.

Weinberg believes that everyone should be able to decide which search engine they use more easily. “We ask to be on an equal footing,” he says, and not to particular concessions.

Markus Beckedahl is an internet activist and journalist

For some time now, Weinberg has not been alone with his claims in the United States. Politicians rally behind him. Criticism of the market power held by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple is no longer a dull background noise, but rather a siren of protest. Several US states have sued Google and accused its parent company, Alphabet, of using unfair practices to defend its monopoly on online search and advertising. Facebook is also facing litigation.

EU plans tough measures

While such legal actions have been taken in a somewhat piecemeal fashion in the United States, the European Union is planning large-scale measures that will reshape the digital world. The European Commission wants to guarantee fair competition with a law on digital services and a law on the digital market. Those who violate the planned legislation could face penalties of up to 6% of their annual worldwide earnings.

Partly in light of the harsh sanctions, internet activist Markus Beckedahl is convinced that “the digital world’s biggest lobbying battle” is about to begin. Beckedahl has been observing the behavior of tech giants for nearly 20 years on He says that after such a long period of lax regulation, authorities must now put in place a regulatory framework that prevents big companies “from extending their power beyond their dominant position in the market”.

Power asymmetries

According to the European Commission’s proposal, platforms will no longer be allowed to prioritize their own content and products over those of other providers. They will need to make their advertising and recommendation algorithms more transparent so they can track what is shown to whom and when. The EU is even considering breaking up the companies if they don’t follow EU rules.

An infographic showing the market share of total digital ad spend in the United States

The market share of total digital ad spend in the United States

An effective weapon could also be something called interoperability. This means that large companies should open their systems. For example, a WhatsApp message could also be sent to Telegram. “It could lead to more competition in the courier market,” Beckedahl told DW.

Researchers and authorities must also have better access to data from Amazon, Google and Co. “Right now, there is a great asymmetry of power. the authorities stand there helpless,” Beckedahl said.

But the Commission’s initiative comes almost too late. In addition to dominating the search engine market, Google is also the market leader in user-generated videos through YouTube. Amazon is strengthening its dominance in the cloud sector (AWS – Amazon Web Services) alongside its mail-order business. And Facebook dominates social networks with its own platform and Instagram, as well as the messaging market with WhatsApp.

DuckDuckGo’s Gabriel Weinberg is also monitoring developments in Europe. His company is one of the founding members of Global Privacy Control, an alliance that works on the protection of private data. He has been working on his search engine for nearly 13 years and now has 150 people working with him.

He believes that the collection of personal data is “at the center of most of the things that are wrong with the internet”. Although its search engine also makes money from advertising, the ads that are shown are based on search context, not user profile like with Google, he says. Weinberg thinks it also improves the quality of search results, and his company wants all results to be the same around the world and not dependent on users’ personal data.

Weinberg says his search engine currently receives 2 billion queries per month and is growing rapidly, but DuckDuckGo’s search market share is still minimal compared to competitors. DuckDuckGo’s market share could be closer to 10% if it were easier to make it the default on devices, he says.

From Europe to the United States?’s Markus Beckedahl says the US government is still not interested in taking tough action against its tech giants. “These are the companies they use to take over the world,” he says. However, he believes that stricter regulation in the EU could become a model and increase calls for comparable measures in the United States. He cites the example of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. “Europe has set digital standards here,” he says.

A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai, China

DuckDuckGo CEO says if his company were to be taken over, it wouldn’t be by Google

But he thinks regulation alone won’t automatically make everything better – and that consumer action is needed. “With every click, with every search query, Google is getting better,” he says.

Weinberg hopes the competition will become fairer. He already sees the benefit of greater protection of the private sphere. And there have even been occasional rumors of takeover bids for its search engine. He refuses to comment on them. But he says if a takeover did happen, it definitely wouldn’t be by Google.

This article has been translated from German.